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New report finds the military is saving tax dollars by using clean energy

This solar project at a Marine base in Hawaii is part of the military's effort to save taxpayer money through clean energy.
This solar project at a Marine base in Hawaii is part of the military's effort to save taxpayer money through clean energy.
Photo: ZDS Communications

On January 16th the Pew Charitable Trusts released a new report called “Power Surge” which examines how the military is using private-sector capabilities and harnessing innovative financing to obtain advanced energy systems. It found these projects are helping the Pentagon enhance mission assurance, save money, and meet congressional and executive branch goals.

In 2008, the Department of Defense commissioned a study to explore the key energy challenges facing the military in the 21st century. The panel’s report, “More Fight–Less Fuel,” called on the U.S. military to address two major challenges: the significant and growing demand for fuel in combat operations, and the vulnerability associated with almost complete reliance by military installations on the nation’s aging and vulnerable commercial power grid.

Beginning in 2009, the Obama Administration set forth an aggressive program to implement the recommendations of that report. Across the Department of Defense (DOD) a wide range of initiatives was launched to address energy challenges on bases, and in military operations. These included everything from using bio-diesel to fuel the Navy’s ships, to making bases and military housing both energy efficient and supplementing increasing percentages of their energy with renewable sources.

According to the study, the number of energy saving and efficiency projects at military installations more than doubled from fiscal year 2010 to fiscal year 2012, from 630 to 1,339. The number of renewable energy projects increased from 454 to 700 during the same period.

The U.S. military incurs a $4 billion energy bill annually operating its bases. To cut these const costs and enhance national security, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have initiated policies and measures to ensure progress in clean energy installation, including the widespread use of third-party financing in which private developers assume responsibility for funding and maintaining projects. Some of the key accomplishments of the DOD from Pew’s research are:

• Progress in reducing energy demand through conservation and efficiency. In 2012, the most recent year studied, there were 1,339 energy conservation projects on military bases double the 630 in 2010. These include more insulation, efficient windows, and modifications to HVAC systems to make them efficient.

• Increasing on-site electricity generation with renewable energy, through a goal of deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy—enough to power 750,000 homes—by 2025.

• Enhancing energy management by deploying advanced microgrids that incorporate sophisticated controls for managing demand, producing and distributing power, and allowing installations to operate independently of the commercial grid.

• Facilitating energy innovation through the Environmental Security Technology Certification Program and its Installation Energy Test Bed, which together catalyze breakthroughs in energy efficiency, management, and renewables that can be replicated across defense facilities.

Pew also found that clean energy efforts are accelerating. According to Navigant Research, Pew’s clean energy research partner for this report, in total, 384 MW of installed renewable energy capacity existed on the Pentagon’s installations in mid-2013. By the end of 2018, it is estimated that renewable energy on bases could increase more than fivefold, to 2.1 GW, enabling the military to meet its goal for deployment of 3 GW of renewable energy by 2025.

The U.S. military is working to secure third-party financing to acquire energy infrastructure enhancements and associated energy security benefits with little or no up-front cost. An estimated 80 percent of future Defense Department renewable energy projects will be financed through power purchase agreements that rely on private developers to finance, build, and maintain projects while saving the military money over the life of the contract. SolarCity is installing solar on military housing in several states under these arrangements.

The Defense Department is not only saving taxpayer money, it is reducing carbon emissions and enhancing our security. Keep it up.

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