Politicians talk. The military acts. Politicians waffle over national security. The military must provide it. Politicians duck the truth. Men and women in uniform duck bullets ... or take them.
When it comes to energy, politicians soak up campaign contributions from fossil fuel interests, then explain that "change takes time" and "subsidies are bad." Meanwhile, the once energy-hogging military understands that the longer the United States relies on imported fossil fuels, the more perilous its strategic position becomes. It's not just oil from autocratic regimes but domestic fuels that must be transported long distances. More bluntly, at one time the Department of Defense looked to privatize all energy supplies to domestic bases. That is no longer the case. Instead, the DoD is taking the opposite tack: to make all its bases self-sufficient, independent of local utilities.
Politicians have the luxury of uttering idiotic phrases such as "drill, baby, drill," and promoting the despoliation of every last wild corner of the homeland for a few drops of oil to appease their corporate sponsors. The military's responsibilities won't allow it to indulge in rhetorical fantasies and wishful thinking.
Not that these instructive contrasts stand alone. Politicians and the military have colluded for generations to hype threats, keep the military budget bloated beyond reason, sell unneeded, dysfunctional technologies to the American public and maintain a mutually lucrative revolving door between the two sectors that perpetuates these practices.
Energy, however, is the bright spot that has driven our military to act for the greater good. This direction has emerged from a combination of strategic, financial and practical drivers.
A snapshot provided by the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) spells out the challenge. Today's military consumes 16 times the energy that it did in World War II, 70 years ago. Fuel represents 50 percent of all supplies transported. The cost of protecting fuel convoys can be 15x the cost of the fuel. Twelve percent of casualties in Iraq and 35 percent of casualties in Afghanistan were caused by attacks on fuel convoys.
We know from coverage in Intelligent Utility that the U.S. military's several services have been pressing forward with strategies to save lives and money by pursuing alternatives to the fossil fuel-sucking lifestyles of the civilian population. We've discussed such initiatives in "Happiness Is a Military Microgrid," "Smart Grid and the Military: Meet the First Adopter," "Military Microgrids: A Journey" and "Texas Military Bases Could Offer Timely Relief to ERCOT ..."
Forum comments on the latter story illustrate the thinking that separates the military from the civilian realms.
"Seems to me the Army would be better off abandoning the whole 'renewable energy' debacle and concentrate on using their resources and dwindling money to defend the country. Ditto for the entire Department of Defense," one reader commented.
It's to dispel the notion that the two missions are exclusive that retired Navy Admiral Dennis McGinn, president of ACORE, travels the country speaking to whoever will listen. In advanced combat positions, energy to run vital communications equipment can be generated on-site, precluding the need for vulnerable supply lines. At home, military bases that are self-sustaining are cheaper and more secure than those dependent on, say, natural gas pipelines or the local utility.
McGinn was in Fort Collins, Colo. earlier this week to bring his message to an audience at former Gov. Bill Ritter's Center for the New Energy Economy, hosted by Colorado State University. McGinn, according to a report in The Coloradoan, told his audience:
"A nation that uses more than 20 percent of the oil that is produced globally every single year, that sits on at best estimates 3 percent of the known reserves cannot drill its way out of the situation of energy insecurity that we're in."
For the doubters, our correspondent quoted above included, I can recommend a report, "From Barracks to the Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America's Armed Forces," issued by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate.
A few quotes from the report's executive summary should state the case and then it's up to those who want to understand the topic to read the report.
"Until recently, the U.S. military's innovation agenda has not placed a high premium on energy efficiency and new sources of energy and fuels. But the department's experience conducting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the rise of new global threats and challenges have caused DoD to rethink its strategic energy posture. Special emphasis has been placed on reducing battlefield fuel demand and securing reliable, renewable energy supplies for combat and installation operations.
"The emergence of the clean energy sector and increasingly competitive alternative energy sources presents DoD with opportunities for saving lives and money in the years ahead. Energy efficiency measures help reduce fuel demand and operational risk while enhancing combat effectiveness.
"Alternative fuels and renewable energy sources can be domestically produced (and locally sourced around the world) to enhance the security of energy supplies. Similarly, microgrids and 'smart' energy technologies help protect DoD installations from commercial power outages."
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