New Hampshire, U.S.A. — It’s the middle of October, and the solar industry is on life support. Evergreen has died. SpectraWatt is buried. And Solyndra’s eulogy has made mention of the black plague of federal financing. Meanwhile, ethanol is counting its days and second generation biofuels are DOA. And wind? If it’s not dying, it’s on a killing spree taking with it every bird in sight.
OK. So this isn’t the reality. But in many circles, it’s the perception. And as we all know, perception can quickly turn into reality. With that unfortunate truth in mind, there is the realization that all renewables need to chart an alternate course, and perhaps tell a different story. In a sense, they need to convince the same people who have happily written their obituaries that they are the key – not to our environmental concern, but to our security worries.
Renewables are going rogue, and they’re coming with firepower.
That firepower is being wielded by the American military. Yes, the very military industrial complex President Eisenhower warned us about 50 years ago may lead us out of the energy crisis President Carter alerted us to more than three decades ago.
Now, the question is, “Who will come along for the ride?” Even the most hardened in the Tea Party movement don’t dislike the notion of renewable energy. They just don’t think it’s something worthy of federal support. If it’s not protecting our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, then it should be guided solely by free market principles. But what if it did protect our liberty? What if it was intrinsically linked to our collective security?
Even though it probably doesn’t qualify as a federal energy policy, people at the highest level of the Pentagon see renewable energy as a solution to our energy security. To them, clean energy allows the U.S. to stay out of global affairs in which our only perceivable goal is to keep the oil flowing. It also has a bit to do with global warming (or climate change as those who see the results but refute the cause like to call it). Warming climates are expected to lead to more extreme weather in some parts and contribute to more politically unstable situations in others. In each of these scenarios, it could require greater military involvement and, yes, more taxpayer money.
At a recent event in Concord, N.H., a city that promises to hold political sway in the upcoming first-in-the-nation primary, retired Rear Adm. Larry Baucom and Republican State Sen. Gary Lambert were among those making the call for GOP legislators to get onboard with their vision of an American economy dominated by energy produced from wind, solar, hydro, biomass and geothermal and a culture powered by American-grown biofuels. Later in the month, Retired Four-Star Gen. Robert Keys spoke to a bipartisan crowd in the same state to address many of the same concerns.
There already has been a change — or an order, if you will — coming from the highest levels of the Pentagon. At Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, most of the energy output comes from solar installations while at a Navy and Marine training facility at Dam Neck, Va., about half the power comes from geothermal sources. Recently, the Department of Energy announced a deal to install solar panels on 160,000 rooftop locations at military bases in 33 states and in early August, the military announced a plan to install large-scale renewable energy projects on its lands to meet a goal of drawing 25 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2025.
Even more potential comes from the biofuels that will be used by the Air Force and the Navy. Also in August, President Obama announced a federal investment of $510 million over three years to produce advanced drop-in aviation and marine biofuels. The goal is that by 2016, all military fuel will include at least 50-percent biofuels.
These military renewable energy initiatives have the ability to boost confidence for both industries and consumers, which in turn would lead to greater production and new streams of revenue. The American military has always been lauded for its ability to drive innovation and create commercial markets.
But more than anything, this emerging partnership has the ability to make all Americans re-evaluate energy based more on security and less on cost. That shift would scale up demand, would increase production and would drive down the very cost held up as the main concern by opponents. Then, maybe, we’d all have something we could agree on.