Senate panel endorses renewables standard including hydropower

A Senate committee approved a broad energy package June 17, 2009, that would require utilities to increase the amount of power they obtain from renewable energy sources including some hydropower and ocean energy.

On a 15-8 vote, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee sent the full Senate a package that would establish a renewable electricity standard, create an independent agency to foster clean energy investments, and give the federal government authority to expand the nation’s transmission grid over state objections. It also could advance oil drilling off Florida’s Gulf Coast and would create an emergency reserve of 30 million barrels of petroleum.

As it emerged from committee, the package would requires firms that sell more than 4 million megawatt-hours a year to obtain a portion of their electric supply from new renewable energy resources. They would be required to deliver the following percentages of renewable energy: 3 percent from 2011-2013, 6 percent from 2014-2016, 9 percent from 2017-2018, 12 percent from 2019-2020, and 15 percent from 2021-2039.

The legislation defines eligible renewable energy sources to include incremental hydropower, ocean and other hydrokinetic energy, and wind, biomass, solar, geothermal, and landfill gas sources.

Incremental hydropower is defined as improvements to existing hydro projects and addition of new generating facilities to existing water resources projects. The bill also would allow utilities to exclude existing hydropower from their base amount of electricity when calculating the amount of renewable energy they must obtain.

Utilities also could meet about a quarter of their renewables requirements through energy efficiency gains.

A committee staff member said it was not known when the full Senate might consider the energy package. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., previously said he hoped to combine the energy measures with climate legislation. However, no major climate legislation has been introduced in the Senate so far this year.

Earlier this year, Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., was optimistic that the Senate and House could reach agreement on a renewable energy standard. (HydroWorld 2/11/09) However, the bill was expected to face opposition in the Senate from senators seeking major changes in the renewable energy language and offshore drilling provisions.

House could act on its bill in a week

The House Energy and Commerce Committee endorsed climate change legislation in May that included a renewable electricity standard including incremental hydropower and ocean energy. (HydroWorld 5/31/09) House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said June 16 that the House could vote in a week on its bill.

The House committee bill would require retail electricity suppliers that sell more than 4 million megawatt-hours per year to meet a percentage of their load from renewable energy sources or from energy savings. The combined renewable energy and electricity savings requirement in that bill begins at 6 percent in 2012 and gradually increases to 20 percent in 2020. Up to a fourth of the 20 percent requirement may be met by electricity savings.

Hydro owner says renewable mandates too high

The chief executive of hydropower operator PPL Corp. warned June 16 that the United States will not be able to meet the national renewable power mandates being considered in Congress.

PPL Chief Executive Officer James Miller told a press briefing the U.S. might be able to produce 20 percent or its electricity from renewable energy in 20 to 25 years, a much slower pace than lawmakers have proposed. Miller warned that consumers would pay the price if renewables mandates were too aggressive.

"We have to be realistic about understanding the pure and simple realities of various states across the country and what level of renewables will be able to come to market," Miller said.

The utility executive said companies would not rush to invest in states with few renewable resources just because the government sets a target. He also said electricity transmission infrastructure will have to be significantly updated to accommodate increased levels of renewable energy production.

PPL Corp. operates more than 12,000 MW of generating capacity of which 1,221 MW comes from hydropower. Its major hydro projects include: 107.2-MW Holtwood on Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River, which it plans to expand by 125 MW (HydroWorld 4/10/09); 420-MW Safe Harbor on the Susquehanna; 44-MW Wallenpaupack on Pennsylvania’s Lake Wallenpaupack; PPL Maine’s nine plants on Maine’s Penobscot and Union rivers totaling 47 MW (HydroWorld 4/14/09); and PPL Montana’s 11 plants on Montana’s Clark Fork, Flathead, Madison, and Missouri rivers totaling 602 MW, with plans for a new 58.95-MW Rainbow hydro plant. (HydroWorld 4/3/09)

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