Senators Bingaman, Brownback Introduce Renewable Electricity Standard

On September 21, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced S. 3813 to require utilities to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. Introduced by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) chair of the Senate’s energy committee, Sam Brownback (R-KS), and 22 other co-sponsors*, the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) would require three percent renewable electricity by 2012, increasing incrementally to 15 percent by 2021. Qualified renewable energy sources include wind, solar, ocean, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, incremental hydropower, hydrokinetic, new hydropower at existing dams, and waste-to-energy. Alternative ways of meeting the standard include efficiency improvements, purchasing alternative energy or efficiency credits, and making alternative energy compliance payments.

Sen. Brownback said, “A sensible and modest renewable energy standard will help encourage home-grown supplies like wind in Kansas and help diversify our nation's energy sources.”

The RES introduced on Tuesday is similar to one included in the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (S. 1462), which was reported out by the Senate energy committee last year. In June 2009, the House passed a more ambitious RES as part of the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454); the House RES would require 20 percent renewable electricity by 2020.

Many states already have enacted renewable electricity standards that exceed the current federal standards under consideration. California's standard is one of the most ambitious in the country, requiring utilities to procure 33 percent renewable electricity by 2020. Texas requires municipal electricity companies to produce at least 5,880 MW from renewable sources by 2015 and 10,000 MW by 2025. Texas and Colorado have increased their states requirements after achieving their initial goals much earlier than anticipated.

Though not as ambitious as other RESs, the legislation proposed by Senators Bingaman and Brownback has bipartisan support and may be the best chance for establishing a federal framework for requiring renewable power generation in the 111th Congress. “I think that the votes are present in the Senate to pass a renewable electricity standard," said Sen. Bingaman. "I think that they are present in the House. I think that we need to get on with figuring out what we can pass and move forward.”

According to the Energy Information Administration, renewable resources produced 4.1 percent of the nation’s total electricity supply (not counting conventional hydropower, which contributes another 6.8 percent) from July 2009 to June 2010, surpassing the recently proposed RES goal for 2012. However, renewable portfolios vary among individual utilities.

*Additional co-sponsors include Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tom Udall (D-NM), John Ensign (R-NV), Mark Udall (D-CO), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Harry Reid (D-NV), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Al Franken (D-MN), Roland Burris (D-IL), Ted Kaufman (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Kerry (D-MA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).