The commitment of the US military to renewable energy is serious, long-term and about guaranteeing energy security for missions, and it is not a short-term environmental program, the US Army’s energy and installations chief stressed today.

“I’m here to tell you that the Army is serious about this; this is not about environmentalism,” US Army Assistant Secretary for Installations, Energy and Environment Katherine Hammack said at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum – Wall Street in New York City today.

Military installations need to be highly energy efficient, include smart grid networks that can prioritize and match loads and have sufficient baseload power to meet “critical mission sets,” Hammack stressed.

A commitment by the Department of Defense to install 3 GW of renewable energy by 2020 has emerged as a rare bright spot for the US renewable energy business, which is struggling to grow as low natural gas prices combine with slipping federal budget support for incentives to limit the appeal of wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.

While the US Army, which like the other two armed services has committed to a 1GW share of the total renewable energy planned portfolio, already produces roughly 48,000 MW hours of renewable energy each year, it will have to grow that number significantly to meet its goal. Roughly 100 MW of the Army’s commitment has been chosen, and the remaining 900 MW will be selected and announced over the next several years as the program ramps up.

The need for increased self-sufficiency through distributed renewable energy is self-evident in the context of both reliability and the Army’s budget, Hammack said.

There has been a “fourfold” increase in power disruption in the past year to military installations she said, amid a $1 billion climb in the Army’s energy costs year over year despite only a 2% rise in consumption. The Army’s total energy bill was $5 billion in 2011, she said.

“This is about the bottom line of the United States Army; it is about military effectiveness,” retired US Navy Vice Admiral Dennis McGuinn, who is now the President of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), said about the program at REFF Wall Street.

With a focus on identifying renewable energy suppliers able to provide a range of potential project solutions, smaller and more focused renewable energy firms have previously issued complaints about the Department of Defense approach to contracting for fulfillment of its renewable energy goals. The Army is now “adopting a flexible approach that will reflect site-specific needs” when it comes to contracting, and is seeking to speed the contracting process overall, Hammack said.

Energy performance savings contracts and long-term power purchase agreements backed by the federal government’s strong credit rating will help the Army leverage private capital as it faces its share of roughly half a trillion dollars in budget cuts over the next decade, Hammack said.