US military attacked for its clean-tech push (but sticks to its guns, anyway)(Read article summary)
Conservatives say Pentagon shouldn't worry so much about oil prices. Really?
MC3 Ryan Mayes/U.S. Navy/AP/File
For several years, the U.S. military has been one of the most active proponents and early-adopters of renewable energy and alternative fuels, with theirÂ Operational Energy Strategy.Â Why?Â Several reasons:
1.Â Fuel delivered to the remoteÂ front-lines such asÂ in Afghanistan for use in power generation and transportation has an â€śall-inâ€ť cost ofÂ $400/gallon.Â Any energy source that can be supplied locally, such as solar, to reduce fuel has significant potential for economic savings.
2.Â Being of critical logistical importance, convoys to deliver fuel are often the target of insurgent attacks, resulting in casualties to American servicemen and -women.Â Anything that can reduce the quantity and frequency of these convoys should obviously be a very good thing.
3.Â In buying so much oil, America sends hundreds of billions of dollars each year to regimes that not only donâ€™t like the U.S., but actively attack U.S.Â interests.Â As many astute observers such asÂ James Woolsey,Â former head of the CIA has said on a number of occasions,Â â€śwe are funding both sides of the war on terror.â€ťÂ Military reliance upon oil is a key contributing factor.
Now comesÂ James Bartis of the RAND Corporation, who argues in aÂ recent studyÂ that â€śmilitary planners are afflicted with petroleum anxiety.â€ťÂ He says that the military shouldnâ€™t be so worried about oil price increases and supply insecurity:Â â€śthey think prices are heading in only one direction:Â up.Â But history teaches us otherwise.â€ť
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is piling on to this argument.Â McCain isÂ alleging that the U.S. DOD long-term strategy to reduce reliance on fossil fuels is â€śan incredible waste of taxpayersâ€™ money.â€ťÂ In the mother of all current smears,Â McCainÂ is wary ofÂ â€ťanother Solyndraâ€ťÂ that might stem from this effort.
I pronounceÂ Bartis and McCain guilty of imprudent short-term thinking â€” which is surprising and highly disappointing, since I have generally considered RAND and McCain himself as having a good grasp of the big picture.Â
Fortunately, the military is keeping its head down and pushing forward with its plans:Â earlier this month,Â the Army released a $7 billion RFP for renewable and alternative energy projects to be installed over the next 10 years.
The militaryâ€™s energy strategyÂ is not solely or even mainly about minimizing $/gallon or c/kwh, and itâ€™s certainly not about environmental benefits.Â This is about building and operating a military that is best suited to win against aÂ dispersed enemy that derives its income from oil sales and targets oil supply lines to impede American military effectiveness and kill Americans.Â
Reducing oil consumption as muchÂ and as quickly as reasonablyÂ practicableÂ is key to unhooking our military from this thorny problem.Â True, part of reducing oil consumption is through increased efficiency,Â but part of reducing oil consumption can also beÂ via substitution of alternatives:Â biofuels, solar, and wind.
Whether the militaryâ€™s push for renewable energy will be as successful as desired is unclear.Â However, the only way to know is to try.Â If they donâ€™t try,Â the U.S. military â€” and our country more generally â€” willÂ just paint itself further into theÂ corner in which it finds itself strategically today.