climate change

Building of the week: Albany marine base

Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany is the first US Department of Defense base to reach net zero, it announced in May this year.

The US Marines might not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of sustainability pioneers, but Albany started work on this project in 2005. It took several years to explain and convince the top brass, but by 2009 the Marine Corps had its own set of energy and climate targets.

This makes a leader within the department, with the US military as a whole formally citing climate change as an operational threat in 2007. In the years that followed, the military could have emerged as a powerful force for climate action in America, but they were actively prevented from doing so. Take the amendment to national defense spending tabled by Republican congressman David McKinley of West Virginia (coal country, natch), that expressly forbid the military from preparing for climate change.

These setbacks and mandated denial haven’t stopped Albany, and they got there in the end. Where the marines lead, others will hopefully follow.

So what has MCLB Albany done? They’ve transitioned all their energy needs to renewable sources, first by reducing their energy use through LED lighting, retrofitting, and upgrades to air conditioning, heating and ventilation. Electricity needs are now predominantly met with a combined heat and power biomass boiler and a large solar PV array on site, all managed by a base micro-grid.

Heating is generated with a geothermal heat pump, which banks warmth in borehole heat storage and supplements it with infra-red heating. The base has also secured an independent gas supply, with dedicated gas pipelines running from two landfill gas plants nearby.

Moving beyond energy use, the next challenge is to install EV chargers ready for a transition to electric vehicles. All light vehicle aquisitions will be electric from 2027, with heavier vehicles from 2035.

There are a few caveats to this story. For one thing, what Albany has acheived here is 100% renewable energy, not net zero. Energy security and resilience are higher on the agenda than carbon emissions. In fact, I suspect that the ‘net zero’ has been appended to their goal late in the day because it’s the terminology du jour, and it proves Holly Jean Buck‘s point about net zero being too vague and undefined.

Secondly, this is isn’t environmentally motivated in the slightest. Nor is it about justice or future generations. The US Navy is very clear in their climate plan that “to remain the world’s dominant maritime force, the Department of the Navy must adapt to climate change.” It’s not addressing climate change because it’s the right thing to do, but because it will hinder their effectiveness as a “modern, lethal, agile force that can fight and win anywhere in the world.”

And third, let’s remember that the US military is the single biggest user of fossil fuels on the planet, and has led the charge in multiple wars for oil over the decades. Flexing a green muscle now, late in the day, gets them precisely net zero thanks from me.

All that said, it is clear that people at MCLB Albany have nevertheless been working tirelessly behind the scenes to reduce energy use, and transition to renewable energy – all in the traditionally red state of Georgia. If the US Marines are taking climate readiness seriously, that’s a story that might connect with people who are less swayed by moral appeals to environmentalism or calls to protect nature. And the climate crisis needs everybody.

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