Navy misfires on biofuel subsides

Published on Monday, 12 May 2014 22:12 - Written by

An Obama appointment to the U.S. Navy is making good on his pledge to force “green” fuels on the Navy — despite the costs to the budget and to military readiness.

As many observers feared when retired Vice Admiral Dennis V. McGinn was named as the service branch’s “energy chief,” McGinn is using the Navy’s budget to prop up an industry that should have withered on the vine a long time ago — inefficient, expensive “biofuels.”

“The Department of Defense (DOD) paid $150 per gallon for alternative jet fuel made from algae, more than 64 times the current market price for standard carbon-based fuels, according to a report released on Wednesday,” the Washington Free Beacon reported last week. “GAO’s report examined the financial challenges facing increased purchases and use of alternative jet fuels by federal agencies. ‘Currently, the price for alternative jet fuels exceeds that of conventional jet fuel,’” the report noted. “The price for conventional jet fuel is currently $2.88 per gallon. GAO’s report reveals that federal agencies have paid significantly higher prices in an effort to promote biofuels in commercial and military aviation.”

But that’s not the Navy’s mission — the Navy’s job is to defend U.S. interests as effectively as possible, not to “promote” biofuels.

This isn’t a surprise to many. In 2013, McGinn left his private sector job as president and chief executive of the American Council of Renewable Energy to return to the Pentagon. He made his intentions clear on the Council’s website.

“The military has a long, distinguished history of driving innovation and major economic transitions in this country, whether it’s in aviation, communications, or even the Internet,” he wrote on that group’s blog. “Lawmakers must understand that future spending authorizations on sustainable fuels enhance the U.S. military’s efforts to keep America safer and, in turn, spur economic and job growth across the country.”

But that’s just it — biofuels, including fuels made from algae, accomplish none of his goals.

It’s certainly not “green.” The fuel — which, according to Reuters, is “squeezed from seeds, algae and chicken fat” — takes far more energy to produce it than it produces itself. Most biofuel production causes “high levels of greenhouse gas emissions,” according to RAND Corporation researcher James Bartis, who has studied the Navy’s efforts.

Using the Navy to try to force blue-sky technologies is wrong.

As the Heritage Foundation’s David Kreutzer points out, “As a strategic policy, switching the military to biofuels can only make our enemies think we are not serious.”

That’s certainly the message we sent the so-called “Green Fleet” of biofuel-powered ships across the Pacific in 2012.

“The 900,000 gallons of the biofuel blend used during the Great Green Fleet demo cost about $13 million — four times that cost of petroleum,” Forbes magazine pointed out at the time.

The Navy’s stated goal of obtaining a full 50 percent of its fuel from “green” sources by 2020 will only make matters worse. Either the budget will spike upward, or Navy accountants will have to find savings someplace else.

And that could mean a hit to readiness.