Bioenergy

National Security Experts Call for Renewables Deployment

For decades, renewable energy has had its grassroots, leftist-leaning, environmentally conscious supporters. A recent letter delivered to the President and Congress by major figures in the policy and national security realm, however, perhaps best exemplifies a recent shift to mainstream support for renewable energy from even the most cautious, conservative ranks of society.

The letter — signed by figures including James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence, Frank Gaffney and Bud McFarlane, former national security advisors to President Reagan, and Adm. William T. Crowe, Jr. USN (Ret.); former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, among others — makes two points abundantly clear: The United States’ dependence on imported petroleum poses a risk to the country’s homeland security and economic well-being. A major new initiative to curtail U.S. consumption through improved energy efficiency, and the rapid development and deployment of renewable energy and other available petroleum fuel alternatives is imperative to prevent a future catastrophe, according to the letter. Addressed under the banner of the Energy Future Coalition, the letter further goes on to explain that increasing petroleum consumption by developing economies like China and India will exacerbate this risk, and that some foreign interests have used oil revenues in ways that harm U.S. national security. The letter stressed that with only two percent of the world’s oil reserves but 25 percent of current world consumption, the United States cannot eliminate its need for imports through increased domestic production alone, and therefore an equivalent emphasis on demand-side measures – development and deployment of clean, domestic petroleum substitutes and increased efficiency in our transport system – is essential. In the letter, the coalition used a previous statement by President Bush to deliver reinforce their message. On February 25, 2002, the president delivered a speech on the South Lawn of the White House saying that foreign oil “is a challenge to our economic security, because dependence can lead to price shocks and fuel shortages. And this dependence on foreign oil is a matter of national security. To put it bluntly, sometimes we rely upon energy sources from countries that don’t particularly like us.” “Mr. President, we agree,” the letter says. “We are writing today to urge that the United States respond – as it has so ably to other national security challenges – with a focused, determined effort that accepts nothing less than success … we ask that you launch a major new initiative to curtail U.S. consumption through improved efficiency and the rapid development and deployment of advanced biomass, alcohol and other available petroleum fuel alternatives.” To make any such effort a success, the coalition called for a funding level proportionate with other priorities of national defense, somewhere at least one billion dollars over the next five years. In addition to research and development, such investments should include tax credits and other incentives to encourage: rapid production and consumer purchase of advanced vehicles like hybrids, plug-in hybrids and flexible fuel vehicles; production of more efficient vehicles across all models; construction of domestic facilities to produce alternative fuels from domestic resources; and wide deployment of alternative liquid fuel options at existing fueling stations. The current effort from the Bush Administration has focused mostly on hydrogen fuel cell technologies which, at best, are decades away from being commonplace and commercially available throughout the U.S. Making no mention or suggestion of hydrogen fuel cell powered cars, the coalition said the federal Government should consider mandating substantial incorporation of hybrids, plug-in hybrids and flexible fuel vehicles into federal, state, municipal and other government fleets. While there’s no official response from the White House, the renewable energy and scientific community has itself reacted to this effort, with the Union of Concerned Scientists’ chief energy analyst saying that the letter “demonstrates that the urgent need to capture the benefits of renewable energy for national security is taken very seriously by many key players in the chain of command,” and adding that “maybe the commander-in-chief will finally get the message.” Someone calling out the President even more directly on his administration’s generally lackluster support for renewable energy is Joel Stronberg, the Washington representative for the American Solar Energy Society. He was quick to point out the significance of those who signed onto the letter. “Hardly a bunch of old hippies and tree huggers, the fact of their letter confirms what the sustainable energy advocates have been saying all along — that the Bush Administration’s disregard for developing clean domestic energy alternatives places the nation squarely in harm’s way,” Stronberg said. The national Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) struck a more conciliatory tone, with Rhone Resch, the trade group’s representative saying they are heartened to see the leadership of military, government, and industry leaders in calling for more domestically produced renewable energy.” “We in the U.S. solar industry share the goal of strengthening America’s security through greater use of domestic renewable energy,” Resch said. “The United States has the best solar resources in the industrialized world – our mission is to lead the world in developing those resources. Doing so will strengthen not only our economy, but our national security as well.” The full letter, along with a list signatories, can be downloaded at the link below.