Generating Security: Resilient, Renewable Energy for Military Installations

Last week,  I was proud to stand with Representative Scott Peters (D-San Diego) as he continues to push for energy security for our military.  Military installations here at home depend almost entirely on the fragile, antiquated electric grid for power, making them increasingly vulnerable to extreme weather events or an attack on our infrastructure.  This is unacceptable.

As a Navy veteran who was stationed here in Southern California and an energy efficiency engineer, energy security is a particularly vital issue to me.  It means having the power to keep a clinic up and running during a blackout.  It means being able to provide time-sensitive support to missions in Afghanistan when my brothers and sisters in arms need it.  And it means food, water, and medical assistance to surrounding communities during a natural disaster.

There are more than 30 military installations in California alone.  Although there are diesel generators on site to provide backup for critical systems, these generators still need fuel that must be transported and stored.  In a natural disaster, logistics may prove impossible; at present, there is no plan for how to transport enough fuel to keep all the bases in Southern California powered through an extended blackout.

And in the last few years, there were a lot of blackouts.  In 2012, the Department of Defense (DoD) reported 87 outages of 8 hours or more on military installations.  At one point during Hurricane Sandy, there were 8.5 million people without power.

As the Secretary of Energy warned this year, more than half of the cyber-attacks in the United States have been focused on energy infrastructure.  Just over a year ago, there was an armed attack on a substation in San Jose – the perpetrators of which were never identified.  Between natural disasters and potential terrorist attacks, there is a clear and present danger presented by factors outside of our control.

The Air Force, Army, and Navy will each generate more than one gigawatt of renewable energy on their installations by 2020.  Solar panels paired with large-scale modular batteries or other energy storage technologies are the key to providing power in the event of a blackout.

Energy secure bases will use the renewable generation at their disposal to stay operational; in the case of Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar, that means a microgrid tied to the power they already generate from the adjacent landfill.  This additional level of sophistication, to keep the renewables generating power in a blackout, is not currently tied to any of the federal renewable policies.

The Udall-Peters Department of Defense Energy Security Act of 2014 (DODESA 2014) will fix this problem and improve energy security by scaling up the integration of renewables and backup power systems.  Cost savings from existing DoD energy projects will be available for bases to use to fund further energy projects, creating a virtuous circle for clean energy projects that mirrors what’s happening in the private sector.  This legislation will also provide a vehicle for funding energy security itself, adding a cost benefit security analysis to the rules by which projects qualify for funding.

But that’s not the only good news for installations in California.  Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission rebuffed the utilities’ attempts to charge additional fees and delay integrating battery-tied solar systems into the grid.  This is a win for manufacturers and providers of these systems but even more significant for facilities concerned about energy security.  And AB 2649, currently making its way through the California legislature will allow military bases to generate more solar power than just the one megawatt at which they were previously capped.

For our national security at home and abroad, we have an obligation to keep the lights on when no one else can.  DODESA 2014 and AB2649 are huge steps in the right direction and efforts that I support whole heartedly as both a Californian and a veteran.  It is not a matter of if but when the next attack of natural disaster or attack or infrastructure failure occurs and we have an obligation to be prepared when it does.

Andrea Marr

Andrea Marr is a U.S. Navy veteran, practicing energy engineer, and a native Californian. She is also a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. Views expressed are her own.

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