The chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee yesterday said a deal appears at hand on a renewable electricity standard, which requires utilities to supply escalating amounts of power from sources like wind, solar and biomass.
"We think we have a general agreement," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). "We are still not ready to announce it." Bingaman provided no details but said his committee will mark up the RES language Thursday.
Bingaman has been seeking support for an RES from three wary Democrats on the committee -- Sens. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. Another Democrat, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is generally believed to be a "no" vote.
Months ago, Bingaman floated a standard that plateaus at 20 percent in 2021 and allows up to a fourth to be met with efficiency measures. But negotiations may lead to a lower target and other changes. Stabenow last week said Democrats may coalesce around a target of 15 percent, with roughly a fourth eligible to be met with efficiency, but it remains unclear what is currently planned.
To steer the measure through the committee, Bingaman would either need the votes of Lincoln, Bayh and Stabenow, or only two of the three if a Republican member votes with him. Debates about renewables mandates have generally not broken cleanly along party lines, with a few Republicans such as Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa supporting them in the past.
Bingaman has also said it is possible an RES could be offered as a floor amendment if he cannot reach an agreement in committee.
Committee Republicans will gather to discuss the RES legislation this weekend, said Robert Dillon, a spokesman for ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Dillon said Murkowski would consider a 15 percent RES if it included an "off ramp" from the requirements if costs get to high, and if nuclear, coal with carbon capture and sequestration and existing hydroelectric power is included in the standard. Bingaman has previously said he would not include nuclear and coal as he would not define them as "renewable."
In addition to the RES markup, Bingaman said he has scheduled a markup Tuesday on nuclear waste and cybersecurity provisions the committee failed to get to this week, as well as a refined product reserve draft bill.
House RES fallout
Across the Capitol, the sweeping climate bill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee includes an RES of 15 percent by 2020, and utilities must also ensure 5 percent energy savings through efficiency measures. But the plan allows the renewables target to drop to 12 percent in a state if the governor decides utilities cannot meet the mandate.
The House plan is part of a compromise energy and climate package that Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) negotiated with more conservative Democrats on the panel, and the RES target is well below a draft plan he floated several weeks ago.
The compromise RES is causing some heartache for environmentalists. "We're disappointed the agreement on this standard won't require utilities to use any more renewable electricity than the Energy Information Administration projects would be generated as a result of state renewable electricity standards already in place and the recently enacted stimulus package," said Alan Nogee, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists' Clean Energy Program, in a statement.
According to UCS, utilities are already forecast to generate at least 9.9 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. "The bill's proposed standard would require, at a minimum, that utilities generate only 8.3 percent of their power from renewables," he said.
The scaled-back renewables standard was one of several concessions, along with a lower 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target and other changes. But liberal Democrats appear very unlikely to withhold support.
One of these liberal House committee members, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), said she supports the bill and that changes were needed to bring enough support. "It is not the bill I would have written," she said. "But listen, that is not the way it works here in Congress. We need to pass a bill. We need to change the direction of our energy policy and this significantly changes it.
"I applaud my colleagues from districts where this is a tough vote. ... It never was a tough vote for me," Capps added.