Nevada key to advancing national security through clean energy | Gunn

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Microgrids, big and small, are able to operate separately from the regional electrical grid during power outages. Russ Zimmer

I have the privilege of serving on CNA’s Military Advisory Board — more than 30 retired three- and four-star generals and admirals from the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard who study pressing issues of the day to assess the impact of those issues on America’s national security. Energy is one of our top concerns.

Reliable electricity underpins every facet of American lives. Without it, our homes, our businesses and our national security engine would grind to a halt — especially when so much of this power is becoming “smart” and integrated. Yet the nation’s electrical generation and distribution infrastructure, commonly referred to as “the grid,” is showing its age and vulnerability — no wonder, since the grid was conceived more than a hundred years ago.

Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, USN (Ret.)

Vice Admiral Lee F. Gunn, USN (Ret.) (Photo: Provided by Lee Gunn)

We’ve studied the risks to our grid and worked hard to identify policies that can mitigate them. Our key findings are found in our reports “National Security and Assured U.S. Electrical Power” and “Advanced Energy and U.S. National Security,” both available for free at

I recently had the opportunity to meet with a number of Nevada’s legislators and to present our key findings to the Assembly’s Growth and Infrastructure Committee. This was my fourth visit to Nevada over the last three years to speak with state agencies, legislators and other elected officials concerned with these issues. I’m pleased that Nevada has demonstrated leadership in enacting policies that diversify energy supply, expand the distributed generation of electricity and provide incentives for energy storage.

There’s more that needs to be done. Fortunately, your 2019 Legislature is also discussing forward-thinking actions on clean energy such as a stronger renewable energy portfolio standard and the electrification of transportation. These and other policies will increase Nevada’s leadership in clean, advanced energy in a way that benefits Nevadans and demonstrates a model for other states. Such policies enhance our national security.

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We find ourselves at a unique point in history. On one hand, we have an aging grid with increasing vulnerabilities and determined adversaries. On the other hand, we have advancing technologies and proven, innovative sources that are much more capable of producing electrical power closer to the consumer. We have the technology to build a grid that is more resilient and much less of a strategic target for adversaries, and at the same time will be more flexible and able to accept future technological advances in energy production. Because our adversaries are determined and the threats to our electrical grid and national security are real and substantial, we believe that the time to fix the issues with our grid is now.

Nevada has already shown that it’s willing to be at the forefront of innovation and problem-solving. I urge Nevada’s policymakers to seize this challenge and opportunity. In 1864, Nevada became the “Battle Born” state with the development of its silver resources helping preserve our nation and advance freedom. Leadership in the 2019 legislative session that accelerates the development of Nevada’s clean energy resources has the potential to significantly improve our national system of generating, storing and delivering electrical energy while advancing the security of the United States and demonstrating American leadership to the world.

Lee invited to Nevada to discuss advanced energy technologies

Last week, Lee as a member of the Center for Naval Analysis Military Advisory Board was invited to speak to the National Security Forum of Northern Nevada. He also briefed the Nevada Legislature’s Senate Committee on Growth and Infrastructure on how the development of advance energy infrastructure and national security are connected. Below is an interview with Nevada Capitol News

Lee with Nevada Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe, Assemblywoman Danielle Monroe-Moreno, Assistant Majority Floor Leader, and Chairwoman of the Assembly Growth and Infrastructure Committee to whom Lee presented.

Making Sense out of Climate Change

Lee Gunn

With all the news stories, the differing perspectives, and new scientific reports, its easy to get confused and frustrated. This week Lee starts a series of discussions and interviews that will help you make sense out what climate change is, why it matters, and what we can do.

“The damn thing melted”

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Climate change and US interests in the Arctic

By Lee Gunn and Joe Bryan

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in April, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer announced that a rewrite of the Navy’s Arctic strategy was underway.  Asked by a reporter after the hearing what prompted the new strategy just four years after the Navy issued its U.S. Navy Arctic Roadmap 2014-2030, Spencer stated “the damn thing melted.” 

Secretary Spencer was right. The Arctic is melting. Just this month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued its annual Arctic report card for 2018. NOAA’s headline “Effects of persistent Arctic warming continue to mount” was an understatement. Among the agency’s findings, air temperatures in the Arctic are warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and sea ice “remained younger, thinner, and covered less area than in the past.” The implications of these changes for U.S. national interests cannot be ignored. Consider recent developments.

In late August, a container ship operated by the global shipping behemoth Maersk, left Vladivostok bound for St. Petersburg though the Northern Sea Route. While that was a first such transit for a commercial container ship, it surely won’t be the last. Meanwhile, the operating environment in the Arctic, even for experienced shipping firms, is incredibly difficult: the weather is poor; the conditions unpredictable; and much work remains in the way of charting the sea floor and identifying maritime hazards. Nevertheless, given warming trends, opportunities for transit and exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic will continue to grow. 

Those potential opportunities are already drawing a crowd as allies and adversaries alike position themselves to benefit from the melting ice. Russia’s build up in the high north is ongoing. As to China, a recent report by CNA’s Mark Rosen and Cara Thuringer estimates that Chinese firms have already invested about $90 billion dollars in Arctic and Arctic-related infrastructure. These developments increase the risk of international disputes or an accident that could take generations to recover from.

In October, the U.S. joined eight other countries, including Russia and China, and the European Union in signing the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean. The agreement precludes commercial fishing in the area until there is sufficient scientific data to determine how such activities should be managed. It also commits signatories to establishing a Joint Program of Scientific Research and Monitoring to inform when and how commercial fishing activity ought to be permitted. Forging international consensus to preclude commercial activity — prior to such activity even being initiated in any significant way — was an historic achievement. While agreements like this are important for protecting the Arctic ecosystem, they are also critical to reducing the risk of future conflict. 

Mitigating the worst impacts of climate change ultimately depends on significant reductions in global carbon emissions. 

The United States should rejoin the international community and recommit to aggressive cuts in CO2. 

However, we cannot ignore the implications of warming that is already happening. Forging consensus with the international community is essential to dealing with these implications, avoiding future conflicts, and keeping the Arctic a cooperative part of the planet.

Lee Gunn is a retired U.S. Navy Vice Admiral

Joe Bryan is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center and a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy.