Senators proposing renewable energy standard (RES)

A handful of U.S. senators, including Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, were expected to propose a 15 percent national renewable energy standard (RES), a move cheered by supporters of the wind power industry.

The proposal — called “modest” by Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association in a Tuesday conference call with reporters — starts with a 3 percent goal in 2012 for the use of renewable energy, rising to 15 percent 2021. By contrast, Colorado — one of 31 states with renewable energy goals in place — wants 30 percent of the state’s electricity to come from renewable resources by 2020.

“The RES is the single most important thing we can do to grow jobs here in the United States and keep 85,000 American wind energy workers on the job,” Bode said during the call. “This bill sends a signal to manufacturers that the time is right to invest in and grow their operations here in America.”

Without a national standard in place, “it’s hard to justify spending millions of dollars building wind turbines manufacturing plants in the U.S.,” said Steve Dayney, CEO of Denver-based REpower USA Corp., the U.S. arm of the German wind turbine manufacturer. The company doesn’t have manufacturing facilities in the U.S.

If a national goal is implemented, “it makes the business case [to manufacture in the U.S.] much easier to justify if we have the long-term business case to make that investment,” Dayney said.

Company officials with Vestas, the Danish wind turbines manufacturer that’s spent nearly $1 billion on three manufacturing plants in Colorado, have said they, too, hope the U.S. implements a national standard.

“We need an RES now to create jobs and spur economic development,” Udall said in a statement. “Colorado’s RES — combined with other clean energy efforts — has helped create nearly 20,000 new jobs in Colorado since voters approved it in 2004. We can do that at the national level too. I’m pleased to join in introducing this bill, and I’ll be fighting for passage this year.”

In June 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill that included a goal of 20 percent by 2020. That same month, the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved a national 15 percent goal by 2021.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, omitted a renewable-energy goal in his July 27 energy bill, saying he lacked enough votes to block a filibuster on the issue. The current proposal isn’t attached to a bill.

Bode said she believes a national renewable energy goal could be passed this time around.

“Its’ a huge boon to the American economy when we need it,” Bode said. “The issue has ripened. This is members of Congress reaching across the aisles and saying we need to create some new jobs. It’s not being pushed by the Democratic leadership, or the White House. It’s a bipartisan effort that they know will bring jobs home to their state.”

The proposal’s primary backers include: Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), joined by Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Tom Udall (D-N.M.). Bennet’s office said he, too, is a co-sponsor.

By Cathy Proctor,