UPDATE – Senate to resume energy debate after renewables deadlock

The U.S. Senate scheduled a second week of energy bill debate beginning June 18, hoping to recover from a stalemate over competing versions of a renewables portfolio standard for electric utilities.

Senators deadlocked June 14 on competing versions of a renewables portfolio standard, one including new hydropower projects, and one allowing only incremental hydro to be an eligible power source for the renewable energy mandate. After rejecting one version, senators could not muster sufficient votes to take up the other.

The Senate resumed debate June 18, with a pledge by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to finish the bill within the week. However, about 100 proposed floor amendments had been filed for the House-passed bill, H.R. 6, promising to make the debate lengthy. Among the pending amendments were an energy tax package that might affect hydropower, and revival of a renewables portfolio standard amendment by Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Bingaman initially offered his floor amendment June 14, proposing a requirement that, by 2020, 15 percent of U.S. electricity supplies be generated by renewable energy sources, including incremental hydropower installed at existing hydro plants or water resources facilities. It also would include energy from wave, tidal, or other ocean-powered projects. (HNN 6/15/07) Other eligible renewables would include solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, and landfill gas energy.

However, before the Bingaman amendment could be considered, fellow New Mexican, Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., offered a competing amendment, a �clean portfolio standard,� that would add new hydro plants not requiring dam construction, as well as nuclear power plants and fuel cells to the eligible power sources. It also would make the clean energy goal 20 percent of total energy generated by 2030.

Significantly, both senators proposed allowing utilities to deduct the amount of power they already receive from existing hydropower from their generation bases when figuring their renewables portfolio obligation.

Backers of Domenici’s amendment, mostly Republicans, argued that Bingaman’s proposal was biased in favor of wind energy and would prove an expensive penalty for states lacking wind resources. They said 16 mostly Southeast states could see $175 billion in extra costs from Bingaman’s plan by 2030, based on a study done by Global Energy Decisions on behalf of the Edison Electric Institute, which lobbies for U.S. utilities.

After extensive debate, the mostly Democrat majority rejected the Domenici amendment, 39-56. The Republican backers of the Domenici version then refused to allow a vote on the Bingaman version. The proposed amendment then was set aside until the leadership can secure 60 votes needed to continue action.
Clarifying: Both RPS amendments proposed deducting existing hydro from utility generation bases.

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