Donald Trump says he wants to create American jobs, but he is cool to the idea of renewable energy, which he claims is “too expensive.” Don’t tell that to the US military, however. Last year, the Navy broke ground on a 4 megawatt (MW) solar array at the Naval Construction Battalion Center in Mississippi and the Army completed a large 30 MW solar array at Fort Benning, Georgia. Many soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen first hand how human and economic resources are wasted to protect fossil fuel assets. After serving, they are also finding jobs in the solar industry.
As it turns out, solar power has become cheaper than fossil fuels and solar jobs have been flying through the roof — a dozen or so times faster than overall US job growth.
One such soldier is Kevin Johnson, a West Point graduate who has served in Iraq and seen first hand the ferocity of attacks on oil wells and pipelines by insurgents. “For me, that was a key wake-up call,” Johnson said. “You have 100 soldiers asking you every day what we’re doing there, and it was hard not to see the combination of the economy of Iraq being based on oil exports and the attacks there on the infrastructure.”
His experience led Johnson to believe that protection of fossil fuel assets would continuously put American soldiers in harm’s way. After his tour of duty, he committed himself to learning all he could about clean, renewable solar power. Now he runs CleanCapital, a renewable energy investment firm he founded with, among other partners, a fellow Army veteran.
“The most challenging thing for veterans is that transition process and finding that same level of mission-driven culture in their professional careers,” Johnson says. “The solar industry, specifically, provides that.” Today, almost one out of every ten veterans have found jobs in the solar industry. Many like Nat Kreamer have formed their own companies. Kreamer is chairman of Solar Energy Industries Association. He is a former Navy officer who received a Bronze Star for his service in Afghanistan. Under his leadership, the solar sector has committed to hiring 50,000 vets by 2020.