NavWeek: Power Point


Some lawmakers would like nothing better than to see U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus unplugged – but the nation’s top naval leader will have none of that. He’s pushing for his energy-altering programs with a doggedness that would even tire out the Energizer Bunny.

Mabus continues to get all kinds of static from those in the Senate and Congress who say the U.S. already has a Department of Energy for power policy and he should stick to his ships, subs and other toys.

But Mabus views himself as a CEO of one of the largest business concerns in the world – the U.S. Navy – and his job is to make that organization as operationally efficient as possible. That organization also happens to be a national asset of extreme importance, as are the energy sources on which it depends, making it even more imperative that that he explores all of the possibilities for power generation and use.

“Oil is the ultimate global commodity,” Mabus testified April 25 before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The prices are not set here, they are set around the world,” he notes. “In the last three years, the Department of the Navy has been hit with additional fuel bills, over and above what we had budgeted for of $1.5 billion to pay for unexpected oil price shocks.  That amount of money comes directly from our operations accounts or maintenance accounts and if the bill gets too big, it will come from platforms. And I simply think that that is unacceptable, and I think it's irresponsible for us not to address this sort of military vulnerability.”

He says, “One of the things that leaders of military services are required to do -- and we certainly should do -- is identify your adversaries', or potential adversaries' vulnerabilities, but also your own, and to work to lessen those. And that's what we've been trying to do.”

For Mabus, one of the best ways to address that vulnerability is to look at biofuels. “I'm absolutely,  positively confident that by the time we begin buying bulk amounts of biofuels, which is one important, but fairly small part of this whole  effort is that it will be competitive with petroleum products.”

Mabus says he’s all for a free-market setting for fuel costs, whatever that fuel may be. But, he says, “Relying on one type of fuel, which is a monopoly today, is not a prudent thing to do.”

The Navy needs, he says, to try “to develop sources of energy that are not influenced by world events, by somebody threatening to close a strait here or there and making the price of oil spike. For every dollar that oil increases per barrel, it costs the Department of the Navy $30 million in additional fuel costs.

It’s not just about using different kinds of fuel, he says. “We're proceeding down two tracks. One is to change the type of energy we use, but the other is to do the same amount with less energy. In the Navy, we're doing things like different hull coatings, stern flaps, different kinds of lighting on ships, voyage planning tools, this sort of thing, to use less energy. All of these things have a tremendous impact on the amount that we use. We have the U.S. Makin Island, the first hybrid ship that has electric drive for under 12 knots. They made a deployment to Central Command and to Pacific Command. We sent them out with a $33 million fuel budget. They brought $15 million back that they did not use.”

He also points out, “Marines are lightening their loads by using fewer batteries, and by charging their radios and GPSs with solar power. They're doing insulation. They're using wind power.”

So Mabus’ power policies are here to stay for as long as he is. And it’s not looking like he’s going anywhere soon.

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