12/23/2014 01:49 pm ET Updated Feb 22, 2015

Military, Private Sector Are Close Partners in Securing America's Clean Energy Future

The military has ambitious energy goals - like the Navy sourcing 50 percent of its on-shore energy from alternative sources by 2020, or the Army and Air Force each aiming to have 1 GW of renewable energy installed on their bases by 2025. To realize those goals, it's going to take significant resources and planning from the public and private sectors.

While the Department of Defense can send a strong and clear market signal to the private sector, it can't own the process of incorporating new energy technologies, from innovation to installation, by itself. So DoD must rely on the American business community to rise to the challenge. Hopefully, the private sector will be ready to deliver.

According to John Dukes, executive director of federal and public sector sales at Constellation, both commercial industry and the military are acutely aware of that challenge. "The overarching, high-level problem is: How do they [the military] shock an industry into assisting them to achieve the renewable energy goals for both energy conservation and renewable energy generation?" Dukes said on a Dec. 10 webinar hosted by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the nonpartisan business group I co-founded and chair, in announcing our new military energy website.

For Dukes, part of the answer came during a meeting with a high-ranking military officer. The senior military officer knew that DoD's established business models were no longer effective in achieving the military's requirements for more innovative and efficient energy technologies on bases and in operations around the country. To achieve the targeted scale of change, the military was reviewing their systems for working with the private sector. Instead of thinking in a piecemeal fashion, their requests for proposals, or RFPs, could all be wrapped into one to include demand reduction, on-site renewable energy generation, and energy security.

"For me, sitting in the meeting, that was the moment when I realized there was a dramatic difference in tone and tenor related to these types of projects and ultimately a change of speed in which the military would begin to attain their goals," Dukes said.

Another participant in the E2 webinar, Retired Admiral Dennis McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Navy for energy, installations and environment, said the military's energy goals are designed specifically to improve its war-fighting capabilities.

"Make no mistake," McGinn said. "What we are talking about is improving our war-fighting effectiveness and our operational efficiency for our Navy and Marine Corps in all of our missions."

Recently the Navy initiated its Renewable Energy Program Office, or REPO, which has identified project opportunities at Navy and Marine Corps installations coast to coast. REPO's immediate goals include procuring a half-gigawatt of alternative energy by the end of 2014, and the same additional amount by the end of next year.

In September, REPO put out its first major RFP - a request to meet the energy needs of 14 Navy installations in California through a 25-year agreement to purchase power from a new renewable energy project. The cost of the project's energy must be at or below the Navy's current cost of power in the California marketplace - so this growth in clean, renewable power thanks to a Navy initiative comes with no additional taxpayer costs.

Admiral McGinn, who was a close E2 ally during his time as president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), pointed out the roles energy efficiency and biofuels play in meeting the Navy's operational needs. Just like a financial portfolio needs diversity, so too does the military's energy portfolio, he said.

But to meet its energy needs, the military can't go it alone.

"Bottom line: We are open for business," McGinn said. "We are very, very serious about the war-fighting benefits of being much more energy efficient and also renewable energy and biofuel-powered fleets....We need collaborative solutions. We want to become a sophisticated consumer of energy technology. We need to have the private sector's innovative ideas."