Navy pilot program to plug ships into shore-based infrastructure in new deal with Port of San Diego

The Honorable Meredith Berger Visits NSWC

Meredith Berger, right, is the Navy’s assistant secretary in charge of energy, installations and environment. She is leading the service’s climate-oriented efforts. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Keypher Strombeck)

WASHINGTON — The US Navy has entered into a unique agreement with the Port of San Diego that will allow its ships to plug into and pull power from shore-based infrastructure, an arrangement that the Navy says will “provide millions of dollars for further electrification efforts” for both the local military base and the city.

The agreement makes use of an energy credit program, called the “Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) market” run by the state of California, in which organizations that use large amounts of fossil fuels must either increase their use of “plant-based carbon” or purchase credits to continue using fossil fuels.

For the Navy’s purposes, the service will generate credits with the state’s program by powering its ships while in port using California’s infrastructure, rather than generating power internally onboard the ship. The state will then sell the credits to other entities and use a portion of the funds to finance various energy and utility improvement projects at Naval Base San Diego.

“The Navy’s participation in this program will be the first ever participation by the Department of Defense in this type of carbon reduction effort,” according to a Navy statement published on Tuesday. “If this partnership — which is being conducted as a pilot program through 2030 – is successful, it could be duplicated between other U.S. ports and naval bases.”

In addition to the project investment for both the military base and the city, the agreement, which was signed on Tuesday in San Diego’s Cesar Chavez Park, aligns with the Biden administration’s executive orders directing all federal agencies to take steps to reduce their carbon emissions.

“The annual revenue this new and innovative partnership generates will be dedicated solely for more electrification of port and Navy operations and among those who will benefit the most are our neighbors in the communities of Barrio Logan, Logan Heights, Sherman Heights, and West National City,” Dan Malcolm, chairman of the Port of San Diego Board of Port Commissioners, said in a statement.

The new agreement also follows the Navy’s May rollout of its new climate action strategy, an overarching roadmap for how the service intends to quantifiably reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through electrification and using alternative propulsion systems on Navy ships and bases by 2030.

“2030 is the marker that we laid down initially because the scientific community and others have said that this is the decade of decisive action and so we’re taking that very seriously,” Meredith Berger, a senior Navy official leading the service’s climate efforts, told reporters at the time the document was published.

In the interim between the document’s publication and this week’s announcement, the Navy had been in the middle of a “90-day sprint” focused on identifying initiatives to make progress ”towards the goals outlined in the strategy.” One of those initiatives included a wargame Berger hosted with Defense Department officials, Capitol Hill staffers and think tankers in June.

The Navy’s announcement is one in a larger series of climate-focused initiatives conceived by the Pentagon under the Biden administration. The Army, for example, has become particularly focused on the electrification of ground vehicles. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks has said the Pentagon’s focus on tackling climate change will be palpable in its budget submissions.

“These are not ideological issues of climate versus warfighting,” she said last year. “This is about ensuring we are resilient and capable for the warfighter of the future, and we’ll be making those investments.”

What is less clear is whether these initiatives will have staying power long after the Biden administration leaves office, or if they will go by the wayside similar to former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ “Great Green Fleet” project.

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