Senate Supports Renewable Energy Billby H. Josef Hebert, Associated Press
The Boston Globe, March 22, 2002
WASHINGTON -- The Senate agreed yesterday to require, as part of a broad energy bill, that all investor-owned electric utilities generate some of their power from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, or wood and agricultural scraps. The Senate turned back, by a 40-58 vote, an attempt by Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, to strip from the legislation a requirement that at least 10 percent of electric power come from renewable sources.
Kyl had argued that the decision on whether to impose a so-called ''renewable portfolio'' on utilities should be left up to the states. He said renewables are more likely to be used in certain regions of the country.
A dozen states, including Massachusetts, already require some percentage of power be from renewables; at least nine states are considering such a requirement. Beginning next year, utilities serving Massachusetts must derive 1 percent of their power from renewable energy projects established since December 1997, according to David L. O'Connor, state commissioner of energy resources. That mandate grows by half a percentage point a year, reaching 4 percent in 2009.
In an attempt to garner broader support, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, said he planned to offer changes in the provision that would exempt municipal power companies and electric cooperatives, and include other provisions to make it easier for utilities to comply.
Less than 2 percent of electricity now comes from renewable sources: solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal sources, or biomass such as wood waste, grasses, or agricultural residues. O'Connor said New England gets about 6 percent of its electricity from renewables, primarily biomass.
Nationally, about 70 percent of electricity is generated from coal or natural gas. About 20 percent comes from nuclear power plants and much of the rest from hydroelectric dams, which are not considered a renewable source under the Senate legislation.
''That's too much concentration. That's not smart,'' said Bingaman, urging approval of his renewable energy requirement.
Last week, the Senate rejected a more ambitious proposal that would have required one-fifth of the nation's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020. ''It's hard to understand why we would not want to have cleaner energy,'' said Senator James Jeffords, Independent of Vermont and sponsor of that proposal.
The White House has opposed any renewable requirement, maintaining that the issue is best left up to the states.
Kyl called the requirement ''basically an energy tax'' because it would raise the cost of electricity. Jeffords disputed the characterization, citing an Energy Department study that said utility companies probably would not pass any cost increases to customers.
The Edison Electric Institute, which represents the investor-owned utilities, lobbied aggressively against the proposal.
Environmentalists had favored Jeffords's proposal for a 20 percent renewable requirement and said that Bingaman's compromise would probably produce less than a 5 percent increase in renewable use because of its broad exemptions and other provisions.
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