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As chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, I have worked over the years to ensure our country relies increasingly on a diverse energy supply – especially energy we can produce ourselves. This is important for two reasons. First, it’s better for the economy to rely on a solid mix of energy sources rather than to rely predominately on one or two. And second, it’s better for the environment to rely on clean energy sources, such as wind, solar, and geothermal, just to name a few.

Two weeks ago, I introduced a bill that takes a step toward further diversifying our energy supplies by encouraging electric utilities to shift to cleaner, home-grown energy sources. The Clean Energy Standard Act (CES Act) (summary and full text available online) takes a common-sense, gradual approach to transitioning to a clean energy economy. I am eager for Congress to consider this legislation because I believe it would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, drive American ingenuity and stabilize our energy sources – all of which would be good for our economy.

Under the CES Act, starting in 2015 large utilities would need to sell a minimum level of electricity from a wide variety of clean energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear energy, and natural gas, among others. The minimum level starts low, and is within the capabilities of utilities right now. Each year over the next two decades, utilities would need to sell a little more of their electricity from clean sources. This would have the effect of gradually shifting our nation’s electricity generation to cleaner sources.

The CES Act gives utilities the leeway they need to determine which clean energy sources are the most cost-efficient for them. We in New Mexico are fortunate to have an abundant supply of solar and wind energy supplies. But the legislation also allows utilities to turn to low- and zero-carbon energy sources such as nuclear, natural gas, and coal with carbon capture and storage. The level of incentive for each clean energy source is tied to its emissions of carbon dioxide compared to a new, efficient coal plant. This means that the lowest emitting sources—like renewable and nuclear sources—would receive the greatest benefit from the policy, but that many technologies can participate. The rules are clear and transparent, and all technologies are judged on the same basis.

The CES Act would apply only to our nation’s largest utilities – those that sell more than 2 million megawatt hours to consumers. That exempts all small municipal companies and cooperatives like those that operate in rural New Mexico communities. But because the largest utilities produce about 80 percent of the power Americans consume, adopting a minimum clean energy standard will have a tremendous impact. Utilities that go beyond the minimum level of clean energy production can sell credits to the utilities that are not meeting the standard, allowing market forces to find the cheapest and most optimal mix of clean technologies.

The result of the CES Act would be that significantly more amounts of clean energy generation will be used in the coming years, translating into reduced carbon emissions from the electricity sector.

The CES Act is the result of many months of input from electric utilities, environmental organizations, bipartisan think tanks and others. To date, I have received letters of support from utilities such as Nextera Energy, renewable energy companies and associations such as the American Wind Energy Association, environmental groups such as the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, and more are on the way. I believe this is an important piece of legislation that could help us build a strong energy economy for decades to come. Eight of my Senate colleagues are cosponsoring the bill, and I am working to build bipartisan support. In the past, measures from Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) have included their own versions of a clean energy standard, and President Obama has called for a clean energy standard in the past, as well. I hope we can make progress this year on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Jeff Bingaman
United States Senator