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Pearl Harbor is Leader for Sustainability in US Military

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America’s businesses are doing more each year to promote a sustainable future – in a movement that is largely driven by consumers – who are increasingly unwilling to support companies that are among the biggest polluters. An interesting trend that is emerging is that a growing number of military bases throughout the country are adopting sustainability measures of their own. While the military is mostly exempt from any market and the consumer pressure that comes along with it, it seems as if the people in charge at bases like Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam are responding to the need for emissions reductions just the same.

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which is the very same Pearl Harbor that served as the inflection point for America’s entrance into World War II, is known throughout the military community as being among the most sustainably run bases in the country. The base’s reputation comes as a result of the millions of dollars invested in a wide variety of solar and wind energy projects as well as some intriguing water conservation initiatives. Despite a decades-long leakage of oil from the remnants of the USS Arizona, which sank as a result of the infamous 1941 attack, these sustainability initiatives are providing long-term benefits. “To fulfill our mission here in Hawaii, we need substantial energy, hot water, and air conditioning,” said Capt. Randall Harmeyer, who serves as Public Works Officer on the base. Harmeyer looks to prioritize securing renewable energy sources “in an efficient and renewable manner” as a “key to long-term, cost-effective mission success.”

Photo Courtesy Katherine Bower

Much of what puts the Pearl Harbor base so far ahead of the sustainability curve is its sizable investment in solar energy infrastructure. In the last decade, millions of dollars have flowed into several projects to install solar panels across the harbor and nearby islets. Perhaps the biggest of these projects came in late 2019 when Hawaiian Electric Co. began the installation of more than 80,000 solar panels across a 102-acre territory in the naval annex in West Loch. The savings for Hawaiian Electric customers as a result of the West Loch Solar project are expected to exceed $100 million over the next 25 years. The environmental impact will be significant, as the project is causing Hawaiian Electric Co. to import 3 million fewer barrels of oil each year than it did before the facility was constructed. 

Further efforts across the island saw as many as 251 historic homes retrofitted with solar roof panels in the last year. The contracts for the construction and installation of these panels were given out with the intention of supporting the local economy, with 84 percent of contracts awarded to local businesses. These projects help the island and bases like Pearl Harbor-Hickam work towards achieving their target of running on 100 percent renewable sources by the year 2045

Image provided by Matthew Essman

In addition to the seemingly endless solar projects around the base and surrounding areas, the naval forces at Pearl Harbor have partnered with O’ahu Waterkeeper and the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center at the University of Hawai’i for an exciting new water conservation project. The groups will work together to utilize two types of native shellfish for filtering the natural waters surrounding the base and nearby islets. In a move that combines tradition with innovation, the collaboration will work to replenish and reintroduce these native oysters to the waters. 

The oysters, which are revered in local cultures through chants, songs, and legends, can each filter anywhere between 20 and 45 gallons of seawater each day. The filtration process, which is entirely natural, eliminates any unwanted sediment, metal, bacteria, microplastics, oil, and PCBs from the water. These chemicals if left unattended will cause significant damage to the nearby waters. “Our partnership with O’ahu Waterkeepers on this oyster remediation project is a great example of the Navy’s initiative of improving and taking care of our environment,” says Capt. Jeff Bernard, commanding officer at the Pearl Harbor base. This project shows that, despite the necessity of a strategic American military presence on the island, the individuals in charge at Pearl Harbor-Hickam are committed to preserving the sacred native cultures whenever possible.

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