The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last week cleared by a 15–8 vote a broad energy bill that, among other things, would impose a federal renewable energy standard, reaffirm the government’s commitment to nuclear waste disposal, and implement grid cybersecurity measures.

The Senate committee has not released a full draft of the American Clean Energy Leadership Act, though a summary (PDF) is available for viewing on Committee Chair Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s website. It reflects many of the same proposals as the Waxman-Markey bill that is currently being considered by a handful of House committees, but it steers clear of a cap-and-trade program. The Senate legislation is based on six major bills—all with bipartisan sponsorship—and five other bills with either Republican or Democratic sponsorship that were introduced in this Congress.

It is unclear when the Senate will vote on the wide-ranging bill, though it is likely to face an intense battle on the Senate floor.

A Focus on Renewables

Key provisions developed as a compromise between Democrats and Republicans include a national renewable electricity standard (RES), but one much less aggressive than President Obama’s proposed goal to generate 25% of power from renewable sources by 2025. The Senate bill would require utilities to obtain 3% of sold electricity from renewables or from energy efficiency improvements between 2011 and 2013. Between 2019 and 2020, utilities would have to procure 12% of electricity sold from renewables, and 15% between 2021 and 2039. Renewables that would qualify for the RES include wind, solar, ocean, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas, incremental hydropower, hydrokinetic, and new hydropower at existing dams with no generation.

Utilities selling less than 4 million MWh would be exempt from the federal RES. The bill provides that utilities could produce the required renewable power or energy efficiency, or purchase renewable energy credits or energy efficiency credits. Alternatively, utilities could make compliance payments to states at a rate of 2.1 cents/kWh; those funds would be used to develop renewable resources or to offset increases in customer bills.

The legislation also calls for the proposed establishment of a new “Clean Energy Investment Fund” and the Clean Energy Deployment Administration, a new entity housed in the Department of Energy (DOE). The new division’s main purpose would be to create “an attractive investment environment” for the development and deployment of clean energy technologies that are perceived as too risky by commercial lenders.

Other measures establish a policy for new transmission infrastructure to support renewable generation, to promote a better understanding of the interdependence of energy and water, to increase renewable generation on public lands, and to promote distributed generation.

Recognizing cybersecurity threats as an “imminent danger,” the Senate committee’s bill also gives the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the authority to promulgate rules or orders—without prior notice or hearing, if required—to protect against vulnerabilities.

Pushing for Coal and Nuclear

“Despite an uphill fight against Democrats’ three-vote majority, we were able to include a number of provisions that will lead to more domestic production of the conventional energy we need to drive this country,” said the Senate committee’s ranking Republican member, Lisa Murkowski. “While I support this bill in its present form, we simply must do more to increase our domestic production and use of nuclear energy. I will continue to press for those provisions on the Senate floor.”

As a compromise with Republicans, the bill offers to establish a federal advisory commission to conduct a comprehensive study of alternative means of safely managing or disposing of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste—not unlike the Obama administration’s “blue-ribbon panel” that would seek alternatives to the now-defunct Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository.

The bill also “expresses a sense of the Congress on the importance of nuclear energy and authorizes additional research on recycling of spent nuclear fuel.”

Like the House’s Waxman-Markey bill, the Senate bill pushes carbon capture and storage technologies (CCS), establishing a national indemnity program through the DOE for up to 10 commercial-scale CCS projects. It also maps out a clear framework for final closure and longtime stewardship of geological storage sites for carbon dioxide.

Source: U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee