Congress must protect military energy security

Last week, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) introduced an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill that would prevent the DoD from accomplishing its energy efficiency and renewable energy generation goals. McClintock’s actions and words demonstrate fundamental failures to understand the connection between energy, our military, and our national security.

Our military installations rely on the civilian grid for 98 percent of their electricity requirements, but our grid is increasingly old, fragile, and threatened.  Natural disasters, cyber or physical attacks, or simple malfunctions can leave our installations in the dark.  In 2012 alone, there were 87 power outages at domestic military bases lasting eight hours or longer.  That’s unacceptable.

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Bases here at home are directly supporting warfighters overseas in unprecedented ways. With increasing frequency, military operations around the world rely upon communications, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance support from domestic assets like unmanned aerial vehicles in Afghanistan piloted from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.  Our troops abroad depend on energy security here at home.

Moreover, troops in garrison are increasingly needed to assist in disaster relief in times of crisis.  During Hurricane Sandy, the DoD mobilized 14,000 military and civilian personnel to provide essential supplies, help restore electricity, and assist search and rescue efforts.  In military communities around the country, bases are critical parts of emergency response planning; they absolutely require resilient power to stay fully effective.  Today, too much critical infrastructure on our installations is backed up by inefficient, limited, and unreliable diesel generators.

This is exactly why DoD is investing in on-site renewable power:  a solar array can provide power to critical infrastructure for weeks when the roads are so damaged that diesel tankers can’t deliver fuel.  By pairing renewable generation projects with new energy storage and microgrid technologies, we can finally ensure uninterrupted access to energy for critical national security assets and operations.

Even better, DoD is taking advantage of innovative financing mechanisms and increasingly affordable technologies to save money over the lifetime of these projects.  The Navy, for example, has already saved $1.6 billion in the past decade through advanced energy investments.  And with the price of renewable energy consistently dropping, savings could increase exponentially.

Finally, the military’s established research and development infrastructure, along with its ability to bring economies of scale to new technologies, is extremely conducive to civilian-military innovation.  GPS, the microwave, and semiconductors were all developed by the military to provide a security capability and led to revolutions in the way Americans live.  With an increasingly threatened civilian grid, investments in nascent energy storage and management technologies could benefit many others- from local hospitals to multinational corporations.

Our military leaders have been clear.  They’re investing in advanced energy technologies, as Secretary Hagel noted in Halifax last year, “because it makes us a better fighting force and helps us carry out our security mission.”  That should be a goal that we all share, and we must find a way to undo this mistake.

Wu is the Energy Program director for the Truman National Security Project and Center for National Policy.