Like many of my fellow veterans, I first began to understand the issue of energy security while serving on the battlefield in Iraq. Each night, after local workers left our base, we needed to move our fuel trucks because the location where those trucks had been would become a mortar target at night. Over the past several years, the military has made incredible strides to address energy security on the battlefield. They have learned that being energy efficient and having resilient power supplies not only saves money, but saves lives.
Our veterans, returning from service to their country in Iraq and Afghanistan, have brought their own experiences with energy security home with them. Now, many are serving on the front lines of clean energy and climate security. Last November, the White House honored 12 veterans and leaders who are using their skills and knowledge to advance clean energy initiatives and promote greater climate security at the Champions of Change: Veterans Advancing Clean Energy and Climate Security event.
This week, the Solar Foundation and Operation Free released a joint report called Veterans in Solar: Securing America’s Energy Future. This first-of-its-kind report shows that veterans – a group that has faced extraordinarily high unemployment – are employed within the solar industry at higher-than-average rates. The report highlights that America’s solar industry has grown by 500 percent since 2008, providing more than 13,000 veterans with job opportunities as of November 2013. Strikingly, veterans represent nearly 10 percent of all solar workers at a time when more than 15 percent of veterans aged 18-24 are currently unemployed. The report also discovered that the growth in the industry is continuing: nearly 62 percent of solar companies that employ veterans plan to add more solar workers within the next 12 months.
Our returning service men and women have the skills and training our country needs to ensure continued progress toward a clean economy. As the President has stated, “No veteran who fought for our nation overseas should have to fight for a job when they return home.” It’s clear that veterans are finding that the skill sets they obtained through military service are valued by leading solar companies. I am encouraged by the Solar Foundation’s and Operation Free’s commitment to highlighting this opportunity, and by the success of our veterans in continuing to serve the country by advancing our energy security.
Jon Powers is the Federal Environmental Executive at the Council on Environmental Quality.