Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal to curb oil use by half and generate half of California’s energy from renewable sources by 2030 is laudable. Diversifying our energy sources, however, isn’t just about creating jobs, investing in innovation or slowing climate change. It’s really about keeping our industries, businesses and families safe.
As lawmakers push sweeping changes to California’s energy policy, they must re-evaluate what type of energy infrastructure we want to build. Having our energy production physically located in centralized clusters creates appealing targets for those who would attack American interests, and relying on an out-of-date electrical grid puts our capabilities – both civil and military – at risk.
Instead of doubling down on vulnerable infrastructure and nonrenewable power sources, it is time to think about energy from a security standpoint. Throughout my 33-year career with the U.S. Navy, I saw the benefits of diversifying energy sources. I firmly believe that our sailors are safer today because the planes and ships of the world’s greatest fighting force can be powered by alternative fuels, even as simple as leftover cooking oil.
Energy is key to accomplishing our mission, and the U.S. Department of Defense is the world’s largest consumer of fuel. And while we are not going to run out of oil tomorrow, our heavy reliance on a single source poses a strategic threat, especially as the ever-changing security landscape requires our troops to travel long distances at a moment’s notice. In Iraq and Afghanistan, our dependence cost us severely in both blood and treasure; thousands of Americans were killed clearing roads and escorting or moving fuel convoys.
To address those security concerns, the military is adapting. Remote outposts in Afghanistan are powering communications equipment with solar technology. Moreover, the Pentagon is committed to powering installations with 30 percent renewables by 2025. Losing air conditioning during a hot summer is inconvenient in your home, but it can be downright deadly when a military base loses power and is no longer available to support critical operations.
Some won’t see the urgency of these significant changes. Recent improvements in energy efficiency and oil and gas extraction have been good for us here at home. With oil prices so low, the appeal of taking the easy route and continuing to rely on dirty fossil fuels is undeniable.
The underlying logic of that position – that we could quit any time, but just not right now – surely underscores the fact that Americans are unhealthily addicted to oil. And while it would be nice to think we could drill our way to energy independence, the reality is that even if we extracted all of our available resources, countries around the world that don’t share our values or interests – including Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran – will still have more.
The military knows that to win a war, you must get out in front of the fight. And for our energy security, that means we must diversify with clean, reliable sources. We are a nation that does not wait for other countries to make our decisions for us; we are a nation that leads.
In short, Americans across the country and around the world are beginning to understand that energy security means innovation, diversity and resilience. California’s veterans and military leaders stand with Gov. Brown and the Legislature as they push forward to an energy future that keeps us safe.
Len Hering is executive director of the California Center for Sustainable Energy. He is a retired rear admiral and former commander of Navy Region Southwest.