Secretary Perry, it’s time to accept renewable energy is a good defense policy too
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

When it comes to energy security, Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryTexas Democratic megadonor dies at 46 Nuclear and coal are essential for reliable energy The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE could learn a lot from the Department of Defense. Renewable energy is not a national security problem — it is a key part of the solution. 

Perry argued earlier this year that renewable energy poses a threat to national security by alleging both that wind and solar are contributing to the decline of coal-fired power plants and that these technologies are less “reliable” since they only work when the sun shines and wind blows. In April, he requested a Department of Energy study on the reliability of the nation’s electric grid in attempt to prove these points.

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The request has faced backlash from experts across the board, and many see it as a thinly veiled effort to make good on President Trump’s desire to revive the faltering coal industry by wrapping it in the cloak of “national security.”

 

An early draft of the much-awaited report provides a glimmer of hope that the career department staff will refute their boss’s pronouncement that renewable energy is bad for national security.

Contrary to Perry’s assertion, the draft report finds that “significantly higher levels of renewable energy can be integrated (into the grid) without any compromise of system reliability.” But the draft is far from complete, particularly the sections examining renewables’ impact on system reliability and resiliency. 

As the Department of Energy moves forward with its report, the agency should consult with the Department of Defense and our nation’s top military leaders to understand renewable energy’s role in improving our energy security, not degrading it.    

Just look at a recent paper published in June by the Center for Naval Analysis Military Advisory Board. The support for renewables in the paper is unequivocal, stating that, “advanced energy technologies provide options for U.S. energy independence through clean and safe development of our vast energy resources, while enhancing our geopolitical security.” 

The Department of Defense has invested significantly in renewable energy for the primary purpose of security, resilience and ensuring its missions are successful.  Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisEric Trump: My father is 'not playing' on national security NSC to present Trump M deal to arm Ukraine against Russia Iraqi forces retake last ISIS-held town MORE has called on the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines to untether from vulnerable fuel supply chains that threaten mission success and cost troops’ lives.

Yet Perry does not seem to share the Defense Department’s vision of the energy future: a modernized, dynamic, cyber-secure, fuel-diverse, decentralized power grid that relies on sources like wind, solar, geothermal, landfill gas and biomass.

To be sure, threats against our U.S. power grid have grown dramatically and quickly and Perry is right to focus on this issue.

No longer are Mother Nature’s superstorms our only worry when it comes to keeping our lights on and refrigerators chilled. Enemy cyberattacks are commonplace in today’s IT-enabled power systems. Good old-fashioned rifles and wire-cutters can wreak havoc on electricity infrastructure. 

Fundamental military teaching calls for complicating targeting for our enemies by spreading out high-value targets and demonstrating our troops’ ability to recover from an attack through agility and flexibility. We need to apply those same principles to our national power systems.

Our current electric system makes our country a sitting duck for an attack — cyber, physical or both. “Stockpiling coal,” as Perry originally called for, may actually exacerbate the problem. 

Instead of going “back” to what worked for 20th century threats posed by Mother Nature, we need to move forward to a highly advanced system able to sustain 21st century threats from determined enemies. A safe, modern grid would combine today’s centralized power plants with distributed micro-grids that can work together or be easily cut off from one another. Many of these agile grids are also designed to fix themselves in an emergency.

This approach will spread out electricity generation and consumption to take advantage of diversified local energy sources. Renewable energy, like wind and solar, which require little or no supply chain to maintain, are perfect fits for this type of power grid. The Air Force’s latest project at Otis Air Base and the Army’s latest project at Fort Hood are excellent examples.

A bad guy can cut off our access to stockpiled coal, but can’t shut off the sun or wind.

It’s true that the increasing use of energy sources like intermittent large-scale wind and solar resources requires a modernized approach to managing the electric grid. That process is underway across the country. There is no going back. 

The administration has the right to be concerned about the winners and losers in this process, but using the veil of “national security” to engineer a federal policy intervention on behalf of coal is disingenuous and contrary to the real national security challenges we face. The military is thinking about the future of our energy security — it’s time for the Energy Department to do the same.

Miranda A.A. Ballentine was assistant secretary of the Air Force (Installations, Environment and Energy) under President Obama from 2014-2017.

Roger S. Ballentine is the president of Green Strategies, Inc. He was a senior member of White House staff, serving as chairman of the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Clinton.


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