WASHINGTON — Developing a deliberate approach to energy and climate change is an important platform to national security and the U.S. military mission, a senior Defense Department official told members of Congress here yesterday.
Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about the Pentagon’s take on the California Desert Protection Act of 2010.
The proposal, introduced to Congress in December, requests that hundreds of thousands of acres of federally granted land belonging to military installations and school systems in the Southwest be designated as national park wilderness areas.
The plan also would permit construction of transmission lines to facilitate renewable energy transfer in these wilderness areas and provide solar energy companies with potential projects.
“The Department of Defense supports these goals and we want to work closely with the committee to ensure that military renewable energy and environmental equities are protected as you further develop this legislation,” Robyn said in her written statement. “As the Quadrennial Defense Review made clear, crafting a strategic approach to energy and climate change is a high priority for the department.”
Pentagon research has determined that the military’s heavy reliance on oil and fossil fuels comes with risks to its tactical and strategic agenda, Robyn said. Continued use of these resources without eventually finding alternate energy will result in “lost dollars, in reduced mission effectiveness and in U.S. soldiers’ lives,” she explained.
“Unleashing warfighters from the tether of [fossil] fuel and reducing our military installations’ dependence on a costly and potentially fragile power grid will not [only] simply enhance the environment, it will significantly improve our mission effectiveness,” she added.
Robyn acknowledged that the department’s installations – some 300,000 buildings and 2.2 billion square feet of floor space – account for nearly 30 percent of the department’s energy use. The Pentagon spent $4 billion on energy for permanent installations in 2009, she said, noting the department’s pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by 34 percent during the next decade.
“The expansion of renewable energy development on our installations will be key to meeting that goal,” she said. “Combined with appropriate technologies and necessary energy assurance policies, the development of renewable energy can help military installations provide greater mission assurance.”
Robyn noted examples of the military’s pursuit of renewable energy, citing progress at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where a 14-megawatt photovoltaic solar energy system saves $1 million a year in electricity costs and avoids 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Also, Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, Calif., has been operating a 270-megawatt geothermal plant since 1987, Robyn said. She added that the Navy is working with the Army to tap into geothermal resources as well.
Some renewable energy, however, can be problematic for military installations, she acknowledged. Robyn described how wind turbines and solar towers can interfere with aircraft navigation and other radars. She also noted that the land on many military installations is home to protected wildlife, and that solar projects increase competition for water supply.
“We are working actively both to identify potential problems well in advance of [selecting sites] and to develop better mitigation technology,” she said. “However, some conflicts may be unavoidable, and sustaining our ability to conduct our current and projected mission requirements must be our overriding consideration.”
Despite these issues, the military is committed to helping the development of renewable and alternative resources, she said. She acknowledged the importance of the legislation to the military and the partnership between the military and lawmakers in drafting the bill.
“As a result of that collaboration, the bill incorporates many provisions that address and protect our operations,” Robyn said. “The military has significant interests and equities in federal policy dealing with the development of renewable and alternative energy sources.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)