In The Navy

by Richard T. Stuebi

At last week’s Clean Economy Summit in Washington, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus gave a stirring speech on how the Navy and Marines were committed to pushing ahead on new clean sources of energy to fuel their operations.  The energy goals of the Navy include the creation of a “Green Fleet” and the impressive target of 50% from domestic renewable energy supplies by 2020.

The goals are not just long-term, they are beginning to be implemented already.  Mabus told of the USS Makin Island that is using hybrid drive technology, employing battery power at low sailing speeds, that saved $2 million in fuel costs in its maiden voyage from its launch in Mississippi around South America to its base in San Diego.  “Over the lifetime of this ship,” Mabus continued, “we expect to save American taxpayers about a quarter-billion dollars.”

Mabus recited the daunting economic costs (estimated at $400/gallon all-in for gasoline at the frontline in Afghanistan) and personnel costs (extra security forces and casualties associated with fuel convoys of high value to the enemy) of hauling petroleum products to forward military theatres of operation.  Then, he switched from the factual to the philosophic by asking a compelling rhetorical question:  “We would never allow our ships, planes and tanks to be made somewhere other than the U.S., but we’re OK with powering them by fuels from foreign sources?”

Notably, Mabus spoke on the very same day that the New York Times reported on a new and highly-critical study issued by the RAND Corporation entitled “Alternative Fuels for Military Applications”.  Mabus flatly refuted the negative RAND assessment, stating bluntly that RAND “didn’t talk to us, and therefore didn’t see what we were already able to do, today, with alternative fuels.” 

Being on the vanguard is not a new role for the Navy:  Mabus noted that the Navy has historically been the leader in ushering in energy technologies into the mainstream, being an early adopter of coal in the mid-1800s, of oil in the early 1900s, and of nuclear in the mid-1900s.

There were probably doubters back then, too.

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