, June 17, 2009 (ENS) - The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today passed an energy package that requires electric utilities nationwide to meet 15 percent of their electricity sales through renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency by 2021, among a wide range of other measures.
By a 15 to 8 vote, the committee approved the American Clean Energy Leadership Act.
Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat, said “Getting America running on clean energy has been a key goal of this mark-up. This bill will help shift our country to cleaner sources of energy, and more secure sources as well. The bipartisan, substantive and forward-looking approaches to energy found in this bill will move America toward the clean jobs and economic growth we need.”
Ranking Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said, “Today, this committee reaches the end of a long and sometimes bumpy road toward reporting out energy legislation. Despite an uphill fight against Democrats’ three-vote majority, we were able to include a number of provisions that will lead to more domestic production of the conventional energy we need to drive this country. While I support this bill in its present form, we simply must do more to increase our domestic production and use of nuclear energy. I will continue to press for those provisions on the Senate floor.”
The bill was greeted with dismay by scientists and environmentalists who say it would weaken current renewable energy requirements and send the nation down a dirty energy path.
Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope said, "Numerous changes to this bill during consideration by the committee have significantly undermined its integrity and ability to build the clean energy economy. Unfortunately, we must oppose this legislation in its current form. While it makes positive strides in setting new energy efficiency standards for our buildings and appliances, it falls far short of what President Obama has called for in order to repower America with renewable energy, create millions of new clean energy jobs, and fight global warming."
Covering 12 acres, the U.S. Army's largest solar array provides electricity to Fort Carson in Colorado. (Photo courtesy WAPA)
Flawed provisions for renewable energy sources, the electric grid, loan guarantees, and nuclear fuel reprocessing would undermine progress toward a clean energy economy, said the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists.
Marchant Wentworth, a clean energy advocate at Union of Concerned Scientists, was especially critical of a provision that purports to promote renewable energy sources. "Study after study tells us that a robust renewable electricity standard requiring utilities to get a quarter of their electricity from sources like the wind and sun would create jobs and save ratepayers money," he said.
"This bill's renewable standard is so pitiful that it wouldn't require any new renewable energy development beyond business as usual. Moreover, if any states adopted the loopholes and exemptions in this bill, it could reduce the amount of renewable energy development we expect under existing state policies."
For example, the Department of Energy projects that current state policies and federal incentives would increase renewable energy to about 10.2 percent of total U.S. electricity generation by 2021.
By comparison, under the Senate standard, utilities would only have to provide 7.4 percent to 10.7 percent of their electricity from renewable energy by 2021, according to UCS estimates.
Even worse, said Wetworth, the Senate standard could threaten the future of the renewable energy industry, Wentworth said. The standard would establish an "alternative compliance payment" option that would allow states to opt out of the federal requirement altogether.
The bill sets up a new Clean Energy Deployment Administration within the Department of Energy to facilitate tens of billions of dollars in new financing to get clean energy technologies introduced into U.S. markets. The bill attempts to improve efficiency in buildings, homes, equipment, appliances and the federal government, to cut energy costs and stop waste.
The legislation allows for the creation of a 30-million barrel petroleum product reserve, so that U.S. supplies of gasoline and diesel fuel will not face sudden shortfalls and price spikes due to the shutdown of refineries by hurricanes and other natural disasters, as occurred in 2008.
It opens the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to leasing and exploration for oil and gas, making over 3.8 billion barrels of new oil resources and 21.5 trillion cubic feet of new natural gas resources available.
The measure creates a planning system for a national transmission grid based on regional, state, and local planning and input and attempts to protect the U.S. electrical grid from cyber vulnerabilities and attacks.
It lays out a four-year integrated plan to double the U.S. investment in energy innovation and technology, to a total of almost $6.6 billion, with a complementary set of programs to enhance energy jobs training and workforce development.
The bill facilitates the large-scale demonstration and early deployment of carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies, by providing a legal and regulatory framework for the first 10 “early-mover” projects.
And it protects U.S. energy consumers and businesses from unstable or rigged energy markets by giving U.S. energy regulators the same strong enforcement authorities against market tampering and manipulation that are now available in financial markets.
But under the measure, utilities would be able to use alternative compliance payment funds to subsidize new nuclear reactors or coal plants with carbon capture and storage technology instead of renewable energy technologies.
The bill includes language that would require the secretary of energy to accelerate development of nuclear waste reprocessing technologies, an approach the Obama administration has abandoned.
"Promoting near-term reprocessing is the wrong thing to do," said Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in the Union of Concerned Scientists' Global Security Program. "Analyses by the Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Agency found that reprocessing increases nuclear waste and the risks of proliferation and terrorism, and that further research and development is not likely to solve these problems."
A group that has pushed for opening the Eastern Gulf of Mexico for energy development, expanded domestic production of oil and natural gas, and electrification of the short-haul ground transportation fleet, today commended the committee for producing a comprehensive energy bill that includes many measures to bolster U.S. energy security.
Robbie Diamond, president and CEO of Securing America's Future Energy, said, "Chairman Bingaman and Ranking Member Murkowski, despite pressure from both sides of the ideological spectrum, showed tremendous leadership in working together to craft a genuinely bipartisan bill that includes many provisions - such as transportation electrification and increased domestic supply of oil and natural gas - that are vital to our economic and national security."
Environmentalists now hope the bill can be improved as it moves to the Senate floor, where they believe there is majority support for stronger clean energy policies.
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.
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