By March 1, 2017 Read More →

Department of Defense marches forward on green energy, despite Trump

green energy

The US military has found green energy not only saves fuel use, but can also save lives. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Alexander Quiles.

DoD green energy switch began under President Bush in 2007

Despite President Trump and his top advisors’ dismissal of government support of green energy, the Department of Defense says it will continue with its decade-long efforts to convert its operations to renewable power.

In a report by Reuters, senior military officials told reporters the reasons for carrying out their green energy plans have nothing to do with the climate change debate.  Instead, officials say in combat zones, green energy saves lives by reducing the need for convoys to deliver diesel fuel to US bases.

Also, soldiers in enemy territory can silently cover ground because of mobile solar-power units.

At sea, gas-electric hybrid battleships save fuel and need fewer stops, making them less vulnerable to enemy attacks like the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000.  The destroyer was attacked by al-Qaeda militants during a refuelling stop.

17 US soldiers were killed in the attack.

POSITIVE MOVE FOR ENERGY CONTRACTORS

Energy contractors working with the Department of Defense have benefitted from contracts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars to green energy companies.  The DoD, the world’s largest single petroleum buyer, has also reported it has reduced its fuel consumption.

Between 2011 and 2015, the armed forces nearly doubled renewable power generation to 10,534 billion Btu.  In its report, the DoD says that’s enough to power approximately 286,000 average US homes.

DoD data also showed the number of renewable energy projects undertaken by the military nearly tripled to 1,390 between 2011 and 2015.  A number of the projects involving utilities and solar companies were installed at US bases allowing the facilities to maintain an independent source of power in case of natural disaster or attack, or cyber attack where the public grid is disabled.

Lt. Col. Wayne Kinsel, head of the infrastructure unit of the Air Force Asset Management Division for Logistics, Engineering and Force Protection told Reuters “We expect that it’s going to continue during the Trump administration.”  He added “It’s really not political”.

Kinsel’s sentiment was echoed by other senior officials in the Navy, Air Force and Army.

In an interview with Reuters, Lt. Col. J.B. Brindle, a Defense Department spokesman, said the agency “spends very little appropriated funding” on renewable energy projects.  He declined to give any figures or to answer additional questions about such efforts.

Jim Mattis, US Secretary of Defense has been a long-time supporter of efforts to reduce troop dependence on petroleum.  As early as 2003, he urged Navy researchers to find innovative ways to reduce the military’s tether to fuel.

 

PUSH INITIATED BY BUSH IN 2007

In 2007, Republican President George W. Bush signed a law requiring the Pentagon to get 25 per cent of its electricity for its facilities from renewable energy by 2025.

President Obama then accelerated the effort when he required to Army, Air Force and Navy to each deploy 1 gigawatt of renewable power.  Obama also directed the Army to open a lab to develop energy technologies for combat vehicles.

 

In 2015, the Pentagon reported to Congress that droughts and floods caused by climate change pose a security threat.  The natural disasters could contribute to foreign political and economic instability that could require deployment of troops.

In January, Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter released a parting memo where he reported that the Navy has met its goal of producing 1 gigawatt of electricity and the other forces are on track to meet their targets.

 

Despite their successes, the programs have opponents, including the conservative Heritage Foundation, for example, that has fought the military’s support of renewable power and biofuels.

“The administration right now needs to focus specifically on combat power,” said Rachel Zissimos, a Heritage researcher told Reuters. “Investing money on optional initiatives right now I think is problematic.”

MILLIONS CONTRACTED TO GREEN ENERGY SUPPLIERS

The Reuters report shows companies providing green energy to the Department of Defense have won contracts valued at hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

Southern has 11 solar projects on bases in states including Georgia and Alabama totalling 310 megawatts.  Late last year, Sempra completed the 150-megawatt Mesquite Solar 3 project in Arizona which will provide about one-third of the power needed at 14 California Navy and Marine bases for the next 25 years.

Under the Trump administration, SunPower has landed a $96 million contract to provide power to the Vandenberg Air Force base in California until 2043.

In 2016, the Navy began outfitting Arleigh Burke destroyers with gas-electric hybrid engines developed by L3.  The $119 million contract for the work was won in 2013.

 

FUEL USE FALLS

According to the US military, the use of oil fell by over 20 per cent between 2007 and 2015.  The Reuters report says the bulk of the decline is likely due to declining combat operations more than increased renewable energy use.

Traditional military fuel suppliers including Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell do have a lot to lose should the military continue to move away from fossil fuels.

Between 2007 and 2015, the military’s average annual fuel bill was about $14.28 billion.  A spokesman for BP told Reuters “As fuel slates change, we will adapt, and continue to provide our customers with the products they demand.”

 

MORE EFFECTIVE SOLDIERS

Since World War I, hauling fuel supplies to the battlefield has been a hazard for militaries across the globe and it continues to take a toll.  Casualties or serious injuries were reported in one in nearly 40 fuel convoys in Iraq in 2007.  In the same year, 24 fuel convoys suffered casualties in Afghanistan.

In 2009, Marines stationed in Afghanistan began using solar panels to power batteries for communications, GPS and night-vision goggles in the fight against Taliban militants.  The panels reduced the need for convoys and allowed marines to shut off generators, quieting operations and making them harder for enemies to detect.

Finally, Col. Brian Magnuson, head of the Marine’s expeditionary energy office said he hopes his office can replace diesel-powered generators on the battlefield with solar power, and reduce energy use with insulated tents and advanced batteries.

“These technologies are a way to become more effective in combat,” Magnuson told Reuters. “This is about war-fighting capability.”

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