US Senate May Pass Renewable Energy Standard

By: Nick Engelfried 

September 26, 2010

A bi-partisan group of US senators hopes that by the end of this year the Senate can pass a renewable energy standard requiring that utilities get 15% of their electricity from renewable sources by the year 2021.  Supporters see the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act of 2010 as a way to encourage development of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power in the United States.  The bill could also prevent clean tech companies from abandoning the US for friendlier markets in Europe and Asia. 

Though less ambitious than the comprehensive climate legislation environmental groups hoped might pass into law this year, the renewable energy bill would help reduce carbon pollution by pushing utilities toward cleaner energy sources.  It would also be the first major piece of national legislation in the US specifically devoted to making the transition to renewable power sources. 

Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the main author of the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act, hopes to bring it up for a vote shortly after the November 2nd elections.  To become law, the bill would then have to pass through the US House of Representatives.  Passage in the Senate depends on it attracting enough Republican votes, in addition to the majority of Democrats who are likely to support the renewable energy standard.  So far the bill has four Republican co-sponsors, and Senator Bingaman has said he believes it will draw more soon.

In addition to being strongly supported by environmental groups, the Renewable Electricity Promotion Act also has the backing of the United Steelworkers and advocate organizations for the renewable energy industry.  These groups see the bill as a chance to assure the creation of new jobs in the US renewable electricity sector, growth of which has slowed recently due to a lack of a national policy to encourage clean energy development.    

Nearly half of all US states already have some type of renewable energy standard of their own, requiring major utilities source some percentage of their electricity from renewables by a given year.  Some state standards are much more ambitious than others: while Arizona only aims to generate 15% of its power from renewable sources by 2025, Oregon and Illinois plan to hit 25% by the same year.  This month California increased its state standard to require utilities produce 33% of their power from renewables by the year 2020.  So far California’s is the most ambitious renewable energy standard of any state in the country.

Under Senator Bingaman’s Renewable Electricity Promotion Act, states with stronger renewable energy standards than 15% by 2021 would be allowed to keep their own goals in place.  Thus the national law would mainly affect utilities in states with weak standards or with no renewable energy goals at all.  It would also assure clean tech companies trying to navigate a patchwork of state requirements that the national government of the United States is determined to provide a market for renewable energy. 

Photo Credit: Wayne National Forest

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