For the first time, the U.S. Navy is looking to purchase diesel and jet fuel that is blended with at least 37 million gallons of biofuels to help it reach its goal of getting half its energy from alternative power sources.
The Defense Department recently released its annual procurement for bulk fuels for military facilities across the country. The Navy’s goal is that 10 percent of its “total military specification JP-5 aviation turbine fuel and F-76 naval distillate fuel” come from biofuels.
The Navy says its “Inland/East/Gulf Coast” bulk fuel acquisition is its largest bulk fuels acquisition program — valued at more than $3.5 billion. But the Navy will only buy biofuels that meet military fuel specification properties and are “cost competitive with their conventionally-derived counterparts.”
In order to make biofuels more economical for the Navy the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers subsidies to defray the costs of producing biofuels. For this bulk purchase, the USDA is offering $27.2 million in Commodity Credit Corporation funds to defray biofuel production costs up to 71 cents per gallon.
But the Navy notes that the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions biofuels must be equal to or less than petroleum.
“Expanding military energy sources improves the reliability of our overall fuel supply, adds resilience against supply disruptions, and gives the military more fuel options to maintain its readiness and defend the national security interests of the United States,” the Navy said in a press release when it announced the purchase back in June.
Since 2011, the Navy and the USDA have been working together to “assist the development and support of a sustainable commercial biofuels industry.” The Navy has set a goal to get half its energy from alternative sources, like solar panels, wind turbines and biofuels.
Currently, the Navy gets about 17 percent of its energy from renewables and nuclear power, according to the Energy Information Administration, but so far has not included biofuels in its alternative energy usage.
The Navy’s recent history with biofuel use has come under harsh criticism from Republicans and some defense experts. In 2012, lawmakers criticized the Navy for its “Great Green Fleet” which used $27 per gallon biofuels — nearly eight-times the cost of conventional fuel.
Republicans slammed the Obama administration for spending money on expensive biofuels while also contemplating defense cuts and scaling back the military.
“Alternative energy is a great thing for us to do research on and keep on the horizon, but what we should not be doing is spending millions and millions in taxpayer money that we have to take from men and women in uniform,” Virginia Republican Rep. Randy Forbes, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said in 2012.
Last year, however, the Senate failed to pass an amendment that would have cut $60 million from the Navy’s biofuels program, which only makes up about seven percent of the Navy’s energy spending.
Defense experts have also expressed concerns about the Navy’s spending on costly biofuels, arguing that in tight fiscal times the Defense Department should not be conducting industrial policy to help a fledgling industry.
“Until such time as biofuels are as cost-effective as alternative sources of fuel for the Navy, the simple and compelling logic is for the government to cut expenditures on biofuel programs,” William Martel, associate professor of international security studies at Tufts University, told The Daily Caller News Foundation last year.
“Facing a stagnant economy, high unemployment, annual trillion dollar deficits, fiscal cliffs, and sequestration, the highest priority for the United States is to stop spending on programs that are likely to be a waste of taxpayer money,” Martel added.
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