Alternative energy makes sense for far-flung military

Monday, October 25, 2010

It may be the ultimate irony that the same military that has gone to war over fossil fuel over the years may help kill the need to fight for oil.

The New York Times reported that the fuel the military buys for a little over $1 a gallon costs $400 to deliver to some forward operating bases.

At that rate, you don't have to be a tree-hugger to appreciate the value of generating power from solar panels or wind on-site.

Not only is hauling fuel expensive, tanker trucks on their way to Afghanistan make tempting targets for insurgents. According to one army study, for every 24 fuel convoys sent out, one soldier or civilian involved in moving the fuel is killed.

One Marine company recently arrived in the Helmand Province with portable solar panels, energy conserving lights, solar tent shields and solar chargers for computers and communications equipment. That all translates into diesel fuel that won't have to be hauled thousands of miles.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wants half of the power for the Navy and Marines to come from renewable energy sources by 2020, including bases as well as fuel for cars and ships.

The Navy's first hybrid vessel, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship named the U.S.S. Makin Island, was launched last year. By running under 10 knots on electricity rather than fossil fuel, it saved 900,000 gallons of fuel on its maiden voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, compared with a conventional ship its size.

The Air Force is getting into the act, expecting to have its entire fleet certified to fly on biofuels by 2011, and has already flown test flights using a 50-50 mix of plant-based biofuel and jet fuel. The Navy started using fuel made from algae this summer. There is even a chance, officials say, the fuel could be produced near battlefields wherever the raw materials, like plants, are available.

Nebraskans, especially, should be interested in alternative energy, both because of the cost of delivering conventional energy to remote areas, and because we are in a position to be a leader in the production of alternative energy from solar, wind and biofuels.

Sadly, much of the technology we count on in modern life is a result of war -- jet engines and nuclear power, just to name two -- so we shouldn't be surprised if war gives alternative energy the kick start it needs to come into widespread use.

Let's hope today's military investment in wind, solar and biofuels helps make tomorrow's energy wars unnecessary.

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