Military investment in solar power, biofuels, and clean energy must be supported by Congress


House Republicans seem to be taking issue with the Department of Defense’s incorporation of innovative green technology. In a letter dated March 6, 14 members of Congress told Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus that the Navy’s investment in alternative energy is, effectively, a waste of taxpayer dollars. On March 29, members of the House Armed Services Committee grilled Assistant Secretary of Defense Sharon Burke about the costs associated with integrating alternative sources of energy both on the battlefield and at military installations here at home. Republican House members on the Armed Services Committee and signatories of the letter to Secretary Mabus used the same talking points to prove their point. “Why don’t we drill more?” “Approval of Keystone will lower energy costs.” “Why spend additional taxpayer dollars when we have an enormous deficit?” 

But these elected officials fail to realize three things: fossil fuels are not an infinite resource; history shows that when the Defense Department makes significant investments in new technology, innovative products are introduced to the consumer market at cheaper costs; and the Department of Defense’s Power Purchase Agreements and Land Use Leases actually make money for the federal government. But ultimately, and most importantly, moving from fossil fuels to new sources of energy will save American lives.

In the 1960’s, the Navy launched eight satellites to assist submarines’ navigation.  Through time, this evolved into the NAVSTAR system, comprised of 24 satellites orbiting the earth.  After the disappearance of a Korean airliner in 1983 that strayed into Soviet airspace, President Ronald Regan allowed this navigation system to be used for non-military purposes. Eventually, this technology was made available to the public, and now GPS is a standard feature in vehicles and the receivers can be found for under $100.

The Department of Defense is the one of the largest land owners in the country. Many military installations in the United States are now leasing their land to energy developers. Under Power Purchase Agreements and Enhanced Use Leases, military installations make money for the federal government through leasing the land; then use the electricity that is being produced, and sell the unused energy back to the power companies. In addition to creating revenue for the government, this allows for military facilities to remain independent from the power grid and have their own micro-grid. This allows for our military to remain functional if the main power grid goes down for any reason.

Like every other government agency, the Defense Department has to be meticulous about budgets. According to the Department of Defense, for every dollar spent above $88 per barrel of oil, it costs the Pentagon an additional $31 million. Currently, the price of a barrel of oil is above $100. For the extra money that is being spent on oil, the military has to take the money from some other funds. Funds like training, housing, or even benefits. There is no end in sight in the escalation of fuel prices. Market volatility and diminishing supply will make conditions worse in the future. 

The enemy knows that we rely on fossil fuels. We use fuel for vehicles and generators. Our enemies abroad know that fuel is transported to our forces in Afghanistan by massive fuel convoys that drive up from Pakistan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia every day. The enemy knows how valuable those fuel convoys are, and how exposed they are. The current rate is one Marine casualty for every 24 fuel convoys made. Needless to say, there are hundreds of these convoys made daily. Soldiers are exposed to ambushes and IED attacks from babysitting fuel trucks.  Soldiers overseas should be securing our nation and green technology lets them do that. Hybrid-electric and biofuel powered vehicles will save fuel consumption. Solar powered generators, both on Forward Operating Bases and on the soldiers themselves (powering radio batteries) saves energy and makes the soldier more austere.

It is time that members of Congress see past old political beliefs and allow the Pentagon to continue to innovate. The Department of Defense is working with American firms and this is will spur employment. Congress chooses to waste time by advocating policies that have already proven to be failures and attack the military for investing in prudent measures that will save lives.  Our civilian leaders must match the military’s commitment and stop putting partisan politics ahead of good policy.