If presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn’t get Hurricane Isaac’s wind power memo back in August, maybe Hurricane Sandy can catch his attention with a broader message about getting out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. Sandy is on track to hit the mid-Atlantic states fully loaded, and right in its path is one of the most important military facilities in the U.S., Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia. For a big fan of military spending like Mr. Romney, that should start some alarm bells ringing.
The Navy, Hurricane Sandy, and Climate Change
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has been a fierce advocate for clean energy, and he has not been shy about drawing a straight line between national security threats and climate change.
Part of the Navy’s concern is the vulnerability of its coastal stations to rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events associated with climate change. Hurricane Sandy is a case in point. As of this writing, Naval Station Norfolk is expending a considerable amount of effort on preparing for a storm system unlike anything ever seen this far north.
Romney and Clean Technology
Though Romney’s position on clean energy can be a little difficult to pin down, the available evidence points to some key weaknesses. For example, he supports the elimination of the wind tax credit, also known as the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind power.
The tremendous growth in U.S. wind power industry over the past few years is directly attributable to public support through the PTC. Romney’s idea seems to be that wind power should be able to survive in the marketplace without federal support — though, for what it’s worth, taxpayers have supported all kinds of other fuels for generations.
Another example is Mr. Romney’s support for clean tech R&D. Again, his position isn’t easy to nail, but it seems pretty clear that he strongly supports a continued federal role in foundational research and development. However, he does not support the kind of public-private partnerships that help propel that research into the mass market.
Clean Energy’s “Valley of Death”
Apparently, Mr. Romney is not acquainted with the Clean Technology Valley of Death. That’s the gap that exists between high-risk, cutting edge research in government and academic laboratories, and the availability of private investor dollars that can churn that research into marketable products.
The Department of Energy’s loan program, which began under President Bush, is one example of the ways in which federal support can help bridge that gap.
Sometimes actions speak louder than words, and while President Obama hasn’t made a major campaign issue out of clean energy his administration has marshaled the resources of multiple federal agencies to expand the federal role in pushing clean tech from the lab to the marketplace.
Aside from the obvious participation of the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and the Navy in particular are the main players in the Obama Administration’s stepped-up clean technology policy.
U.S. Navy and the Future of Clean Energy
Unlike other federal agencies, the Department of Defense is both a deep-pocketed research partner and a very large, very eager customer. For example, as reported numerous times at CleanTechnica and elsewhere, the Navy has used its procurement powers to help kickstart the commercial market for advanced biofuels.
The think tank ITIF has also just come out with a new study on the potential for increasing the commercial aspect of the military’s clean technology initiatives.
This potential is already being realized. One example is the longstanding research partnership between the Navy and the biofuel company Biodico. The partnership began under the Bush administration and it was just expanded to include construction of a Biodico biorefinery right inside a naval station in California.
The new agreement includes continued R&D while the Navy purchases fuel from the biorefinery. The modular and shippable biorefinery, called ARIES, will also reduce utility costs by cogenerating heat and electricity for the station.
ARIES is designed to draw from local, non-food feedstocks and it also has the potential to produce marketable byproducts, helping to offset costs.
When fully integrated, Biodico expects ARIES to produce fuel at or below the cost of its petroleum-based competition.
In any case, if a President Romney turns a deaf ear to messages from hurricanes, perhaps he’ll follow President Obama’s lead and to listen to policymakers at the Department of Defense.
Follow me on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.
h/t for ITIF study: DOD Energy Blog. Check it out!
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.