In Defense of Clean Energy

Sustaining Defense Investments in Clean Energy to Enhance National Security

Bracken Hendricks, Daniel J. Weiss, and Lisbeth Kaufman explain the importance of the military's investment in clean energy for our national security.

Marines unload an emergency resupply helicopter in Afghanistan. Seventy percent of convoys on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq are dedicated solely to transporting fuel and water. (AP/David Guttenfelder)
Marines unload an emergency resupply helicopter in Afghanistan. Seventy percent of convoys on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq are dedicated solely to transporting fuel and water. (AP/David Guttenfelder)

Download a memo from the Center for American Progress Action Fund detailing the Department of Defense’s efforts and policies driving energy security and innovation (pdf)

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The United States, the world’s largest consumer of energy and oil, imports 7 billion barrels of oil a year. One out of five of these barrels come from unfriendly countries. Unsurprisingly, our foreign oil habit presents major energy challenges affecting our national security and economic competitiveness. The Department of Defense under Defense Secretary Robert Gates is particularly aware of this energy security threat, and has begun to address it across all three branches of the military.

Efforts to combat the hazards of oil dependency must continue under Leon E. Panetta, the nominee to replace Gates as secretary of defense. Panetta, current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, made this clear in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on June 9. He noted that we must determine:

…what additional steps we can take both in the development of weapons, and the development of technologies, how we can better use clean energy, how we can better use some of the new forms of energy in order to reduce fuel costs at the Pentagon, but more importantly, in order to contribute to, hopefully, a cleaner environment.

This view reiterates the findings of the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, which identified energy security as one of four key priorities for reforming Department of Defense operations. This is because the DOD spends $20 billion on 135 million barrels of fuel and 30 million megawatt-hours of electricity a year. Likewise, 70 percent of convoys on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq are dedicated solely to transporting fuel and water. With more than 3,000 American soldiers killed or wounded while transporting energy and billions of dollars siphoned by unfriendly foreign oil producers, the DOD only stands to gain from reforming its energy system and investing in clean energy and energy efficiency.

The DOD has already made great strides in advancing energy security through operational improvements to the department’s installations. These facilities cover 29 million acres, and include 539,000 buildings and structures valued at more than $700 billion. With so many structures, DOD’s investment in energy efficiency and renewable technologies can help create a market and steadily lower the cost for advanced energy technology. DOD efforts to meet energy security challenges are already beginning to reduce risks for military personnel, safeguard America’s global strategic interests, and cost effectively ensure troop readiness. DOD commitments to research, development, and deployment of innovative energy technologies are also critical to the growth of jobs and civilian industries.

For continued progress on this issue, the DOD must sustain its commitment to existing programs that enable the three services to continue their energy innovations. Congress and the administration must ensure ongoing support for key policies that make this success possible. When Secretary Panetta is confirmed as the head of the DOD, he should make a concerted effort to redouble commitment to energy security investments within the DOD in coming years, as he suggested at his confirmation hearing. These efforts will strengthen national security and save lives, while also building markets for clean tech products first developed for military use. This will spur economic development and create new jobs.

At this moment of tight budgets and tough choices, preserving America’s commitment to energy security must remain a top priority for our national defense and the health of our economy.

Congressional support for DOD energy security

There is a long bipartisan tradition of support for Defense-related energy technology innovation.

President George Bush signed into law the Energy Independence Security Act, or EISA, in 2007. Section 526 of the bill encourages federal agencies—including the military—to invest in new, cleaner alternative fuels to power vehicles and aircraft by requiring agencies to purchase fuels that have lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are “less than or equal to such emissions from the equivalent conventional fuel produced from conventional petroleum sources.”

This legislative requirement has spurred the DOD to focus on reduction of oil use through the production of cleaner advanced biofuels. Unfortunately the House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act, H.R. 1540, would exempt DOD from restrictions on using fuels dirtier than conventional ones. Enactment of this provision could slow or halt the development of cleaner fuels, and put the military under tremendous pressure to use dirty “coal to liquid” and tar sands-based fuels. Both fuels produce more carbon dioxide pollution than conventional petroleum-based fuels. The House of Representatives are also likely to use the FY 2012 military construction spending bill to block enforcement of Section 526 so that the military and other federal agencies can purchase dirty fuels.

Recently, Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) released the Department of Defense Energy Security Act of 2011, or DODESA, which would further enhance the DOD’s ability to systematically improve energy security. The bill sets goals and provides funding for the reduction of military facility and fleet fuel use, along with development of renewable energy technologies at military installations.

