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Senate Backs More Electricity from Renewable Sources

by Tom Doggett and Chris Baltimore
Reuters - March 22, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Senate Thursday voted to require utilities to generate more of their electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar, and landfill gas, rejecting a plan for companies to voluntarily supply cleaner power to their customers.

Renewable energy sources currently account for a scant 2.3 percent of total U.S. electricity generation.

The Senate defeated a move by Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona to delete a provision from a pending energy bill that requires utilities to produce at least 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources. Instead, lawmakers agreed to have by 2005 a 1 percent renewable generation standard, which would then increase 0.6 percentage points yearly until reaching 10 percent in 2020.

Kyl's amendment, which failed 40-to-58, would have allowed states to pursue their own efforts to promote renewable energy and permit utilities to promote renewable energy "to the extent it is available." Kyl said his measure was aimed at "keeping the federal government out of the business of telling Americans what they have to do" regarding their electricity buying habits. "Let's leave it up to the states" to make such decisions, Kyl said, pointing to 14 states that currently have laws mandating renewable production, including his home state.

Most electricity is generated from plants fueled by coal, natural gas, and nuclear power.

The Senate also rejected two other amendments to exempt states from a federal renewable standard if they have their own renewable programs in place and, separately, allow states to pull out of the federal program if consumers were suffering from high electricity prices caused by the renewable requirement. Both amendments failed after opponents successfully argued the 10 percent federal standard would be gutted if states would be able to easily ignore it.

While lawmakers support some level of renewable energy production, they believe there are limits on how much the United States can realistically depend on renewable sources. Last week, the Senate rejected an amendment to the energy bill from Vermont Independent Sen. Jim Jeffords to raise utilities' generation from renewables to 20 percent by 2020, starting at 5 percent in 2005.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he wants the Senate to finish the energy bill during the week of April 8, when lawmakers come back from their two-week spring recess.

Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska said he would offer an amendment to the energy bill after the spring recess that would stop U.S. imports of Iraqi oil. Iraq is the sixth biggest U.S. oil supplier. Murkowski said that under his amendment, Iraqi oil shipments to the United States could resume once President George W. Bush certifies that weapons inspectors were allowed back into Iraq and that Iraq stops smuggling its oil to avoid the United Nations oil-for-food program.

The Senate must also still vote on $16 billion in energy tax breaks and the contentious issue of whether to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). A Reuters survey of senators released Thursday found that drilling in ANWR is basically doomed, as 50 lawmakers said they would vote against opening the refuge. Forty senators said they would support drilling, and 10 lawmakers were undecided.

If approved, the Senate energy bill would still have to be worked out with much different energy legislation cleared by the House of Representatives last year.

Tom Doggett and Chris Baltimore, Reuters
Senate Backs More Electricity from Renewable Sources
Reuters March 22, 2002

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