Report: U.S. military renewable policies need more security focus

By Anna Simet | May 01, 2014

A new paper released by the Center for National Policy says that while the U.S. military is aggressively pursuing its renewable energy targets, in order to fully realize its energy security goals, it must begin providing clear models for integrating renewable energy and energy security into current procurement policies and practices.

The authors point out recent natural disasters in the U.S. have underscored the electric grid’s vulnerabilities and limitations, such as when Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012 and left 8.5 million people without power.  Grid vulnerability isn’t limited to climate-related incidences, the paper continues. For example, an attack on a California electrical substation by an unknown group armed with semiautomatic weapons disabled 17 transformers in April 2013.

While in recent years the U.S. military has played more significant roles in domestic response to natural disasters, the report says, its own domestic infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to power outages. All four branches of the military have recognized renewable energy targets set by the Energy Policy Act by 2005 and have been aggressively pursuing them, adding 384 MW of on-base power by 2013 with 1.7 GW more to be installed by the end of 2018, but these systems “generally do not contribute to increased energy security on military installations.”

Most on-base renewable energy power systems are configured to offset electricity purchases from the grid but cannot provide power to the base during blackouts, the report says, pointing out that many DOD facilities have used diesel generators as backup power sources, which are susceptible to sustained blackouts because of limited fuel and potential fuel delivery interruptions.

Technologies that use local and renewable fuels, including biomass, wind, solar and geothermal would provide the “greatest degree of energy certainty to military installations and can stretch scarce fossil fuel supplies,” the report says, adding that current DOD procurement pathways are not  designed to accommodate projects that utilize renewable energy to deliver energy security. “Historically, military bases have relied on a mix of budget appropriations and alternative financing mechanisms…although energy service performance contracts and power purchase agreements have been successful for installing on-base renewable energy and energy efficiency, they do not represent a scalable pathway for procuring energy security infrastructure.”

The report makes several recommendations to strengthen military energy security. One is to support enhanced energy security planning by determining the pathway to energy security on each individual installation, ranking facility criticality and enforcing an energy backup requirement that includes identification of renewable energy sources to meet needs.

Base energy managers should be empowered, the report recommends, by providing them with increased authority and funding to empower them to enact policies and changes that will better lay the groundwork for resilient installations.

Additional recommendations the authors make include developing guidance for bases to procure secure renewable energy systems in a replicable way, and creating community partnerships—opportunities to jointly pursue secure renewable energy with local utilities and surrounding communities.