By Kylla Benes

Imagine your heartbreak if, following a hurricane, your mother or father died in a nursing home after a power outage. Unfortunately, U.S. energy supply is vulnerable not only to hurricanes. How would you feel if a terrorist shot electrical transformers with a rifle, or hackers had direct access to turning power on or off in your community? These are not what-if scenarios, but actual events that attempted to or successfully damaged portions of America’s energy grid. The repercussions can be irreparable for families who suffer great loss during such crises. Nationally, the effects are more far ranging, from billions in costs for repair and reconstruction to security vulnerability in an age were domestic and international terrorism can strike anywhere.

There have been many calls to modernize and protect the grid from natural and human threats over the past several years. Renewable energy sources can and should be a part of the plan to protect America’s energy production and delivery. Power generated from the wind, sun, and water can enhance national security, increase resilience after disasters, and can provide economic savings and energy independence.

Efforts by the military are a prime example of how renewable energy can be used to enhance national security. The Army, Marines, Navy, and Air Force all have initiatives to get 25-50% of total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2025. Much progress has already been made with the number of military renewable power projects tripling between 2011 and 2015 and overall oil consumption down by 20% from 2007 to 2015. Most of these efforts have been carried out at military bases on U.S. soil.

The largest base, Fort Hood, Texas, already gets almost 50% of its power from renewables that is also projected to provide a cost savings of $100 million over 30 years. But, even away from home, the Navy has its ‘Great Green Fleet’, and the Marines have used solar panels to improve efficiency and stealth in combat zones. Importantly, these initiatives allow the military to generate its own power and work off of distributed energy sources, rather than be dependent on centralized grids. This means that when central power stations are under attack, at home or abroad, our military can maintain operations.

The recent string of category 4 and 5 hurricanes demonstrates just how vulnerable America’s electrical grid is to natural disasters. High winds and flooding from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria left millions in southern states, and the entire island of Puerto Rico, without power. However, some Florida citizens who had solar panels were able to keep their power on, and maintain their usual day-to-day activities. Some towns even utilized solar panels to keep critical infrastructure running despite widespread power outages. Back-up generators can provide this resilience, but they require storing enough diesel fuel to last the entire outage and are much noisier, smellier, and polluting than renewable forms of energy. Solar panels require a one time purchase of an inverter or back-up battery to be useful during loss of power.

Being able to turn the electricity back on when the main grid has been compromised makes citizens and business owners self-reliant and resilient during disasters. Importantly, this could also benefit the larger community by allowing utility companies to focus more resources towards helping high-risk customers, such as patients in hospitals who rely on electricity to keep their ventilators running. However, municipalities and utility companies need to compromise with communities, and generate plans that allow individuals and businesses this energy independence.

In addition to the security and disaster resiliency benefits, renewable power sources can also provide economic and energy independence to both citizens and the nation. Citizens who invest in their own solar panels or buy ‘green power’ from utility companies can see cost savings over the long run. Additionally, major landowners, such as ranchers and farmers, can lease portions of their land to energy companies for power generation. Farmers in the Great Plains have noted that leasing land for wind turbines brings economic security that their crops cannot. Where the production and prices of corn or beef greatly fluctuate from year-to-year, income from wind can be relatively stable.

Importantly, all of this—from military use of renewables to America’s wind energy—reduces our nation’s use of fossil fuels overall and ultimately can reduce our need to import oil. In 2016, America imported 10.1 million barrels of oil per day or about 51% of our daily usage. This makes us dependent on countries like Saudi Arabia for our energy needs. It also makes us subject to the oil price and supply fluctuations that can be dictated by these nations. Energy independence and security have been a focus of both former President Obama and current President Trump.

The most common argument for using renewable energy over fossil fuels is that the latter is much better for the environment than fossil fuels. This is true, but using renewable energy benefits Americans in other important ways. Our ability to maintain functioning communities and economies depends on our energy grid and threats from nature, physical terrorist attacks, and even virtually from cyber-attacks can bring this critical system down. Using renewable energy can help defend our way of life, and provide economic security and independence to citizens. Let’s use all possible resources to protect our energy infrastructure and production because America’s grid matters.