Alternative Fuels Remain Costly for Military Services
In a July report titled, “Defense Energy: Observations on DoD’s Investments in Alternative Fuels,” the watchdog noted that the Defense Department paid $50.50 per gallon last year for alternative jet and naval distillate fuels. For conventional fuels of the same type, the Pentagon paid only $3.91 per gallon.
“DoD is currently purchasing alternative fuels … at a premium price,” GAO said in its report.
It noted that the quantity of conventional fuels purchased by the Defense Department still dwarfs that of alternatives. In 2014, the U.S. military bought 3.3 billion gallons of conventional jet and naval distillate fuels but only 72,000 gallons of alternatives — at a total cost of $12.9 billion and $3.6 million, respectively.
But the Pentagon has ambitious goals for expanding its use of alternative fuels in the coming years. Defense Department officials have argued that such diversification measures are needed to promote energy security.
The Navy has set a goal of deriving 50 percent of total energy consumption from alternative sources, including non-fossil fuels, by 2020. The service estimates that doing so would require using about 336 million gallons of alternative naval distillate and jet fuels on an annual basis by 2020, GAO said.
The Air Force has set a goal of increasing — to 50 percent of total consumption — the use of cost-competitive “drop-in” alternative jet fuel blends for non-contingency operations by 2025, according to GAO.
Critics of the Defense Department’s energy initiatives have argued that they are not cost effective nor do they provide significant operational benefits, citing the Navy’s pursuit of biofuels as an example.
“While this alternative fuel source is much costlier than conventional oil, it is neither more readily available across the globe nor is it more fuel efficient. This policy therefore imposes excessive costs on the service while failing to enhance any naval capability,” said defense analysts at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C. think tank, in a March report titled, “10 Objectives for the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.”
“DoD energy strategy should reflect warfighters’ needs and remove inappropriate initiatives, which impose unnecessary costs on its strained budget,” the analysts said.