Senators introduce bill to establish national RES program

By Erin Voegele | May 13, 2015

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M, has introduced legislation that aims to establish a national renewable electricity standard (RES). The bill would require utilities to generate 30 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.

The legislation, S. 1264, was introduced May 11 and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. To date, Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, have signed on to cosponsor the measure.

The bill would create the first national threshold for utilities to provide a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable resources, including wind, solar, biomass, landfill gas, ocean, tidal, geothermal, incremental hydropower or hydrokinetic. The RES requirement would phase in, starting at 7.5 percent in 2015 and gradually increaseto 30 percent in 2030 and thereafter, through 2039.

"A national renewable electricity standard will help slow utility rate increases and boost private investment in states like New Mexico--all while combatting climate change," said Udall, who helped pass RES legislation through the U.S. House of Representatives and has continued to champion the issue as senator. "Investing in homegrown clean energy jobs just makes sense, and that's why I'm continuing my fight for a national RES. More than half the states—Including New Mexico—have widely successful RES policies, and it's time to go all in. I've long pushed for a ‘do it all, do it right' energy policy, and a RES will help us get there."

According to Udall’s office, an analysis completed by the Union of Concerned Scientists determined that a “30-by-30” national RES would increase renewable energy generation 265 percent over current levels, helping to support and build upon the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the wind, solar, geothermal and biopower industries today. In addition, the program would save consumers $25.1 billion in cumulative electricity and natural gas bills from 2015 to 2030 while driving $294 billion in cumulative new capital investments, a level $106 billion more than business as usual.

"Our analysis shows a 30 percent by 2030 national RES is achievable and would provide substantial consumer, economic, and climate benefits," said Jeff Deyette, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. "The Udall/Markey proposal builds on the success of existing state policies to accelerate the innovation and investments needed for the U.S. to transition to a clean energy economy."

The text of the bill defines biomass as cellulosic organic materials from a plant that is planted for the purpose of being used to produce energy; nonhazardous plant or algal matter derived from an agricultural crop, crop byproduct, or residue resources; waste, such as landscape or right-of-way trimmings, animal waste or byproducts, and landfill methane, but excluding municipal solid waste, certain other types of waste materials. Regarding biomass from natural forest land and certain other public land, the bill defines biomass as organic material from ecological forest restoration, precommercial thinnings, brush, mill residues, or slash, but excludes biomass from federal lands containing old growth forest or successional forest unless certain conditions are me