Just last week, media tycoon Ted Turner declared the United States should drop solar panels, not bombs, on other countries. Little did he know the government's already a half-step ahead.
While the U.S. is still fighting a war in Iraq, the Solar Electric Power Co. last week announced it is installing solar-powered street lights in Fallujah, Iraq, for the Pentagon.
Of course, compared with worldwide energy use - or even the energy used in the war - these lights will not make a huge difference. But this move shows the slow-moving behemoth of the military hopes the green gesture could help bring a spark of good publicity into perceptions about the war.
The company is installing more than 1,000 sun-powered lights along the city's main highway, a six-lane, seven-kilometer-long thoroughfare that cuts through the center of town.
Fighting initially held up the project for several months, said Steve Robbins, SEPCO's CEO. Now he estimates it will be finished by the end of November.
The approximately $5-million project uses sensors that turn the lights on at night and off during the day. SEPCO has made a total of $10 million on solar lighting contracts with the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2004, including 17 Afghan villages, Robbins said. The Fallujah project is for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
It's a tiny bright spot in the midst of the Iraq quagmire. "Obviously it would help a neighborhood feel safer if it's lit and they can see who's running out there on the streets," Robbins said.
But installing the lamps in the middle of a war zone can get people killed. "There has to be guards down below and roads blocked off when crews are working," he said.
Although not especially designed for war zones, the lamps could withstand "some ballistics and low-velocity missiles," but not "someone using an AK-47 and getting rid of them." In that case, the military is prepared, Robbins said. It apparently has a stockpile of replacement parts on hand.