Military's Two-Pronged Renewable Energy Initiative

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"U.S. military is one of country's biggest renewable energy supporters."

Clean air mandates pushed the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to start developing renewable energy technologies. But the benefits of energy security and independence are what finally converted many military leaders into believers.

"Renewable sources make us less vulnerable," said Joe Sikes of the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense. "Our goal is to take advantage of all available resources."

In combat zones, the Army is exploring mobile solar and wind generators to replace fuel trucks, which are frequent targets for insurgent attacks. More than 1,000 Americans have died while delivering fuel in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years. The DOD hopes renewable energy can make military bases energy-independent and, ultimately, immune from threats to the utility grid.

Congress in 2007 gave the DOD marching orders to draw 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. After President Obama called for 20% by 2020, the DOD established a Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan, which targets improvements in greenhouse gas emissions, waste management and energy efficiency.

Some say a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard would increase the likelihood of achieving these goals. Others want an energy bill that permits the Army and Air Force to secure Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) beyond the 10-year cap in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) so more investors will consider utility-scale projects.

"To meet those goals and achieve energy security, this is the time for public officials to step up and make sure this fledgling market has long-term success," said Karen Butterfield, director of federal accounts for SunPower Corp., which has developed the largest utility-scale solar arrays on federal property.

As a policy matter, the military has officially embraced the idea of becoming the federal government's testing ground for renewable technology.

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