House Democrats negotiating a major energy and climate bill have reached a tentative agreement to include a scaled-back renewable power target of 15 percent by 2020, senior lawmakers said yesterday.
The agreement -- if it holds -- represents a breakthrough after weeks of wrangling over a plan that requires utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from sources such as wind, solar and biomass.
The renewables target would be combined with a 5 percent energy efficiency target, yielding a combined standard of 20 percent by 2020, lawmakers said.
However, if a state shows it cannot meet the renewables target, their renewables requirement could drop to 12 percent, with a corresponding increase in efficiency to keep the overall 20 percent level intact, said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Markey and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) want to include a renewable electricity standard, or RES, in the bill they plan to mark up before the Memorial Day recess. They originally floated a target that reached 25 percent by 2025 and allowed up to a fifth to be met with efficiency measures.
But they met resistance, including concerns from Southeastern members who allege their states would have trouble meeting the renewables targets.
Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), one of the lawmakers who negotiated the compromise, was upbeat about the plan last night. "I think we have put together something pretty good," the Science Committee chairman said, and believes there are enough votes in the committee for the renewables plan "if everything else works out."
House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), who has also expressed concerns about RES plans, said he was supportive of the emerging compromise. "Under the configuration of this bill, I'm pleased," he said.
Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), a prominent liberal backer of renewable power, indicated he could support this. "I think that's in the ballpark," he said.
But former Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) cautioned that a final deal on the standard is not yet in place. "There are some agreements that are among certain members, but the general agreement does not yet exist," he said.
Biomass, solid waste changes, no more EERS
In addition to the new targets, Gordon said the plan has been changed in several other ways.
In one case, new nuclear plants and coal-fired power with carbon capture and storage would not be included in the baseline amount of utility power sales against which the renewables increases are measured.
Gordon also said there will be changes in biomass restrictions that had been in the Waxman-Markey draft bill released in late March. That draft contained limits on sources for biomass for power that counts toward the standard, restricting biomass from areas including federal lands and forests, and from land cleared after enactment of the bill.
Environmentalists say the bill needs strong safeguards to ensure biomass harvesting does not harm sensitive areas or prompt new land clearing, while critics of the plan say it is overly restrictive. "I know there are changes being made. I feel like we are going to get there on that," Gordon said.
Gordon also said the compromise would lower so-called alternative compliance payments that utilities can make in lieu of meeting renewables targets.
The compromise also allows municipal solid waste to be counted among the sources of renewable energy eligible under the standard, accompanied with "safeguards," according to a Democratic aide. This may be enough to bring support from Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.). "The municipal solid waste language I wanted in the bill is in there. And I'm happy about it," he said.
Markey and Waxman's original draft climate legislation also included a separate "energy efficiency resource standard" that would have required electric and natural gas utilities to implement efficiency programs that reduce consumer demand. But that is no longer in the measure, an aide said. The absence is a defeat for energy efficiency advocates who have made an EERS a top priority (E&E Daily, March 18).
Enacting a renewable electricity standard is a longstanding goal of Democratic leaders. The House passed a standard of 15 percent -- with up to roughly a fourth coming from efficiency measures -- during the last Congress, but it stalled in the Senate amid widespread GOP opposition and a White House veto threat.
The expanded Democratic majority and a supportive president have increased the chances of passage, but with energy issues breaking along regional as well as partisan lines, it appears a suite of compromises will be needed.
Environmentalists are concerned that scaling back the proposals too much could yield a renewable standard that scarcely increases renewable generation beyond what would have occurred anyway as a result of the recent stimulus bill and state-level standards.
Jennifer Rennicks, the federal policy director for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, declined to comment specifically on the alleged compromise among House Democrats. But she said the group supports a standard of 25 percent by 2025 -- which was in the earlier Waxman-Markey draft -- and considers that target to be a "modest" goal.
She noted the 15 percent level is akin to what the House passed in the 110th Congress. "Would we be satisfied with what came out almost two years ago? I don't think so," she said. "We should be more progressive now."
Across Capitol Hill, Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) also hopes to include a renewable power mandate in a major bill he is crafting and is negotiating with several moderate Democrats on his committee.
Reporters Darren Samuelsohn and Josh Voorhees contributed.