By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
Senate majority leader Harry Reid said today that he would continue to push for a clean energy bill after Congress is back in session, but the shape of such a bill could not be prefigured because Democrats and Republicans would have to reconsider the issues.
“I don’t think we can define where we’re going to wind up because it’s a work in progress,” Reid said at a news conference on Tuesday.
A new Senate energy bill would not, however, contain a cap-and-trade provision, he said.
Many business leaders in the renewable energy sector, such as the wind and solar fields, believe a cap-and-trade system would move the U.S. faster toward a clean energy economy.
But Reid flatly said cap-and-trade, which has been vociferously opposed by many Republicans, was dead politically. “It doesn’t have the traction that a lot of us wish it had,” he said.
A Renewable Electricity Standards (RES) could possibly be included, though, Reid said. A RES, which would set targets for a certain percentage of electricity to be generated by renewable power, such as wind and solar installations, has wide support among Democrats, and is perceived to be more palatable to Republicans than a complex cap-and-trade plan. Unlike a cap-and-trade, which effectively sets a price on carbon emissions and attempts to position all energy sources based on their air pollution, a RES simply opens the door for clean energy by requiring that utilities add these less-polluting sources of energy to the grid system. A RES, however, does not level the playing field in terms of price, but leaves oil and coal as relatively cheap sources of energy compared with newer, still-developing clean energy sources.
Reid said Tuesday that two Republican senators, whom he did not name, have expressed support for a national RES, and that he would be speaking with them.
Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, a state with high wind potential, said earlier this summer that he’d support a RES of 15 percent by 2020.
Environmental and renewable sector advocates would like an even stronger RES of 20 percent by 2020 or 25 percent by 2025. Many states already have such targets, but industry leaders say a national RES is needed to send a signal to private investors that it is safe to make long term investments in U.S. wind, solar and geothermal projects.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, see a strong RES as a way to exert downward pressure on greenhouse gas emissions, which come mainly from burning fossil fuels.
Reid, who has served in the Senate since 1986, is facing a tough reelection race against conservative Republican opponent, former state legislator Sharron Angle. During the news conference, he acknowledged that the U.S. economy is not recovering as fast as everyone would like.
He spent part of the news conference emphasizing that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has helped seed many clean energy projects and created jobs in the U.S., and Nevada.
“We have to look at what we have accomplished. The stimulus has really provided a shot in the arm for renewable energy in Nevada,” Reid said at the teleconference, a prelude to the third annual National Clean Energy Summit, set for next Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Among the projects being funded bye the ARRA are home and building efficiency efforts that ultimately could help consumers cut their electricity bills by 40 percent, Reid said.
Bracken Hendricks, a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress who will be speaking at the summit, also lauded the Recovery Act for advancing the shift to new energy, saying: “If the Recovery Act had been just an energy bill it would have been the most important clean energy bill in American history; $80 billion went just to clean energy projects in the United States.”
Hendricks was one of three speakers who joined Reid Tuesday and will be at the clean energy summit next week. Job creation via clean energy development and energy efficiency programs for houses and commercial buildings will be a key focus of the summit, Reid said.
“These are difficult times, and in these difficult times, investing in energy efficiency now is a smart way to create jobs, three to four times more jobs per dollar of investment than coal or oil development,” Reid said.
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