GUEST COLUMN: Putting America first means building more clean energy
As President Trump advances his "America First" agenda, solar and wind power are missing from a script that favors oil, gas and coal. But our military, always duty-bound to put America first, is on a different path. As one of the world's largest consumers of fossil fuels, the Department of Defense sees clean energy as crucial to the nation's security - and it is acting accordingly.
Deriving more energy from the sun, wind and other sources helps ensure resilience against supply disruptions and price shocks, which is why defense sites nearly doubled their renewables output between 2011 and 2015. In Colorado Springs on the Peterson and Schriever Air Force Bases, for example, rooftop solar panels have been installed to power homes. Fort Carson has added two solar arrays and electric vehicles.
As an Army Engineering Officer, I served for 10 years implementing DOD energy policy and projects around the world, similar to programs underway at Fort Carson, one of several bases aiming for net-zero energy use in the coming decades. But as military sites across the country award contracts to build clean energy and improve efficiency, they are doing more than gaining independence from the power grid. They are also contributing to a sector that employs 3 million people nationwide.
Here in Colorado, the clean energy economy employs 62,000 people, more than 1,500 of them in the Colorado Springs metro area, according to a recent report from the business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), and more jobs are coming.
I have experience with oil and gas, initially as an engineer working for ExxonMobil in Alaska and later as a policy manager of both natural gas and renewable projects for the utility Xcel Energy. Early on, when I was a young field engineer working on the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound, I saw firsthand the costly downside of our dependence on fossil fuels. Unfortunately, the more fossil fuels we use, the more we risk spills and prolonging our dependence on foreign and domestic oil. As I saw in Alaska, long-distance crude oil pipeline delivery - and even longer-distance tanker delivery - can expose our environment and our economy to disaster.
Renewable energy doesn't come with those hazards - you don't spill sun or wind, but that doesn't mean it's just for environmentalists and owners of electric cars. Through the Motorcycle Relief Project, I help lead "relief rides," or healing adventure tours with veterans around the Southwest. On those motorcycle rides, I enjoy our region's beauty, and at the same time hear about the concerns facing our returning combat veterans. One of those is finding a good-paying job.
The clean energy sector is providing those jobs, from solar installers to turbine technicians to efficiency experts. It hires a greater percentage of veterans than other industries, including oil and gas. In the wind energy business, for example, more than 11 percent of workers are veterans, while fossil fuel power tops out at 9.8 percent and 7 percent is the national average, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Here in Colorado, we can double down on efficiency and renewable resources to help improve the job market. We can also take advantage of federal tax credits to help keep the renewable energy economy booming in the state.
The White House, meanwhile, should remain committed to international climate agreements and remember the importance of clean energy to our national security and to jobs for veterans. After all, a healthy clean energy sector means veterans like those who are trained at Fort Carson through the Energy Department's Solar Ready Vets program will have ample work opportunities after they serve.
In the current polarized atmosphere, it can be easy to forget that solid common ground exists. Clean energy consistently wins bipartisan support among lawmakers and state leaders because it saves money and creates jobs. Public opinion is similarly favorable across party lines: A recent survey of registered voters from Colorado College's State of the Rockies Project found that 77 percent of Coloradans support allowing more wind and solar energy projects on public lands.
We all would do well to remember what the military already knows: Our future is stronger and more secure with a robust clean energy industry, and so is our workforce.
Tony C. Williams is a fifth-generation Coloradan, Army veteran and member of the Rocky Mountains chapter of E2. He now lives in Denver and leads the Program Management practice at Jacobs, an international engineering firm.