‘Net Zero’ Progress: 8 Years Later And The Military’s Green Energy Plan Is Still ‘Unrealistic’ And ‘Cost Prohibitive’

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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The U.S. military has spent virtually no money implementing its plan to integrate more green energy and promote conservation at military installations across the country, according to a new government watchdog audit.

“None of the military departments have established net zero as a funded program,” the Government Accountability Office reported Tuesday, basing their findings on interviews and documents collected over the last year on the military’s “net zero” plan.

“Service officials told us they believe that fully achieving net zero is unrealistic and ultimately cost prohibitive,” GAO reported, adding that the only branch of the military to even have a “net zero” program is the Army — but they’ve only spent money studying the feasibility of such a program.

The Pentagon doesn’t actually know how much achieving net zero at military installations would actually cost, but officials have not dedicated any funding to making military bases greener.

According to GAO, one report commissioned by the Army found achieving 92 percent of the Department of Defense’s net zero goals at just Fort Carson alone would cost $842 million — not including the costs of meeting water or recycling goals.

Despite the huge costs, the Army does have a Net Zero Initiative with pilot programs at 17 bases, but it’s not clear if any of these installations have made any progress towards net zero. No other military branch has a similar program.

In 2008, the Pentagon and Energy Department issued a net zero plan to get the military to use more green energy, conserve water and recycling more. GAO said net zero “generally means producing as much energy from renewable energy sources as is consumed by an installation, limiting the consumption of water… and reducing, reusing, and recovering waste streams to add zero waste to landfills.”

But after eight years, the military has appropriated virtually no funding to make its bases greener. The only funding for net zero GAO could find was money spent on feasibility studies by the Army, Navy and Air Force — about $33.7 million in all.

“The only funding we identified that DOD has spent on net zero initiatives involved studies to establish baselines and assess the feasibility and costs of net zero at various DOD installations,” GAO noted.

Military experts have been skeptical of the Pentagon’s emphasis on using more green energy, whether it be solar panels or biofuels — an overall effort that has grown under President Barack Obama.

Obama has mandated government agencies to reduce their environmental footprint by using more green energy from solar and wind while using less water and other measures. Obama has also pressed the U.S. military, as the world’s largest energy user, to reduce its reliance on oil — which was until recently relatively expensive.

Obama also made fighting global warming a major priority during his presidency. The president even addressed a graduating class from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy this year with a speech preparing them to fight against rising sea levels and extreme weather.

“So I am here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country,” Obama told Coast Guard graduates in April.

But more green energy in the military has come at a cost. Republican lawmakers criticized the Navy in 2012 for using extremely expensive biofuels on its so-called Green Fleet — a fleet that ran its ships on biofuels from algae and chicken fat.

Lawmakers argued the costly biofuels would do little to improve the military effectiveness or capabilities. It cost the Navy $27 gallon to power its ships with biofuels.

It wasn’t long after when, in 2014, GAO auditors reported the Pentagon spent $150 a gallon on jet fuel made from algae. A Defense Department “official reported that the department paid a range of prices from about $3 per gallon for 315,000 gallons of alternative jet fuel derived from natural gas… to about $150 per gallon for 1,500 gallons of alternative jet fuel derived from algal oil produced using the HEFA process.”

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