ENERGY POLICY:

Senate panel's RES markup previews floor showdown

Correction appended.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee defeated efforts today to make significant changes to a proposed renewable electricity standard (RES) in a sweeping energy bill.

The panel expelled bids to remove caps on energy efficiency that would count toward the standard, exclude all nuclear power from the baseline and raise the standards.

Chairman Jeff Bingaman's RES provision would require utilities to use renewable generation for at least 15 percent of their electricity by 2021 and allow them to substitute energy-efficiency measures for slightly more than a quarter of the target.

The committee did approve several amendments, including two from Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would exclude electricity from new nuclear reactors and expansions of existing reactors capacity from the baseline of a utility's electricity sales.

Other approved amendments would exclude electricity from coal-fired power plants equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technology from the RES mandate and also make exemptions for qualified hydropower, biogas, waste to energy and the definition of biomass.

The panel also accepted a proposal by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) that would give triple credits for energy production from algae and an amendment by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to create a low-interest loan program to finance renewable-energy projects.

But other efforts to alter the RES provision failed to crack a 12-vote coalition built by Bingaman.

Several efforts to include all nuclear to the baseline was rejected in 11-12 votes -- which included Brownback voting against and Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Evan Bayh of Indiana voting for.

Bingaman opposed all those amendments, calling them "the worst of all possible outcomes."

"Including nuclear power as a resource in the RES ... doesn't make it more likely that nuclear power will be built," the New Mexico Democrat said. "The issues of not getting nuclear built relate to financing, prohibitive costs, and to some extent proliferation."

An amendment in the nature of a substitute by Landrieu to lift the cap on the amount of energy efficiency that could count toward a renewable standard also failed in an 11-12 vote. Landrieu said she would also offer such a measure on the floor.

"Somewhere along the line, we started confusing the means to the ends with the ends themselves," Landrieu said. "I offer this amendment in the spirit of compromise. We may not win today in this committee, but this is an issue that will be front and center" on the floor.

Landrieu added she might consider a higher target "if we can get it right" and it would be less disruptive to "underappreciated" industries.

Bayh, meanwhile, offered an amendment that would create tax incentives for renewable energy, which would spread the costs of promoting renewables across all regions. He withdrew the amendment and said he would also offer it on the floor.

Amendments by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) to raise the standard to 20 percent by 2021, with a 5 percent efficiency offset, and Sen. Mark Udall's (D-Colo.) bid to boost the standard to 25 percent were passionately discussed but withdrawn. Both lawmakers vowed to resurrect their proposals on the floor.

Correction: The description of the Brownback amendment was corrected June 5.