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With Renewables Standard in Doubt, Coalition Grudgingly Calls for Low Target

Dorgan-bingaman.jpg
Dorgan-bingaman.jpg

Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) have both pushed for a renewable energy standard. (EPA/ZUMApress.com)

The renewable energy industry has largely abandoned efforts to push a stringent renewable energy standard in pending energy legislation, instead calling for a standard that many have said is not strong enough to bring about rapid wind and solar energy development.

[Environment1] On a conference call with reporters today, a coalition of renewable energy companies scaled back its previous calls for passage of an RES that requires 25 percent of the country’s electricity to come from renewable sources like wind and solar. Instead, the coalition is now calling for passage of the RES passed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) Energy and Natural Resources Committee last summer, because the advocates say it can get the 60 votes necessary for passage in the Senate.

Bingaman’s RES, which passed with bipartisan support as part of a larger energy bill, requires that 15 percent of the country’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2021. That figure has been criticized by many in the environmental community for not going far enough to incentivize renewable energy production.

“In this political climate, we have to do what we have to do,” American Wind Energy Association President Denise Bode told reporters on the call. Tom Daschle, the former Senate majority leader, told reporters on the call that he believe a 15 percent RES could get 60 votes.

Participants on the call included Iowa Gov. Chet Culver (D) and Lew Hay, CEO of NextEra Energy, the largest renewable energy developer in the United States. The energy company representatives on the call are part of a coalition called the RES Alliance for Jobs, whose members also include the renewable energy developer Iberdrola Renewables, the National Hydropower Association and General Electric.

If Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) does not include an RES in the bill he is expected to release later today (Reid said last week that an RES could not garner 60 votes), Daschle said the coalition is working with lawmakers to introduce a floor amendment in an attempt to attach Bingaman’s RES language to the bill.

“I think it’s fair to say that if the RES is not included in a bill when its introduced, we can virtually guarantee that there will be an amendment offered,” Daschle said on the call, adding later, “There may be other amendments offered but at the very least, the Bingaman RES will be offered.”

It remains unclear which lawmaker would offer an amendment on an RES. Bingaman has long maintained that he would like to strengthen an RES, but said he will only offer such a proposal if he can find 60 votes. Other possibilities include Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), who has also expressed interest in strengthening a bill, and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who has introduced a bill that in part would bolster the RES.

But one environmentalist tracking the energy debate closely says that there is a possibility that Reid could restrict amendments to the energy bill in order to pass something before the August recess, which begins in less than two weeks. If amendments are restricted, debate on an RES would likely be pushed back until September, when many lawmakers will be heavily focused on the upcoming mid-term elections.

A source with the coalition, who asked not to be named in order to talk freely about the group, acknowledged that the Bingaman RES is inadequate in the short term. “In the Bingaman bill, the near-term targets stink; we all know that,” the source said. But it is important to pass something this year in order to send a signal that more is coming down the road. “It would be much easier to strengthen in little ways and augment in little ways an RES that we have now than it would be to pass a renewable energy standard next year,” the source said.

The source pointed to news last week that China has decided to implement a cap-and-trade system, though the details of the program remain unclear. “We completely dropped the ball on cap-and-trade and China picked it up,” the source said. “What we’re pushing for is the last chance. This is the last thing that stands between the United States and China on the clean energy race.”

If an RES does not pass before the August break, the source said the coalition would continue to work to move such a proposal in September. “The renewables guys and the environmentalists are not going to stop fighting,” the source said.

An environmentalist source, who also asked for anonymity to discuss the energy debate, said that passage of Bingaman’s RES would be a “silver lining” in Reid’s scaled-back energy bill, but added that “if all that gets done is just a weak RES, then it’s still been a total failure.” The source said an RES, even a more stringent one, is not a substitute for climate legislation that includes a cap on carbon emissions.

The source said that it is unlikely that an RES will pass before the August recess because Reid doesn’t believe it has the votes. “So far there’s not been a lot of evidence that it’s going to be incorporated. Putting the RES in just makes it easier for folks to stand in the way of getting the Gulf oil spill response done,” the source said.

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