On March 1, Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) introduced his long-awaited Clean Energy Standard Act of 2012 (S. 2146). The bill would require the largest electric utilities to produce gradually increasing amounts of electricity from low carbon emission and zero carbon emission technologies. The bill would encourage increased power production from biomass, urban and rural waste and residue streams, and combined heat and power (CHP) plants, among other technologies.

The goal of the legislation is to double the production of "clean energy" in the United States by 2035. "Zero carbon" technologies, as defined by the legislation, would include renewable energy and nuclear energy. "Low carbon" technologies would include those that produce less carbon than state-of-the-art coal-fired power plants do today, including natural gas-fired plants and coal-fired plants that sequester some or all carbon emissions. Full credits would be given to zero carbon facilities, and partial credits would be given to low carbon facilities in proportion to the amount that carbon emissions are reduced compared to a conventional coal plant today. The Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimated that a standard like this could reduce overall carbon emissions from the U.S. electric power sector by 20 to 40 percent by 2035.

  • According to the bill summary :


  • Qualified combined heat and power must generate at least 20% of its useful energy as electricity and 20% as heat, and have an overall system efficiency of greater than 50%.
  • To be considered qualified renewable biomass, the biomass must be produced and harvested in an ecologically sustainable manner.
  • Qualified waste-to-energy is defined to mean energy produced from the combustion of post-recycled municipal solid waste, animal waste or animal byproducts, biogas, landfill methane, or other biomass that has been diverted from or separated from other waste out of a municipal waste stream. Existing waste-to-energy facilities must be in compliance with all applicable environmental regulations for new facilities within the applicable source category under the Clean Air Act.

The bill would require the Secretary of Energy to issue interim regulations determining the carbon-intensity of various renewable biomass feedstocks, and to commission the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study of the net greenhouse gas emissions associated with biopower production. The bill would also require the Secretary to submit a report within three years recommending mechanisms to incorporate thermal energy technologies such as biomass heating, district heating, and waste heat recovery into the clean energy standard.

Click here for links to Senator Bingaman’s floor speech, bill summaries, and the bill text.

For more on the EIA analysis of an earlier version of the bill, see EESI’s previous post here .