Mabus, Vilsack help launch Great Green Fleet, fueled by renewable energy

By Sara Wyant

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CORONADO, Calif., Jan. 20, 2016 - With part of the “Great Green Fleet” as a backdrop, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack heralded how the Navy and Marine Corps are using alternative energy sources and energy-saving techniques to enhance military operations and support rural America.

“I made energy a priority because of how much it impacts our combat capability and because of the cost it imposes on us,” Mabus noted during a ceremony at the North Island Naval Air Station here today. The former Mississippi governor, who was appointed Secretary of the Navy in 2009, set an aggressive goal early in his tenure that the Navy and Marine Corps would obtain at least 50 percent of their energy from alternative sources by 2020.

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“At the height of the fighting in Afghanistan we were losing one Marine, killed or wounded, for every 50 convoys of fuel brought in. That's way too high a price to pay.”

Mabus said that, as a result of his focus on alternative energy and conservation, “we're greener, our carbon footprint is smaller. But those were good side effects. It is not the reason that we are doing this. It gives us a strategic advantage. It expands our options to fuel the fleet.”

As an example of that flexibility, Mabus pointed to Singapore, where an oil refinery is owned by China and “right down the road is an alternative fuel refinery owned by a Finnish company.

“Don't we need the ability to get fuel from either one of those sources? Wouldn't it be terrible if we hadn't certified all of our ships, all of our aircraft on alternative fuels so we do have that flexibility if that cause arises?” he asked.

His early efforts to purchase alternative fuels, which were bought for about $26 a gallon, generated a lot of congressional criticism. However, Mabus noted that the guided missile destroyer USS Stockdale -- moored alongside the pier where he spoke -- was filled up for $2.05 a gallon with a 10 percent blend of renewable diesel.

“We paid $26 a gallon then. We are paying 13 times less today, just three and a half years later. That's the story, that's the success,” he emphasized. Stockdale is the first surface combatant to receive alternative fuel as part of its regular operational supply, according to the Navy.

Vilsack said that he was “excited by the fact that the Navy is going to use 77.7 million gallons of a blended biofuel here in connection with the Great Green Fleet.

“We know that each year the Navy uses over 28 million barrels of liquid fuels so that's a tremendous opportunity for us to partner with the Navy, the Defense Department and the Energy Department to expand and diversify our efforts.

“We want to create a drop-in aviation and marine fuel that will allow Ray to essentially reach the vision that he so forcefully articulated several years ago of 50 percent of the Navy's energy needs being met from renewable sources,” Vilsack added.

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The former Iowa governor emphasized the importance of creating a strong rural economy through renewable energy, pointing out that 15 percent of Americans live in rural America but “40 percent of your military comes from those small towns.”

Following the ceremony, Mabus and Vilsack flew out to the USS William P. Lawrence to observe the destroyer refueling its tanks with alternative fuel from fleet replenishment oiler USNS Guadalupe.

The fuel was purchased from Altair Fuels in nearby Paramount, California, from a feedstock of beef tallow -- waste beef fat -- provided by Midwest farmers and ranchers, and traditional petroleum provided by Tesoro, according to a Navy press release. Pursuant to Navy requirements, the alternative fuel is drop-in, meaning it requires no changes to ship engines, transport or delivery equipment, or operational procedures.

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