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Wesley Clark: Solar power needs to live in big tent

Former general Wesley Clark says that ramping up renewable energy production--along with other alternatives--is vital to the country's national security.

SAN DIGEO--Former U.S. general and presidential candidate Wesley Clark said that solar energy is part of a larger "tent" of different energy sources that should wean the United States from imported oil.

Clark gave a keynote address at the Solar Power International conference here Tuesday, where he focused on the role of renewable energies in national security.

"Everything we can do to reduce our carbon footprint and slow down climate change, which is upon us, is very important to energy security," Clark said. "Energy security is crucial to national security."

He said that the U.S. imports between $450 billion and $550 billion a year of oil from other countries, a situation that sends U.S. money to some countries hostile to the U.S. Imported oil also weakens the U.S. economy, which is the true source of the country's security, he said.

In addition, there are clear national security implications from climate change, a situation that military leaders are now aware of, he said.

Droughts and other weather events can cause large migrations of people and can adversely affect agricultural production. Rising sea levels can destabilize low-lying areas of certain countries. And the detrimental economic effects of climate change can destabilize countries, he said.

On the policy front, he said that a national carbon tax and cap-and-trade system for stemming greenhouse gas emissions should be put in place.

These regulations are expected to add a few cents per kilowatt-hour to utility bills, Clark said. There should also be stepped-up incentives for renewable energy, "just as we have had for fossil fuels."

Renewable sources of electricity--solar, wind, and geothermal--can bring the country better energy security, but they are not sufficient. The U.S. should continue to explore domestic sources of energy, such as biofuels and so-called clean coal, where carbon dioxide emissions are stored underground to keep them out of the atmosphere.

"We in the renewable energy sector shouldn't take on the immediate burden of replacing all other sources of energy," Clark said.

He also said that solar remains a "first-generation" technology that needs to become cheaper. "I'd like to see solar panels on the roofs of all strip malls in the U.S."