Clean Energy at Home Enables Defense Abroad – CELI
By: 2019 Washington DC Fellow Matthew Munroe
The National Defense Strategy (NDS) published in 2018 by the then-Secretary of Defense James Mattis, asserts “the homeland is no longer a sanctuary.” The document references deliberate threats to our infrastructure and society, but another threat is much more nefarious and unpredictable, if not deliberately so.
Annual weather patterns, weather anomalies, and catastrophic generational weather events exacerbated by climate change endanger our bases and stations across the globe by threatening the very lifeblood that runs them: energy. Every year, some devil’s brew of hurricanes, earthquakes, wildfires, floods, and tornadoes inflict billions of dollars in damage and these impacts are expected to continue, according to this 2019 DoD report. Just last year, Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska, Tyndall Air Force Base in North Carolina, and Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune suffered damage due to flooding and a single hurricane estimated to cost more than $8 billion to recover. Rebuilding in kind is a policy that will certainly recreate the current multi-billion-dollar problem in the very near future. The Marine Corps and Air Force should insist on a more persistent, survivable, and resilient architecture based around clean and renewable energy solutions.
Over the last decade, renewable energy sources have made significant progress in approaching energy cost parity with conventional energy sources. Figure 1 shows that, when levelized, many of the unsubsidized alternative energy solutions are, in fact, less expensive than conventional options.
But cost-parity is not enough. The familiarity heuristic coupled with institutional momentum necessitates that alternative energy systems input additional “latent effort” to overcome the status quo, in this case, conventional fossil fuel energy systems and macro-grid-style infrastructure. The truly compelling aspect of renewable and clean energy systems is survivability.
According to Major General Vincent Coglianese, commanding general of Marine Corps Installations Command, in testimony before Congress, the installations he oversees provide three “critical force-enabling, functions”:
- They are deployment platforms from which our expeditionary forces fight and win our Nation’s battles
- They are where the Marine Air-Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) train and hone their combat readiness
- They house our Marines and families
Damage to homes, facilities, headquarters, and training facilities degrades all three of these functions. Technologies that enable bases to protect and fully operate this infrastructure should be planned and implemented immediately. What better opportunity than when that infrastructure must already be repaired or replaced?
Many military facilities, including Camp Lejeune and its surrounding bases, could benefit greatly from offshore wind, wave or tidal energy. Combined with solar, smart metering, and energy storage technologies, the potential exists for installations like Camp Lejeune to not only survive the coming storms but to maintain their defense capability and provide support to the local off-base infrastructure. This type of microgrid technology is employed across the United States and the world in small towns and cities and is one critical component to ensuring a robust and persistent military capability in the wake of significant weather events.
Fairfield, Connecticut, in recognition of its perilous energy situation, installed a microgrid that maintains critical infrastructure during a power outage. Deputy Commissioner Katie Dykes said, regarding the grid, “Fairfield’s microgrid project is an example of how a municipality can help protect public safety and minimize hardships to their residents and businesses during power outages.” Of the microgrid, completed and operational in 2015, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions reported, “Since the microgrid system was installed, no storms have knocked out the main commercial grid. The microgrid, however, is tested routinely to make certain it is ready to run on its own.” Based on this, Fairfield can reasonably be said to be more resilient in the face of foul weather than Camp Lejeune, a distinction that ought not to be allowed to stand. While there is not currently a universally agreed-upon “resiliency metric,” a first approximation might include “the ability to produce, store, and deliver power in the wake of a local power outage.” This, too, is an area where the Department of Defense can take the lead, by establishing and reporting on this metric.
As the DoD struggles to secure funding to repair its damaged installations, we rapidly approach yet another hurricane season. There is a strong likelihood that coastal Carolina will experience at least one significant storm during this season, requiring further Congressional intervention for Camp Lejeune to maintain its national defense role. The Marine Corps is in a unique position to implement long-term changes to its installation energy plans. These plans can and should be a model for other communities off-installation. Adopting microgrid technology and improved building standards should be the first among many initiatives to again make the Corps’ homeland a sanctuary.