Good news: DOD readying to quadruple renewable energy installations

Last summer, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lamented that, in terms of the Pentagon’s budget, the pending sequestration cuts “were designed as a meat ax… It was designed to be a disaster. Because the hope was, because it’s such a disaster, that Congress would respond and do what was right. And so I’m just here to tell you, yes, it would be a disaster” — but apparently, not enough of a disaster that the Pentagon can’t afford set some money aside to beef up their green-energy goals.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) currently spends approximately $20 billion per year directly on energy, consuming 3.8 billion kilowatts hours (kWh) of electricity and 120 million barrels of oil per year. The effort to reduce energy costs and reliance on fossil fuels – often purchased from countries hostile to U.S. interests – and increase energy security, particularly for forward operating bases (FOBs), is driving sweeping changes to DOD policies around energy. In particular, the DOD has ambitious plans to increase its use of renewable energy. According to a recent report from Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice, the total installed capacity of renewable energy sources for the U.S. military will grow from 80 megawatts (MW) in 2013 to more than 3,200 MW by 2025 – increasing more than four-fold in 12 years.

“U.S. military spending on renewable energy programs, including conservation measures, will reach almost $1.8 billion in 2025,” says research analyst Dexter Gauntlett. “This effort has the potential to not only transform the production, consumption, and transport of fuel and energy within the military; it will likely make the DOD one of the most important drivers of cleantech in the United States.”

The Army, Navy, and Air Force have each established targets of 1 gigawatt of installed renewable energy capacity by 2025.

Now, the obvious objection here is that renewable energies are more expensive than conventional fuels (which, they are), and the DOD consumes a heck of a lot of energy (which, it does), meaning that the taxpayer is footing an unnecessarily large bill for the Pentagon trying to greenify its operations. Administration officials counter, however, that Defense operations have extra considerations other than mere prices. Diversifying your energy usage portfolio may indeed be able to help enhance energy security and self-sufficiency — but the problem is that the Pentagon is not merely pushing for more heightened energy security through the most cost-effective means in all cases. They are specifically pushing for more of the Obama administration’s designated renewable energies.

I doubt very much that all of this striving to “green” our defense operations was as much the result of a careful, long-term cost v. benefit analysis than it was the Obama administration’s political agenda to both tout their greenie credentials and create an artificially more robust market for still expensive renewable energies. Why, for instance, is it the Department of Defense’s job to become “one of the most important drivers of cleantech in the United States”? Hint: It isn’t.

Addendum: Hagel’s confirmation hearings to fill the Secretary of Defense job are underway today; how will he run the Pentagon’s greenifying programs (besides, you know, however Obama might tell him to)? Via Politico:

The former Republican senator from Nebraska is known in environmental circles as a skeptic on climate change science who played a key role killing the Kyoto Protocol, pulling then-President George W. Bush to the right on greenhouse gases and shepherding energy policies into law that were much less ambitious than what advocates sought.

Some enviros who backed President Barack Obama say they fear Hagel won’t be an advocate for their cause if he ends up leading the Pentagon…

Liberals have fought for years to green the Pentagon, because it’s the largest consumer of energy within the American government. Abroad, many greens believe the Pentagon could be a force for change as it grapples firsthand with the instability and violence brought on by drought and fierce tropical storms — symptoms scientists attribute to global climate change. …

Obama isn’t hiring Hagel to lead the Pentagon because of his views on global warming. But the nomination is still striking, given the president’s emphasis on the issue during his second inaugural address…