The Navy’s push to develop biofuels to run its fleet of planes and warships could devolve into a “Solyndra situation” for the Pentagon, a top Republican senator said today.
During Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, ranking member John McCainJohn McCainTrump fires opening salvo in budget wars Overnight Finance: Trump budget to boost military, slash nondefense spending | Senate confirms Commerce pick | House Intel chief won't subpoena tax returns Overnight Defense: Trump proposes 3B defense budget | Defense hawks say proposal falls short | Pentagon to probe Yemen raid MORE (R-Ariz.) compared the now-bankrupt solar energy company, into which the White House sank $535 million in loan guarantees, to Navy-led efforts in alternative energy.
The Navy has spent more than $400 per gallon for roughly 20,000 gallons of algae-based biofuel for testing, McCain said.
That kind of substantial investment in green fuels, especially during a time of shrinking defense budgets, is simply unacceptable, he said.
Given the Navy’s recent track record in its alternative fuels program, McCain said, “maybe [this] will be another Solyndra situation.”
McCain told Mabus and committee members that he plans to introduce amendments to the Pentagon’s fiscal 2013 budget to address the Navy’s alternative energy plans.
McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said he could not comment on what those proposed amendments might include, noting that floor debate on the defense bill for fiscal 2013 is months away.
In response to McCain’s comments, Mabus argued that investment in alternative energy sources is key to relieving the Navy's dependance on foreign oil.
"I think that we cannot afford not to do this," Mabus told the committee. "We cannot afford to be dependent on a worldwide commodity that has the price spikes and the price shocks that we have." Further, the Navy's operations accounts will likely suffer as the service continues to deal with the constantly changing price of foreign oil, Mabus pointed out.
That said, the Navy would never purchase any kind of alternative fuel at $400 per gallon, according to the service secretary. The Navy would only start buying biofuels en masse if alternative energy firms could provide that fuel at a commercially competitive price, Mabus said.
But Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeA guide to the committees: Senate GOP considers ways to ‘modernize’ endangered species law GOP bill would eliminate Consumer Financial Protection Bureau MORE (R-Okla.) pointed out that even at a competitive price, the Navy’s plan to use a “50/50 blend” of diesel fuel and a biofuel supplement would still cost $15 per gallon. Traditional JP-5 jet fuel used in the Navy’s fighter aircraft runs $4 to $5 per gallon on average, Inhofe said.
This is the second time this year that Republican lawmakers have lambasted the Navy’s alternative energy goals.
Rep. Randy ForbesRandy ForbesWhy there's only one choice for Trump's Navy secretary Trump likely to tap business executive to head Navy: report Congress asserts itself MORE (R-Va.), a member of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, took Mabus to task in February over the service’s plans.
“Shouldn’t we refocus our priorities and make those things our priorities instead of advancing a biofuels market?” Forbes asked at the time.
Before Mabus could respond, the Virginia Republican took a clear shot at the secretary: “You’re not the secretary of the Energy. You’re the secretary of the Navy.”