If you believe energy efficiency and national security are separate topics, never to be conflated, think again. America's energy choices affect its troops on the ground, its foreign policy options and, as noted yesterday, the nation's overall economic well being.
Foreign policy options with an oil-rich country are immensely more complicated when the U.S. consumes about 25 percent of the world's oil supply and must import more than 50 percent of the oil it burns each day. Not only does that trend cost the U.S. important leverage, its entire economy is unnecessarily susceptible to economic shock.
As history shows, national security and economic prosperity are inseparable. The simplest answer undoubtedly still complicated is finding and drilling more oil from domestic sources, using less oil overall and importing far less than we do today. This requires a national energy strategy that has never existed, one that shifts U.S. consumption from fossil fuels like oil and coal toward carbon-freer solutions like nuclear, wind and solar.
Hey, no one said life would be easy.
The U.S. military could be important to the transition and should be a prominent player in any comprehensive energy strategy. The military could provide valuable real-world testing for energy-saving technologies that could be adapted for commercial use. The Internet, for example, started as a Defense Department project in the late 1960s.
Less than 3 percent of the electricity used at U.S. military installations comes from renewable sources, so the potential for more renewable power is huge. Military bases are essentially small cities; efficiencies learned there could be adapted to the broader population. The Air Force, for instance, is the leading federal purchaser of green power, and the Army recently bought a fleet of electric vehicles for its domestic bases.
This would be the beginning. The nation needs to upgrade the existing electricity grid to a so-called "smart," energy-efficient grid. The military could provide a perfect laboratory for pioneering the use of distributed and renewable energy at installations outside combat zones. The experience would accelerate use of these technologies commercially.
Like consumers, the military has an economic incentive to think green and efficient. A $10 change in the price of one barrel of oil translates to a $1.3 billion shift in the Pentagon's energy costs. By the time fuel reaches the battlefield, costs could be 10 times higher. These are real expenses dollars lost to inefficiency that otherwise could be redeployed.
Not to mention, of course, the shooting wars fought in places where one key strategic considering is maintaining the flow of foreign oil to the U.S. It stands to reason that less oil needed reduces the need to fight.
As Congress takes on energy policy, we urge members to pay attention to these opportunities and, of course, coordinate efforts so that the military's energy efforts don't trip over the nation's climate policies.
The U.S. must seize this opportunity to transform the military from its reliance on foreign and fossil-fuel energy sources. In so doing, the country that military so ably protects will take a major step toward prosperity and security.
-The Dallas Morning News