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AB 2649, A new bill in California's legislature, will enable military bases in the state to take advantage of available advanced energy technologies, as bases in other states do.

Clean Power

Word Choice: It Matters For California & America’s Energy Security

AB 2649, A new bill in California’s legislature, will enable military bases in the state to take advantage of available advanced energy technologies, as bases in other states do.

By Emilee Pierce

It’s amazing the damage that one word can do. Last week, the California State Assembly unanimously passed a measure to clarify a legal term standing between California’s military bases and our Nation’s energy security goals. AB 2649, by Assembly Member Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo), will enable California’s military bases to take advantage of available advanced energy technologies, as bases in other states already do. It is an obvious and effective bill that the State Senate should get behind.

As a native Californian who has spent the last decade working on energy policy, I have studied, witnessed, and written at length about the extraordinary benefits that renewable energy technologies offer power-intensive industries and entire state economies. I have also grappled with the challenging and sometimes senseless barriers to their deployment. The language that AB 2649 seeks to clarify is, indeed, quite senseless.

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Here’s the gist: As currently written, the Public Utilities Code allows each renewable energy customer to generate net metering credit for up to 1 megawatt (MW) of renewable energy on a single “premise.”  This is a vital policy to incentivize distributed energy generation, like rooftop solar panels.  The catch? “Premise” has been interpreted by the state’s Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs) as such that a military base – some with energy needs comparable to a small city of 30,000 people – can generate no more electricity than one single family home. This is as ludicrous as it is dangerous, and it requires an immediate legislative clarification.

AB 2649 will enable California’s military bases to meet goals set by national leadership. The Department of Defense has done important work to reduce its energy use and increase supply of renewable resources. Recognizing the value of advanced energy technologies, the Army, Navy and Air Force have each committed to produce or consume a gigawatt (1000 megawatts) of renewable energy on their installations by 2025. It’s critical that we enable all military bases across the country to meet these and other goals; there is no reason for the IOUs to stand in the way.

Clarifying the law is critical not only for strategic reasons, but for domestic safety too. The military has serious power needs — and the bases within our borders are increasingly involved in homeland defense, emergency response, and disaster relief efforts. The military should not have to rely on a fragile civilian electric grid. In 2012 alone, there were 87 power outages of at least eight hours each at military bases across the country. These failures are unacceptable.

Given their requirements and generation potential, it is obvious that military bases should not be subject to such an absurd limit on renewable energy generation. AB 2649 fixes this problem by designating military bases as an exception to the rule and allowing them to generate much more power from clean sources – it is a simple and smart bill. State Assembly Members Kevin Mullin (D-22), V. Manuel Pérez (D-56), Jeff Gorell (R-44), Speaker-Elect Toni Atkins (D-78), and the several other bipartisan co-authors should be applauded for this effort.

Empowering the military to seek the clean, renewable energy it needs is a small but critical step as we move toward a more secure energy future. Ultimately, we should aspire to invest much more in clean energy sources and rebuild our energy infrastructure. In the short term, I urge State Senators to support AB 2649 to make this smart move to strengthen our military’s energy security.

Emilee Pierce is a Partner at the Truman National Security Project, a national security leadership institute. She is also the Vice President of Marketing & Partnerships at American Efficient, a clean technology company that helps consumers purchase renewable power and energy efficient products through a network of retail businesses, competitive power suppliers and regulated utilities.

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