The U.S. Department of Defense is the largest energy consumer in the country, accounting for one percent of total consumption. In fact, the Department’s energy bill last year was $19 billion, up $3 billion from the year before, according to Dr. Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment. Three quarters of this total is used for operational purposes -- defined as “energy required for training, moving, and sustaining military forces and weapons platforms for military operations” -- and one quarter is used for installations.
Ensuring energy security for operations and installations is a top priority for the Department. The expense of fuel factors into energy security, with the cost of moving fuel to remote operational bases running as high as $400 per gallon. A one dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil results in a $31 million increase in costs to the Navy.
In response to these concerns, the Department of Defense has set an ambitious goal of obtaining 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Further, the Army, Navy, and Air Force have committed to deploying a one thousand megawatts (MW) each of renewable energy on their installations by 2025. Those services also have set even more ambitious individual goals. For example, the Navy aims to ensure half of its energy comes from renewable sources by 2020, and the Air Force is targeting to acquire half of its domestic aviation fuel from domestic, non-petroleum, synthetic sources by 2016.
Each of the service branches and the Department as a whole are pursuing various renewable energy initiatives. During a June “Renewable Energy Industry Day,” sponsored by the Army and the Air Force, the Army announced that it plans to proceed with four utility-scale renewable power projects: a 20 MW solar project at Fort Irwin, California; a 20 MW solar project at Fort Bliss, Texas; a 15 MW solar project at Fort Detrick, Maryland; and a 50 MW biofuel project at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. Army and Air Force officials emphasized that while much of the renewable power would not be acquired through federal grants but rather purchased through third party financing (with developers owning and operating the facilities), the military could, in many cases, provide the land for projects as well as the long-term demand. The Navy and the Air Force have been testing 50-50 blends of biofuels and traditional fuel sources in aircraft and ships. Last year, the Navy joined the Departments of Agriculture and Energy to focus $510 million to assist in bringing products from biofuel refineries to market.
Additionally, the Department of Defense is partnering with the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E), to fund $30 million of research into improving the capability of energy storage devices, which along with microgrid technology, are necessary to ensure that intermittent renewable technologies can be utilized to provide a base level of secure energy.
The Department’s initiatives are not without their critics in Congress, some of whom are concerned that the military is prioritizing renewable energy fuel markets over core missions, particularly as the Department is facing substantial budget reductions amounting to almost half a trillion dollars over the next ten years. At a House Armed Services Committee hearing this year, Congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA) told Navy Secretary Ray Mabus: “You’re not the secretary of energy; you’re the secretary of the Navy.” On the other hand, several Democratic Senators wrote to Secretary Mabus in April supporting his efforts to develop alternative energy technologies, noting that “[i]t is not only within your purview to research and develop technologies that could eventually take more fuel trucks off the road and increase the capabilities of our fighting forces -- it is your obligation to do so.”
Nonetheless, both the House and the Senate Armed Services Committees included amendments in their versions of this year’s defense authorization bill to prohibit the Department from purchasing biofuels that are more expensive than petroleum.
Congressional scrutiny will surely continue, as will Department efforts to reduce fuel costs and ensure energy security.