DODESA enhances mission effectiveness by: 

  • Creating a Joint Contingency Base Resource Security Pilot Project to coordinate technology development across the services
  • Studying the integration of high-efficiency propulsion systems into tactical vehicles
  • Designating a DOD executive agent for alternative fuel development
  • Extending long-term contracting authority for the procurement of alternative fuels
  • Increasing the procurement of electric, hybrid, and high-efficiency nontactical vehicles

DODESA reduces DOD’s reliance on a vulnerable electric grid by:

  • Funding the Installation Energy Test Bed Initiative
  • Enhancing energy-management and monitoring practices
  • Creating a plan for development of renewable projects and defining renewable electricity standards
  • Robustly funding the Energy Conservation Investment Program, which retrofits our oldest buildings with smart lighting, insulated windows, and efficient climate control systems
  • Adopting enhanced energy-efficiency standards for military buildings
  • Studying the energy security of renewable development and the societal impacts associated with enhanced energy security on military installations

In an op-ed about the bill, Sen. Udall wrote:

By decreasing energy intensity of military operations, we will save billions of dollars and improve the effectiveness of our military missions. The less obvious advantage of these measures is that by reducing our military’s dependence on fossil fuels… we will reduce U.S. oil consumption—and with it, the prospect of conflict across the world.

Preserving EISA and passing DODESA will be hugely instrumental in expanding the DOD’s  successful clean energy reforms. Additionally, Congress should support the next director of the DOD in furthering the department’s investment in clean energy.

Meeting energy security objectives to support DOD’s strategic mission

Clean and efficient energy are essential to enhance troop performance and safety. Military planners have underscored the idea that energy efficiency is a force multiplier. It increases the range and endurance of forces in the field while reducing the number of combat forces diverted to operation and protection of energy supply lines. Plus, as the Quadrennial Defense Review notes, pursuing energy security and economic stability are inextricably linked. Reducing dependence on oil, for example, has both profound security and economic dimensions.

DOD has outlined a number of strategic energy security objectives that are central to the defense of the nation. These objectives and some examples of how DOD is implementing the strategies include:

Reducing oil dependence

  • The DOD set a goal of reducing petroleum use by 20 percent by 2015. DOD is currently on track to meet this goal, and has cut fleet-wide petroleum use by 6.6 percent since 2005.
  • The Air Force plans to cost-competitively acquire 50 percent of its domestic aviation fuel by 2016 via an alternative fuel blend that is cleaner than conventional petroleum fuel.
  • The Department of Navy has set aggressive goals to decrease fossil fuel use by all vessels by 50 percent by 2020, and reduce petroleum use in nontactical vehicles by 50 percent by 2015.

Improving energy efficiency

  • DOD has a set a goal of reducing energy intensity by 30 percent by 2015. In 2010, the department cut energy use by 11.2 percent over 2003 levels—short of its interim 15 percent goal. Efforts must be expanded to meet the 2015 target.
  • Half of all Department of Navy installations by 2020 will be "net-zero" energy bases producing more energy than they consume. A key element of this effort began last year with the Navy’s advanced metering initiative, which when complete will have placed 27,000 smart meters on its installations worldwide. This will enable Navy facilities to reduce electricity use via better management.
  • The Army also has a net-zero energy installation goal to ensure that facilities are able to produce as much energy as they consume. To accomplish this goal, the Army implemented the highest building standard in the federal government. The Army is now piloting bases with "net-zero" energy use across the country. The Oregon Army National Guard volunteered to go net zero—on energy, waste, and water—across the state, as did Fort Bliss, Texas and Fort Carson, Colorado. The Army plans to add 25 more bases in each net zero category in FY 2014.

Deploying renewable electricity and increasing grid security

  • DOD set a goal of providing 26 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020. It is currently using 11.3 percent renewable energy, and is on track to meet its 26 percent goal if these efforts continue, according to OMB.
  • Half the Navy’s total energy consumption ashore will come from cleaner, alternative sources by 2020. A few examples of Navy renewable energy projects include 270 MW of geothermal power online in China Lake, California, 100 MW of solar power coming online this year, and plans for 26 MW of landfill gas power. The Navy has also planned to deploy 15 MW of wind and has enacted the nation’s only grid-connected “wave buoy” generation plant off the Hawaiian coast.
  • The Army currently has 126 renewable energy projects in operation, and hopes to leverage $7 billion in private capital to increase large-scale renewable projects by 2020. For example, the Army is planning a 500 MW solar energy plant at Fort Irwin, California. It continues to drill test wells for a 30 MW geothermal power plant at Hawthorne Army Depot, Nevada, and has begun construction of a 1 MW solar system at Fort Hunter Liggett, California, which will supply about one-third of the base’s energy demand.

Both the Department of Defense as a whole and each of the military branches have taken strong leadership in setting ambitious goals for energy independence and in deploying innovative energy technology to meet those targets. Major steps have been taken across the department to develop and implement new energy solutions using renewable fuels, renewable electricity, energy efficiency, energy storage, and smart and secure microgrids for electricity. The attached memo provides additional examples of these efforts and the policies that drive energy security and innovation.  

These strategic investments are cutting costs for the treasury, reducing strategic vulnerability, and creating jobs in emerging industries across the U.S. economy. These efforts should be sustained, supported, and enhanced in coming years by the future secretary of defense, the administration, and Congress.

Download a memo from the Center for American Progress Action Fund detailing the Department of Defense’s efforts and policies driving energy security and innovation (pdf)

Read the memo in your web browser

Bracken Hendricks is a Senior Fellow, Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Climate Strategy, and Lisbeth Kaufman is a Special Assistant on the Energy Opportunity team at American Progress.

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Bracken Hendricks

Senior Fellow

Daniel J. Weiss

Senior Fellow