Energy Independence, Military Readiness, and Economic Growth: Clean Energy Leads to National Security

Dave Belote

Dave Belote is being honored as a Veteran Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security Champion of Change.

I’ve been blessed with two exciting and fulfilling careers: first as a fighter pilot, Battlefield Airman, and base commander; and now as a clean energy developer and advocate. While the two may seem unrelated, each has served the same goal – to ensure a long and prosperous future for the country I love. My lifelong commitment to national security has taught me that keeping our country safe will require more than military readiness. I’m convinced that energy independence and economic growth are equally important to our nation’s long-term prosperity. Renewable energy is at the nexus of the three.

When I moved to Nevada in 2008 to become the installation commander for Nellis Air Force Base, Creech Air Force Base, and the Nevada Test and Training Range, I knew almost nothing about clean energy development. After taking command, I learned quickly. I inherited the then-largest solar photovoltaic array on the continent, a 14-megawatt system that produced more than 25 percent of Nellis’s electricity and saved roughly $83,000 per month in energy costs during my tenure. I was also asked to help site a 110-megawatt solar tower near Tonopah, NV – not an easy task, as we had to protect sophisticated test range capabilities in the vicinity. With the help of Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory and its cutting-edge analysis, we found a win-win site for both the military and the solar company, allowing the project to move forward. 

The Tonopah project was not unique in its siting challenges. Siting projects near Department of Defense (DoD) facilities requires consideration of impacts on radar systems, training procedures, and test facilities. Our Nevada solution became a model and led me back to the Pentagon as a civilian, where I created the DoD Siting Clearinghouse to review energy projects nationwide and promote mission-compatible development on and around military facilities. From industry we learned how renewable energy can drive a local economy by creating construction jobs, providing income for rural landowners, and increasing county tax revenues. Working with scientists and engineers, we determined how close to various military facilities we could place turbines and solar systems. We actively engaged developers and found innovative, cooperative solutions. To date the Clearinghouse has approved more than 96 percent of the requests it has received, honoring landowner rights and entrepreneurial drive while protecting the DoD’s mission.

My path has taken me to the private sector, where I am developing the types of projects I would have appreciated as a base commander – total energy surety solutions combining on-site generation, storage, and smart grid software. Apex Clean Energy has empowered me to design wind and solar energy projects specifically for military customers. At the same time, I am able to tackle larger issues by working with advocacy groups like the American Council on Renewable Energy, the Association of Defense Communities, Environmental Entrepreneurs, and the Truman Project on National Security.

The future of clean energy in our country is bright, but there is much more we can do. We need to amend the current tax structure to level the financial playing field, and I believe a refundable tax credit will bring us one step closer to cheaper capital through Master Limited Partnerships. I applaud the President’s goal of 10 gigawatts of renewable energy on public lands, but I believe we need a comprehensive review of military missions on federal lands and the outer continental shelf in order to achieve it. I firmly believe we can find the proper balance of military readiness and energy independence, and that the renewable energy facilities we build will provide jobs and revenues to support local services, creating true national security for our country.

Dave Belote, Vice President for Federal Business at Apex Clean Energy, works to create mission-compatible renewable energy solutions for military installations, public lands, and the outer continental shelf. 

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