The U.S. Department of Defense increased its clean energy investments from $400 million in 2006 to $1.2 billion in 2009 and it is on track to spend than $10 billion annually by 2030, according to a new study by the Pew Environment Group. That may come as little surprise to our readers, since TriplePundit has been covering the U.S. military’s sustainability programs for a while now, most recently with the the dramatic demonstration of a jet biofuel blend by the Navy’s legendary Blue Angels flight team. What may be a surprise is that this forceful push for clean energy puts the military on a collision course with the current majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives, which has traditionally supported national security initiatives including the development of new technology.
The Pew Report: More Clean Energy for National Security
The new report is titled “From Barracks to the Battlefield: Clean Energy Innovation and America’s Armed Forces.” The title neatly sums up a new development this year in the military’s clean energy strategy. While major new solar installations and other renewables are becoming ubiquitous at military bases in the U.S., clean energy that can be harvested on site is also being tested at overseas operating bases, including a combat zone in Afghanistan (this trend was also covered recently by the Sierra Club in a report titled Blood and Oil). Aside from the expense of transporting fossil fuels to remote bases, the key goal is to reduce the risk to troops and loss of life caused by fuel convoys.
More Opportunities for U.S. Businesses
A previous Pew report showed substantial growth in the clean energy job sector between 1998 and 2007. That was even before the passage of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, which mandated energy efficiency, greenhouse gas reduction and alternative fuel goals for all federal agencies including the military. With more utility-scale clean energy projects for the military coming into the pipeline, the prospects for additional job growth in the clean energy sector looks good. The new Pew report underscores how the Department of Defense is “helping to accelerate the development and deployment of clean energy technologies,” including vehicle efficiency, which also translates into a big boost for green jobs while increasing the military’s access to safer and more reliable energy sources.
Clean Energy and Taxpayers
Here is where it gets a bit sticky. Clean energy almost by definition involves new technologies that pose risky investments for the private sector. Historically, the federal government has helped the private sector raise capital for new technology that serves a public good through research grants, loans, and loan guarantees, along with access to federal research laboratories and other taxpayer-funded resources. To take just one famous example, without this public-private partnership, the Internet – the creature of a military research agency called DARPA – as we know it today would not exist. The infamous Solyndra bankruptcy was unfortunate but it is a risk built into a creative, dynamic system that has made the U.S. a global technology leader.
A Clean Energy Roadblock from (Some) Federal Legislators
Despite the key role that clean energy has begun to play in national security, business opportunities and job creation, the House majority has been ratcheting up its opposition to federal clean energy funding in the aftermath of the Solyndra bankruptcy. Last week the House majority sent a bill to the Senate that cut a popular federal loan program for clean vehicles, as an unprecedented offset for increasing FEMA disaster relief. This is the type of loan program needed to provide the Department of Defense with a future supply of advanced domestically-manufactured vehicles. The move was so unusual and so detrimental to U.S. business interests that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has opposed the Obama Administration on many other fronts, circulated a letter to the Senate to register its vehement objections to the cut. Between the U.S. military and business sectors, it seems that the House majority has alienated its two core constituencies in one fell swoop.
Image Credit: Solar tent courtesy U.S. Army