Memorial Day, commemorating those who have fought in wars before us, is not only a reflection of past lives and battles, but also about the galvanizing American spirit which has helped shape generations of manufacturing, technological advances and found creative ways to use our natural resources. At the end of a short work week in Washington, I tend to geek out on our many intersections between our national security and our energy needs, dating back more than a century.
This Memorial Day week, The New York Times ran an editorial calling for investment in “cleaner energy.” There are a few interesting things about this particular piece, aside from it being a thoughtful and comprehensive view on the challenges our nation faces in energy planning today.
First, the editorial summarizes an exchange between a flustered Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes and the Secretary of the Navy. What Mr. Forbes may not have realized in asserting that the Navy had no business in energy issues is that historically, the Department of Defense (formerly the War Department) was the primary force for energy planning as a component of national defense.
In fact, by the 1920s, the nation’s electricity supply was under serious consideration by the War Department as a result of the widespread use of this technology in urban areas of the U.S. and Europe. A post-World War I War Department commissioned a report in 1921 to study the technical challenges of interconnecting the nascent electricity grid. The modern day Department of Energy that– formed not until 1977 in response to the 1973 oil crisis– has dealt with civilian uses of electricity and oil over the past four decades.
But energy and defense have been inextricably linked since the beginning of time, as accounted in David Nye’s famous history of energy, Consuming Power. Our war efforts have historically moved the ball forward on energy issues, from efforts to create nuclear energy to the military’s current use of distributed solar energy to power mission critical work overseas.
Second, the editorial notes the work of the Department of Interior to receive feedback on planning for new infrastructure in the southwest through prescreened solar energy zones. Think of lands held in the public trust, such as those vast western landscapes managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), as strategic reserves, managed for their highest and best use to benefit the American public. Many of these federal lands have been assumed by the Department of Defense as grounds for flight training and for missile test training readiness.
Military uses, as well as the preservation of important habitat, are uses that need to fit within our new energy economy. And what is remarkable about the DOI’s inclusive process for identifying solar zones, is that it has resulted in consensus recommendations from industry and environmental groups that are balanced, practical and get the job done.
Like generations before us, we continue to evolve and so does our energy sector. In the year 2012, the United States is ready to take the next step, with overwhelming support for clean, renewable energy from wind and solar. Now is an opportune time to take advantage and participate fully in the $2.3 trillion global market in clean technology. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option.
Just take the Colorado College State of the Rockies Poll released this past January which found that 72% of Arizonans perceived renewable energy as a job creator throughout the west. With job creation being the #1 issue through this next election, Americans should feel a sense of patriotism, knowing that we have an opportunity to promote home grown energy that cuts our need for foreign fuels and aids our national security.
Increasing national security is just one of many reasons that as a society we should transition away from heavy dependence on fossil fuels, but it is a good one. Funding responsibly sited renewable energy projects is a necessity, and an even larger one is making sure that we are maximizing our efficiency, and using the electricity we do produce in the most efficient ways we can. The world just isn’t big enough to accommodate our lifestyles without fostering a practical solution to energy challenges. It’s a challenge America can handle.