Senate committee clears energy bill in 15-8 vote

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved — by a 15-8 vote — an energy bill that would require electric utilities to generate 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2021. The legislation was spearheaded by Committee chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico).

Some of the renewable energy requirements could be met by energy efficiency improvements. The bill also includes a provision, first floated by Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid, that would give the Federal government authority to override state regulators to expanding electricity transmission lines.

The Senate legislation calls on utilities to produce renewable power, beginning with 3 percent of their output between 2011 and 2013 and rising to 15 percent between 2021 and 2039.  This is a lot less aggressive than what President Obama called for on the campaign trail as he urged utilities increase their generation mix to 25 percent renewable by 2025.

In a move friendly to the oil and gas sector, the Senate bill would also allow drilling in U.S. coastal waters, areas that are currently off  limits.  It also establishes an independent “green bank” for government clean energy investments. The bank,  known as the Clean Energy Deployment Administration, would support clean energy projects deemed too risky to be supported by private companies.

Sen. Bingaman says the bill was a bi-partisan effort. “None of us, given the chance to be a single author, would have written the bill that we have written in this committee in the last 12 weeks,” Bingaman said. “The end product I believe is a solid piece of work.”

On the House side, the Waxman – Markey bill cleared the Energy and Commerce Committee last month and is expected to be debated by the full house next month. It calls for — among other things — the implementation of a cap-and-trade system that could raise about $640 billion, a chunk of which would fund the development of clean energy projects.

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