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Finding Homegrown Solutions to our Economic and Energy Security Challenges

Agriculture Deputy Secretary and Assistant Secretary for the Navy of Energy start energy forums that focus on ways to increase biofuels production and meet the Navy's renewable energy needs.

Yesterday, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment Jackalyne Pfannenstiel kicked off the first of several energy forums in front of a packed room to look at ways to increase biofuels production and meet the Navy’s renewable energy needs.  The forum comes as a result of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recently signed by the USDA and the Navy to encourage the development of advanced biofuels and other renewable energy systems.

As the President pointed out in his energy security remarks last week, “…the Pentagon isn’t seeking these alternative fuels just to protect our environment; they’re pursuing these homegrown energy sources to protect our national security.  Our military leaders recognize the security imperative of increasing the use of alternative fuels, decreasing energy use, reducing our reliance on imported oil, making ourselves more energy-efficient.”

And as Deputy Secretary Merrigan explained, the military’s significant fuel demands can serve, “…as a catalyst to increase demand for biofuels and spur economic opportunities in rural communities throughout the country.”

Hawaii was selected as the location for the initial collaboration between USDA and the Navy because Hawaii's energy costs are among the highest in the nation and imported oil supplies 90 percent of the State's energy.  Today’s forum is an important first step in developing homegrown solutions to the Navy and Hawaii’s significant energy challenges through biofuels.  

For example, Maj. Gen Pawling (HIANG), Chief of Staff of the U.S. Pacific Command, spoke about the whole-of-government team they have put together to begin developing an enterprise model and strategy to eventually procure 25% of its jet fuel (20 million gallons/year) from locally grown and locally refined sources.  Participants in this effort include USDA, Department of Energy, and State of Hawaii as well as several DoD offices, including the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Defense Energy Support Center, Navy and Air Force Energy Offices, DARPA, and more.

This local working group recognizes that recent technological advancements now make it feasible and cost effective to produce advanced biofuels that meet military specifications for jet fuel, with the Air Force just completing a successful test flight last month.  So now they are turning their attention to the issue of supply.  Through a $150 million investment by DARPA in an algae-derived jet fuel demonstration on Kauai, and active participation by private industry and the landowner, it is now feasible to have a plan for locally-derived biofuels.

These are exactly the kinds of initiatives we need – bringing together local, state and Federal officials; leveraging both the public and private sector – to find the creative and sustainable solutions to our economic and energy challenges that are mutually beneficial to the local community by creating clean energy jobs and industries; and our national security by helping to achieve our energy independence goals.

Since taking office, President Obama and his Administration have worked hard to accelerate the investment in and production of American biofuels and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels as part of the President’s comprehensive energy plan. But, to use an agricultural analogy, what businesses need to take root and to grow is certainty, the kind of certainty that would be provided by comprehensive energy and climate legislation that puts a price on carbon and incentivizes the development of the clean energy technologies that will power the 21st century economy.

Heather Zichal is Deputy Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change