The U.S. Navy is moving ahead with its goals of slashing its energy consumption and powering its fleets with biofuels, even though Republicans are trying to block their efforts.
Next week, the Navy will conduct a historic test of its Great Green Fleet, when for two days, five warships, helicopters and aircraft will run on a 50-50 mix of biofuels (waste grease oil and algae oil) and petroleum in the Rim of the Pacific exercises. The biggest annual test run takes place off the coast of Hawaii.
The Navy plans to fully deploy its Great Green Fleet by 2016 and is investing $500 million to do on biofuels and energy effiicent efforts such as shipboard hybrid-electric drives and hull and propeller coatings.
For the Rim of the Pacific exercise, the Navy spent $12 million on 450,000 gallons of biofuels, which, after being mixed with petroleum, cost about $15 a gallon.
Uproar in Congress
That caused an uproar in the House, bringing the Department of Defense’s newfound commitment to renewable energy to a head. The House and the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to block the Navy from buying biofuels if it costs more than petroleum in the 2013 Defense Department spending bill.
The House also passed a provision which waives a 2007 ban preventing the government from buying transportation fuels that create more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional petroleum-based fuels, as measured over their life cycle (ie, tar sands crude).
And the Senate committee votely (13-12) largely along party lines to add a provision barring construction of biofuel refineries unless explicitly authorized by law in Congress.
President Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which would "hamper the Defense Department’s ability to procure alternative fuels and would further increase American reliance on fossil fuels, thereby contributing to geopolitical instability and endangering our interests abroad," says the Office of Management & Budget (OMB).
Navy Updates/Defends Goals
But it fits well with the Navy’s newly published "Shore Energy Goals" for 2020, which commits it to reduce energy consumption and dependence on fossil fuels 50%, source at least 50% of electricity from renewable sources and certify at least half of its buildings as net-zero energy. It already produces enough renewables to power about 143,000 homes.
"Our reliance on foreign oil is a significant military vulnerability and it would be irresponsible not to address it," says Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. "Pursuing a viable, domestic alternative is the best way to preserve the budget for operational necessities like training and shipbuilding."
"Our military consumes more than 300,000 barrels of oil every 24 hours, and when the price per barrel goes up by a single dollar, the annual Pentagon budget jumps by more than $130 million – and the barrel price has risen $72 since 2001," says Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) in Stars and Stripes.
But that math hasn’t stopped Republican lawmakers from blasting the latest plans.
"It’s not about proving the technology. It’s about Mabus wanting to waste money … on a publicity stunt for his green fleet," Representative Mike Conway (R-TX) told Reuters.
The Department of Defense is committed to sourcing 25% of its energy from renewables by 2025: the Air Force plans to use biofuels for 50% of domestic aviation by 2016; and the Navy will reduce fuel consumption on ships 15% by 2020, while reducing dependence on fossil fuels 50% over the next decade.
As of 2011, 11.3% of DOD’s energy comes from renewables, saving US taxpayers billions of dollars, they say.
House Republicans want the private sector to pay for development of the biofuels industry, but that would fall on the struggling airline industry, which doesn’t have the money to invest.
"U.S. advanced biofuel producers have made rapid progress toward cost-competitiveness. The per-gallon cost of test quantities of advanced biofuels under DoD contracts has declined more than 90% over the past two years and will continue to decline as these technologies scale to commercial production," notes Airlines for America, American Farm Energy, the US Biofuels Association, and others in a joint statement.
US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says: "It’s beyond me why we wouldn’t help this industry that will create higher farm income, more jobs in rural America, reduce the costs for consumers, satisfy commercial airlines … and make our military less reliant on a foreign supply of energy. It is just astounding that people don’t understand that."