An airplane hanger at Tyndall Air Force Base is damaged from hurricane Michael in Panama City, October 2018. Credit: David Goldman / AP

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Susan Young is the Bangor Daily News opinion editor.

There’s been a lot of talk about the country’s strategic petroleum reserve in recent months. When gas prices were rising earlier this year, there was increasing pressure to release fuel from the reserve to help lower prices. In fact, President Joe Biden did so in October.

There is a strong case for taking a longer view of the reserve, to preserve it for more significant emergencies, not just to lower prices, which are impacted by global factors well beyond the control of the United States.

Jeff Eshelman, president and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, summed up the problem well in a statement in October: “The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is meant to protect consumers against emergency supply disruptions, not politicians during an election year. Releasing more oil from the SPR is a short-term fix for prices at best. It not only reduces our capacity to protect ourselves in case of a true emergency in the future, but also increases America’s reliance on the politically volatile countries that currently provide most of our oil.”

Eshelman’s group opposed the release of more oil from the strategic reserve because it wants more oil and gas extracted in the U.S.

Phil Coupe, the co-founder of ReVision Energy, a solar company located in South Portland, has become an evangelist of sorts for leaving oil in the strategic reserve — and the ground — but for some very different reasons.

During a recent conversation, he made a strong and persuasive case for maintaining, even increasing, our strategic reserves of fossil fuels while developing alternative fuels for our everyday uses. We should be massively increasing our usage of renewable energy for many reasons, he says. One is to reduce our negative impact on the planet. In addition, we can and should save our fossil fuel reserves for when they are truly needed, when there is a real emergency, not just high prices. Such an emergency could be import supply disruptions like are currently being seen in Europe as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In other words, like the oil industry’s Eshelman, Couple sees maintaining our reserves of oil and gas as a national security issue.

“We need to become the most energy independent country on the planet,” Coupe told me. “We won’t do that by digging up all our fossil fuels.”

Sure, it may sound like Coupe is pitching solar to boost his company’s business and profits, but, no offense to Coupe, his company in Maine is not going to solve the world’s energy woes. So, he says, he’s on a mission to alert people to the dire need to make changes in our extraction, use and conservation of our energy supply.

There are currently about 8 billion people on the planet. The population is predicted to grow to 10 billion by 2050. With population growth and economic development, energy demand is slated to increase by 50 percent by then. Global supplies of fossil fuels come nowhere near meeting that demand.

But, solar power can. One hour’s worth of energy from the sun can match the world’s current energy demand for a year, according to Coupe.

Switching to solar and other renewable sources of energy isn’t some liberal pipe dream. The Pentagon has long warned that climate change is one of the world’s biggest threats. Because of drought, floods and other disasters, growing numbers of people will be displaced. This will lead to increasing conflicts over land, water and other resources, especially in countries with weak or ineffective government, the Pentagon has said.

Based in part on this assessment, the U.S. military is already taking steps to make itself less dependent on fossil fuels, which the U.S. imports from some hostile countries and which can bog down military operations that are dependent on fuel supplies that can be disrupted on the battlefield. Fuel supply operations can also be deadly for the soldiers involved in them.

Already, many U.S. military installations have installed solar arrays and wind turbines. The U.S. is developing tanks, planes, ships and other equipment that don’t need gasoline or diesel fuel. Among its many climate-related goals, the U.S. Army had pledged to run its U.S. installations with electricity with zero carbon pollution by 2030.

So, if this is what the U.S. military is doing, it is time for the rest of us to pay attention.

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Susan Young

Susan Young is the opinion editor at the Bangor Daily News. She has worked for the BDN for over 25 years as a reporter and editor.