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Will a Clean Energy Standard Get Going?

The bipartisan leadership of a Senate committee is taking another crack at a national clean energy standard. And they’ve set up a discussion framework to help determine what that standard might include.

Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alas.) of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee released a white paper that tries to frame the issue while simultaneously trying to determine if a consensus on a national standard can be reached.

President Obama proposed a clean energy standard (CES) in his State of the Union address to require that 80 percent of the nation’s electricity come from clean energy technologies by 2035. That involves not just wind and solar but also “clean coal,” natural gas and nuclear, which was a provision instilled prior to the accident in Japan. 

“The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee now faces a threshold question of what the general policy goals for the electric sector are and whether a CES would most effectively achieve them,” the paper says.

The senators have posed the following questions to frame the discussion around any standard:

  • What should  be the threshold for inclusion in the new program?
  • What resources should qualify as "clean energy?" 
  • How should the crediting system and timetables be designed?
  •  How will a CES affect the deployment of specific technologies
  • How should Alternative Compliance Payments, regional costs, and consumer protections be addressed?
  • How would the CES interact with other policies?

Contentious Issue

The most contentious issue, aside from the national mandate itself, is whether nuclear, some natural gas and clean coal should be included.

Numerous reasons have been given for renewable mandates in the past, including reduction of greenhouse gases, lowering electricity costs, development of new technologies and diversifying energy supply.

Congress has debated standards for the past decade, with the Senate committee passing a 15 percent by 2021 standard in 2009 of traditional renewable and energy efficiency.

“They’re starting a long process to find out information and to see whether they should move forward,” said Frank Maisano, an energy researcher at the law firm of Bracewell Giuliani in Washington, D.C. “The answer to that question will determine how it plays out.”

Maisano added this is the typical deliberative approach Bingaman takes. “The fact that he has Murkowski with him shows that they want answers and details to see whether this is a good idea or not,” he added.

The committee wants responses by April 11. Deliberations that could lead to proposed legislation could take a few weeks, with eventual passage running into the reality of the 2012 election cycle a year from now.

There’s also the barrier of the U.S. House of Representatives  even considering companion legislation. Chances in the Republican-controlled body at the present time seem remote.

But the national standard has been around for a decade. Whether it survives another year could be determined this spring.



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