Udall pushes new renewable standard as part of last-ditch climate bill

In a last-ditch effort to salvage climate change legislation before the end of the year, the emphasis now is on a utility-only carbon cap in the Senate, and Colorado Sen. Mark Udall has renewed his push for a national renewable energy standard (RES) similar to Colorado’s.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. – working with Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine – is trying to talk Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., into making a carbon cap limited to electric utilities part of the final energy package Reid is expected to send to the Senate floor by the end of the month. That gives the Senate just a few short weeks to debate the energy package before the August recess.

Udall last summer expressed disappointment in the RES initially proposed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, on which he serves. That proposal called for a 15-percent standard – meaning the percentage of electrical power produced for renewable sources such as wind, solar, hydroelectric and geothermal – by 2021.

In a letter to his fellow senators this week, Udall urged them to support a 25-percent RES by 2025, citing a study showing it would create an additional 274,000 jobs in the clean energy sector. Last week Udall led the charge of 10 freshmen senators, including Colorado’s Michael Bennet, in pushing Reid to move a bill including a cap on greenhouse gas emissions and a federal renewable energy standard.

“We refuse to be the generation of leaders who posterity will view as those who failed to act,” the freshmen class wrote in a letter to Reid, who faces a tough reelection battle and hails from the mining-rich state of Nevada.

Udall, meanwhile, has taken a shotgun approach to revamping the nation’s power grid, including supporting a nuclear power renaissance that’s not popular with environmentalists. He campaigned for Colorado’s Amendment 37 in 2004, which saw one of the first voter-approved renewable energy standards in the nation.

The state legislature in 2007 upped it to 20 percent by 2020, and this past session – with the backing of the state’s largest utility, Minnesota-based Xcel Energy – increased it another 10 percent to the second highest RES in the nation behind only California.

According to the New York Times, some major utilities and trade associations have yet to take a position on the Kerry utility-only cap, including the Edison Electric Institute, which represents about 70 percent of the U.S. electric power industry.

But other utilities, including Duke Energy Corp – the sixth largest electric utility in the nation, according the DOE’s Energy Information Administration – supports the Kerry proposal because it would provide market certainty in the face of more stringent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of emissions. The EPA push promises to involve years of litigation.

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