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A Renewables-National Security Nexus

Energy security has been a lifelong passion of Dennis McGinn and now the retired vice admiral will head one of the more visible renewable energy advocacy groups in Washington, D.C.

I recently spoke to the newly installed president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), retired Vice Admiral Dennis V. McGinn.  He had a 35-year career with the U.S. Navy as a naval aviator, test pilot, aircraft carrier commanding officer and national security strategist. ACORE sees itself as one of the leading clean energy advocates to bridge technical innovations for clean energy with the financial community.

ACORE is approaching its tenth anniversary and the only president it’s ever had, Michael Eckhart, recently stepped down to become managing director and head of Citigroup’s Environmental Markets and Sustainability practice.

McGinn said energy security has been an avocation for just about all of his adult life. “Early on I was young lieutenant fresh off deployments in Southeast Asia right in the middle of the OPEC embargo sitting in line hoping to get some gas and I thought our economy and quality of life are so entwined in energy we’ve got to do something about this. Throughout my 35 years in the Navy, I never forgot that,” he said.

He said he wants to help educate policymakers and bring financial institutions into the mix so both investor and the government can make informed decisions about adding to the nation’s clean energy portfolio.

“My principal task is to work with the organization to increase the amount of renewable energy in America that is out there, to promote energy security, economic security and the overall umbrella of national security,” he said. “Every year that goes by that we continue to be over-reliant on any one form of energy makes us vulnerable to price shocks, supply interruption and we pay a price in environmental costs locally, and regionally and globally.”

Perhaps the oil price spikes of recent months, or even the reminders of the fragility of the Middle East, will break the logjam.

“We just have to realize that this isn’t going to get better until we start taking charge of our own destiny as Americans,” McGinn said. “We can start by bringing some of the money we export to support our oil addiction by producing the energy here, with biofuels or with the electrification of the transportation sector.”

In recent years McGinn has been an international security senior fellow at Rocky Mountain Institute and an advisor at CNA, a policy organization composed of senior retired military.

Perhaps it continues a pattern.  One of the most committed advocates for renewal energy in recent years (almost invisibly) has been the military, with deployment of wind power at air bases and research for biofuels and alternative sources of renewable energy for remote operations in battlefield environments.

“As an organization we are working in all sectors of economy, not just electricity, but transportation, biofuels. I’m very familiar with the Department of Defense and what the service are doing in that, so I hope to play a role there, and bring advances to private sector,” McGinn said.

And continuing ACORE’s standard of “against nothing, for everything” he wants to continue synergistic relationship the organization sees with natural gas as a bridge fuel and as a resource that smoothes out the intermittency issues associate with solar and wind power.

Rather than being discouraged by the political climate, which is a common theme in the energy space, he senses an opportunity. “Those making the policies could use an objective view, so my timing is really good,” he said. “We’re in political bumper sticker war and people go to extreme corners of the arena. What we want to do is help foster informed conversations that can, in fact, show people the advantages of renewable energy.”
Good luck with that, admiral.

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