Army's Logic for Developing Wind and Solar Energy Makes No Sense

Wind and solar power are not less expensive, and will not increase the Army's energy security.

A wind farm in California.

Daniel Kish is senior vice president at the Institute for Energy Research.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently put out a request for proposal for renewable energy developers to build energy facilities on Army bases. The Army says building renewables such as wind and solar on Army bases will promote "energy security," however this claim fails to acknowledge the inherent problem of reliability with intermittent sources of energy like wind and solar. The Army also claims that it wants to blunt the impact of electricity price increases, but instead of proposing low-cost sources of electricity, the Army proposes high-cost sources like advanced biofuels. The Army's justification for their plan does not make any sense.  

It is important to remember that under our system of civilian control of the military, political appointees direct the branches of the military to carry out administration policy, and the military salutes and carries out the orders. It would appear that politicians working to promote renewables is the reason the Army is making this move, because its proposal would essentially accomplish the opposite of what it says it intends to do.  

When the Army announced that they had sent out a request for proposal for renewables on Army bases, Assistant Secretary for Installations, Energy, and the Environment Katherine Hammack claimed, "Right now, the power grid is aging and we have all seen increased interruptions which have affected our military installations." She continued, "We don't always build them in garden spots around the United States. Some, like Fort Bliss [Texas], are at the end of the power line. This will give us energy security by having power produced on the installation that's able to serve the base in case of power disruption."

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The problem with Hammack's argument is it assumes renewables such as wind and solar are reliable, despite the fact that everyone knows these sources of energy are inherently intermittent and therefore unreliable. Weather forecasting has improved such that it is more likely to know whether there will be sufficient wind tomorrow or sufficient sun, but that is not reliability. Wind or solar would make power production on military bases more secure if disruptions to the grid only happened when the wind was blowing or the sun was shining, and that will obviously not be the case.

Despite the fact that wind and solar are not reliable sources of energy, the Army's request for proposal explicitly calls for proposals for wind and solar (see pages 6, 7 among others). Hammack's argument that producing wind and solar on Army bases with increased "energy security" does not hold water, since the obvious alternatives, coal, and natural gas, are abundant in the United States: The United States has over 450 years of coal at the current rate of consumption, for example.

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The Army also claims that the purpose of the renewable energy projects is to shield Army bases from electricity price hikes. But like the energy security argument, the Army's assertion that its proposal will save money is rooted in fallacy. One of the reasons electricity prices are rising is because of regulations imposed by the Obama administration, and the Army could simply ask Congress to waive them for the military if high prices were the only issue at hand.

According to the Energy Information Administration, 27 gigawatts of coal-fired electricity generating capacity will close by 2016. If the Obama administration were truly concerned about electricity prices increases, they would halt the regulations leading to these record plant closures.

The Army's justifications for building wind and solar installations on its bases does not make sense—at least not according to their own logic. It does not improve energy security to build sources of electricity that are inherently intermittent and unreliable like wind and solar. Furthermore, if the Army and the Obama administration were sincerely troubled by electricity price increases, they would stop the impending regulatory assault on coal-fired power plants, rather than wasting limited defense dollars on high-cost sources like wind and solar. 

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