February 23, 2011

Possibilities Abound: Retired general brings new fight - a clean-energy military - to Longmont

LONGMONT - Retired Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson, who calls himself an "energy warrior," says the greatest threat to our nation is the country's dependence on foreign oil.

That threat becomes even greater for American troops in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan, he said Tuesday after a tour of Abound Solar's facility.

Anderson served as the top logistics officer for U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq in 2006-2007, working directly under Gen. David Petraeus during what became known as "the surge."

He was in Colorado to see three examples of renewable energy in action: In the morning, he toured the 5.3-megawatt solar power system at the Colorado State University campus; at midday, he took a tour of Abound's solar panel plant; and later he toured Vestas' wind turbine blade factory in Brighton.

His mission: to rally support for his cause.

"What I'd like to do is put pressure on the DOD, Department of Defense, to make energy efficiency a requirement," Anderson said.

His "a-ha" moment came in 2007, he said, when he learned that of the 1,000 or so trucks the military was using in Iraq each day, about 30 percent were carrying fuel. Eighty percent of those were hauling fuel to be used for power generation.

When he asked a subordinate why there were so many trucks carrying fuel for power, "He said, ‘Sir, we're air conditioning the desert.'

"That's when the light went off."

Anderson said those trucks are a huge target for opposition forces. In a New York Times guest editorial he wrote in January, he said that in the past nine years, about 1,000 Americans have been killed on fuel-related missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He said using renewable energies in the field and requiring structures to be energy efficient would reduce the number of targets and improve military efficiency. In fact, he envisions a day when forward operating bases are entirely self-sufficient, using solar, wind, geothermal or other renewable power sources to provide all the power a base needs.

He said that after his New York Times piece ran, he got "dozens and dozens" of letters of support. That said, he also realizes that for such a policy to become reality, he has to change long-entrenched thinking.

As a practical example of the change he's proposing, he brought up the classic Army tent.

"A tent costs $15,300," Anderson said. "But that tent (really) costs $40,000, because we put $25,000 worth of air conditioning on it."

While acknowledging that an energy-efficient tent would cost more up front, he insists it would pay itself back not only with energy savings but also in lives saved, with fewer troops needed to transport fuel.

"Military efficiency equals military effectiveness," Anderson said. "You actually can improve the way we fight the war and can make the case that we can win the war quicker and bring our troops home quicker."

Anderson, who's been visiting clean-energy companies around the country, said he met with a top Defense Department official last week. And he's been talking to whoever he can in Washington, where he's based, to try to win support for his proposal from members of Congress.

"About anybody that's willing to listen, I'm willing to talk," said Anderson, who is a senior vice president at Relyant, a provider of services such as security, communications and IT for both the government and the private sector in war zones. "It's all about doing the right thing for our men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291 or tkindelspire@times-call.com.

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