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Military's Alternative Energy Investment Is Good for Local Economies

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El Paso is sunny; the Weather Channel ranks it as the fourth-sunniest sun in America. It is the perfect place for a growing solar sector.

The Solar Foundation ranks Texas seventh for current solar jobs and the State Energy Conservation Office ranks it number one in solar potential. The agency cites West Texas as receiving enough solar radiation to allow for utility-capacity solar generation.

For reasons of national security, the federal government has mandated the military services pull a quarter of their energy from renewable sources.

The Army plans to meet this goal with heavy investment in solar power for its bases. The Army plans to develop 1 gigawatt of solar power and Fort Bliss is slated to receive a 20-megawatt plant.

By 2013, El Paso estimates the post will house 21,000 troops and 30,000 family members contributing $3.7 billion to the local economy creating 2,000 new jobs. The influx of new servicemen and women will generate $248 million in new property tax revenue and $55 million in new sales taxes revenue.

Development of Fort Bliss' solar capacity means more economic activity and potentially lowers utility rates as demand decreases. If the installation can fulfill Fort Bliss' needs, the extra would be added to the grid, increasing the supply and driving down energy costs.

While lower energy costs are great, increased energy security is vital to national security as more operations are carried out remotely. Severe June storms in the Midwest and mid-Atlantic displayed the fragility of the current grid by cutting power to 19 military installations.

To address such concerns, the Departments of Defense and Interior signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to develop renewable energy from public lands set aside for defense usage. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said, "renewable energy projects built on these lands will provide reliable, local sources of power for military installations."

The alternative energy program receiving the most coverage was the Navy's development and purchase of biofuel at a cost of $26 per gallon. A congressional review of the program led Sen. and third-generation naval officer John McCain, R-Ariz., to tell Navy Secretary Ray Mabus: "Using defense dollars to subsidize new-energy technologies is not the Navy's responsibility."

The military begins significant consumer-side market forces to bear. The Defense Department is the largest energy consumer in America. The CNA Military Advisory Board, composed of retired three-star and four-star generals, wrote, "By addressing its own energy security needs, DoD (Department of Defense) can stimulate the market for new energy technologies Ã"degrees"

Technological investment by the military has given rise to hundreds of modern innovations and trillions in economic activity. Without military investment in technology, modern tools like the Internet and GPS would not exist.

Continued military investment in renewables is vital to America's national security and energy future. Decreased demand on the civilian power grid may lower utility rates as new technologies are developed, creating a cleaner and more secure energy future.

Military investment in renewable energy technologies opens innovation and economies-of-scale that will create the technologies of tomorrow.

James Lewis is a former national security analyst at Robert Weiner Associates, a Washington think tank.

Originally published in the September 2, 2012 El Paso Times under the headline: "Fort Bliss solar energy growth should boost local economy too."

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James Lewis is a former Senior Policy/National Security Analyst at the Washington-based think-tank, Robert Weiner Associates. He has also worked for Student Conservation Association as a Crew Leader engaging low-income urban students in a summer (more...)
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