June 17, 2009 / 2:28 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. Senate panel approves comprehensive energy bill

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday approved a comprehensive energy package that would require utilities to generate 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind power by 2021.

The sun rises over a windmill farm in Palm Springs, California November 26, 2005. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

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

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 15 to 8 in favor of the wide-ranging legislation that would also require the Energy Department to create an emergency reserve of 30 million barrels of petroleum product supplies, including gasoline and diesel fuel.

The Senate’s energy package also addresses domestic oil and gas production. The bill would call for an inventory of Outer Continental Shelf energy resources and would allow drilling within 45 miles of Florida’s Gulf coast.

The bill would give the federal government authority to override state objections to expanding electricity transmission lines and establish an independent agency to spearhead government clean energy investments.

Committee chairman Jeff Bingaman called the legislation a bipartisan effort.

“None of us given the chance to be a single author would have written the bill that we have written in this committee in the last 12 weeks,” Bingaman said. “The end product I believe is a solid piece of work.”

It is unclear when the full chamber will consider the energy package. Earlier this year, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hoped to combine the energy measures with climate legislation. No major climate legislation has been introduced in the Senate so far this year.

The bill is likely to face an intense battle on the Senate floor as several lawmakers pledged to seek major changes in areas such as offshore drilling and renewable electricity.

“This is an extremely weak bill, the only reason I’m voting for it is to see that we can strengthen it on the floor,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent.

U.S. President Barack Obama has made transforming the country into a leader in clean energy innovation a key goal of his administration. During the campaign, he set a goal to generate 25 percent of power from renewable energy by 2025.

The Senate legislation’s mandate is much less aggressive, mandating that power plants meet targets to gradually produce more renewable power, beginning with 3 percent of their output between 2011 and 2013 and rising to 15 percent between 2021 and 2039.

Sanders and other lawmakers have attacked the panel’s renewable power mandate as too low, while others have said it will hurt those states without much solar or wind resources.

In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee backed a renewable power standard that would require power plants to produce 15 percent of electricity from renewables and to have an additional 5 percent energy efficiency savings.

Editing by David Gregorio

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