As the nation’s single biggest energy consumer, the Pentagon has many reasons to want to diversify its fuel sources. Mabus and others say the move toward alternative energy is about national security and assured sources of supply.
In addition, with oil supplying 80 percent of the military’s energy, the impact of price fluctuations ripples quickly through the system. Each one-dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil adds more than $30 million a year to the Navy’s energy costs, officials say.
So the Pentagon is pressing ahead with an ambitious program to change its energy use. Its spending on renewable energy increased 300 percent between 2006 and 2009, from $400 million to $1.2 billion, and it is projected to reach more than $10 billion annually by 2030, according to a report issued last week by the Pew Project on National Security, Energy and Climate.
The Defense Department has pledged to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
In doing so, it has provided a new target of opportunity for environmentalists and green businesses now that climate legislation has failed and renewable-energy subsidies have come under fire, most recently with the collapse of solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra.
But the Navy secretary said he is more focused on the fact that a Marine is either wounded or killed for every 50 convoys of fuel brought into Afghanistan than on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
“That’s just too high a price to pay,” Mabus said in a phone interview Thursday, adding that when it comes to lower carbon emissions, “It’s a good byproduct, but it’s a byproduct.”
While the military’s goals promote energy independence, it remains unclear how much some of them will cut greenhouse gas emissions. Navy guidelines dictate that the advanced biofuels it will buy cannot pollute more than petroleum, but they do not say the Navy needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions by a specific amount.
Several of the Pentagon’s goals don’t apply to theaters of military operations, where it uses heavy and inefficient equipment such as tanks, some of which average less than a mile per gallon.
Ambitious savings goals
Mabus has outlined a series of ambitious goals for the Navy and Marine Corps, including ensuring that 50 percent of the services’ energy supply comes from alternative energy such as biofuels and solar power by 2020; cutting fossil fuel use by its non-combat vehicles in half by 2015; and reducing fuel consumption on ships 15 percent by 2020.