(Corrects paragraph 2 to make clear bill requires 15 perecent renewable by 2021, not 2012)
* Similar to bill passed by Senate energy panel last year
* Broader climate bill’s failure could hurt chances
By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill on Tuesday that would require utilities to generate minimum levels of renewable power which environmentalists welcomed but analysts said had slim chances of passing this year.
Jeff Bingaman, a Democrat and chair of the Senate’s energy committee, and Sam Brownback, a Republican, introduced the bill which would create a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) requiring utilities to generate 15 percent renewable power by 2021.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stripped a Renewable Electricity Standard out of the broader oil spill bill in July saying climate measures would not get a single Republican vote. [ID:nN2084474]
But the bill introduced on Tuesday has some support as it is nearly the same bill as one that passed Bingaman’s committee last year. Supporters of the bill said two other Republicans, Senators Susan Collins and John Ensign, also support it.
Steel workers, utilities that have strong renewable portfolios, and environmentalists seeking to spur reductions in greenhouse gas emissions have pushed for the bill saying it would create jobs to help the country compete with China in production of wind turbines and solar power panels.
The measure “will help protect and create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs and keep America in the clean energy race,” said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union.
“With a national RES in place, we’ll invest billions of additional dollars in renewables and create tens of thousands of jobs,” said Lew Hay, the chairman and chef executive of NextEra Energy Inc (NEE.N). “Without an RES, that won’t happen.”
But analysts said the bill had little chance of passing this year in part because the senate failed to pass the bigger climate bill.
“Chairman Bingaman may be setting the stage for the clean and green legislative agenda in 2011, but we give near zero odds for 2010 passage,” of the bill this year, said Kevin Book, an analyst at ClearView Energy Partners, LLC.
He said the collapse of cap-and-trade legislation meant the end of allowances that would have been given away to help state governments pay for high-cost green sources and efficiency retrofits.
Whitney Stanco, an analyst at Concept Capital’s Washington Research Group, said the bill had about a 25 percent chance of enactment this year, as the legislative calendar is filled with other big items such as a deal on tax extenders and a defense authorization bill.
Bruce Josten, top lobbyist at the Chamber of Commerce, told the Reuters Washington Summit on Tuesday that such a measure could pass next year if it had provisions that protect power bills from rising and give breaks to states lacking bountiful wind and solar resources.
The bill introduced Tuesday would set incremental mandates requiring power companies to generate 3 percent of their power from renewable sources such as wind, solar, ocean waves, and geothermal by 2012.
It requires 6 percent renewable energy by 2016, 9 percent by 2017, 12 percent by 2019, and 15 percent by 2021.
The bill would let utilities reach the mandates also by generating electricity from biomass, burning landfill gas and through new hydropower at existing dams.
Utilities could also meet the targets by saving energy through measures like funding efficiency programs for homes and businesses or purchasing renewable energy. Or they could purchase renewable energy credits or energy efficiency credits from entities who have excess.
As a last resort they could make payments at a rate of 2.1 cents per kilowatt hour for development of renewable resources, or to offset increases in customer’s bills.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by David Gregorio