June 18, 2009

New Comprehensive Energy Bill Approved By Senate Panel

A comprehensive energy package that would require utilities to generate 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind power by 2021 received approval from a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

The package would allow for utilities to meet about a quarter of their renewable requirements through energy efficiency gains.

The wide-ranging legislation passed on a 15 to 8 vote by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The package would mean the Energy Department will also be required to create an emergency reserve of 30 million barrels of petroleum product supplies, including gasoline and diesel fuel.

Issues such as domestic oil and gas production were also addressed in the bill, which would allow drilling within 45 miles of Florida's Gulf coast. It would also call for an inventory of Outer Continental Shelf energy resources.

Additionally, the federal government would be granted the authority to override state objections to expanding electricity transmission lines and government clean energy investments would be established by an independent agency.

The new legislation was a bipartisan effort, according to committee chairman Jeff Bingaman, who called the end product "a solid piece of work."

"None of us given the chance to be a single author would have written the bill that we have written in this committee in the last 12 weeks," he said.

However, it is not yet certain when the full chamber will consider the energy package.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said earlier this year he hoped to combine the energy measures with climate legislation, yet no major climate legislation has been introduced in the Senate as of yet.

Many lawmakers have stated their intention to seek several major changes in the bill regarding areas like offshore drilling and renewable electricity.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, called it "an extremely weak bill" and stated that the only reason he was voting for it was to see that it could be strengthened on the Senate floor.

The Obama administration's effort to transform the country into a leader in clean energy innovation continues to move forward on his campaign pledge to set a goal to generate 25 percent of power from renewable energy by 2025.

But the Senate legislation only mandates that power plants meet targets to gradually produce more renewable power, beginning with 3 percent of their output between 2011 and 2013 and rising to 15 percent between 2021 and 2039.

The panel's renewable power mandate has been called "too low" by Sanders and other lawmakers, who argue that states without much solar or wind resources will be hurt the most.

The Energy and Commerce Committee backed a renewable power standard in the House of Representatives that would require power plants to produce 15 percent of electricity from renewables and to produce additional energy efficiency savings of at least 5 percent.


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