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Weak Renewable Energy Law Gets Big Push from Steelworkers, Green Groups

As China vaults ahead on clean energy, "need for a renewable energy standard has reached a critical stage," advocates say

By Stacy Feldman

Sep 16, 2010

Congress must pass a national renewable electricity standard (RES) this fall to stop the dramatic downslide in the American clean energy sector, 21 companies, think tanks and trade and advocacy organizations said.

A federal edict would protect thousands of jobs threatened by a sector slowdown and stop capital from flowing out of the U.S. and into China, according to the RES Action Statement, whose signatories include Iberdrola Renewables, the United Steelworkers Union, the Union of Concerned Scientists and GE Energy.

"The jobs and the investment are going to China," said Don Furman, a senior vice president for wind company Iberdrola Renewables, in a conference call with reporters. "If we wait another year, we're going to lose a lot."

It is the first time such a large cross-sector coalition has endorsed a specific national clean power standard.

The groups, sponsored by the RES Alliance for Jobs, are rallying behind the "Bingaman RES," a weaker option than proposals previously backed by many signatories to the action statement.

Described as "anemic" not long ago, the near-sudden enthusiasm for the policy reveals the dire state at which advocates have arrived, after Congress punted on cap and trade and other climate policies to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. 

"The RES ... isn't perfect," the coalition said, "but it is the right RES to pass as a starting point at this moment of acute urgency."

The measure was a key piece of the 2009 American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA). The bipartisan energy bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last June by a vote of 15 to 8. It was sponsored by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M).

The RES would require electricity companies to get 15 percent of their power from renewable resources by 2021, such as wind, solar and geothermal, with an exemption for small-scale utility companies.

At the time of passage, the UCS said it "would do nothing to spur clean energy development in the United States."

Marchant Wentworth, deputy legislative director, declared then: "This bill's renewable standard is so pitiful that it wouldn't require any new renewable energy development beyond business as usual."

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