Reid puts renewables mandate in play, eyes lame-duck energy bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Tuesday a nationwide renewable-electricity standard, or RES, is “absolutely” in the mix as he tries to salvage energy legislation this year — possibly in a lame-duck session.

Before the August recess, Reid said he doubted an RES — which would require utilities to provide escalating amounts of power from sources like wind and solar energy — could win 60 votes. It was left on the cutting-room floor when Reid unveiled a modest energy bill in late July.

But Reid told reporters on a conference call Tuesday the energy bill is still a work in progress and cited two Republicans who have expressed interest in an RES. He did not name them.

One could be Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who has called for including an RES in energy legislation. Reid said he planned to speak with the two Republicans soon.

“I am going to tie them down a little more closely,” Reid said. He spoke on a conference call to promote a Sept. 7 energy conference that he is co-hosting at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Reid also suggested passing energy legislation could be more likely during a lame-duck session. He noted the Senate would resume work after the recess but added, “Maybe, after the elections, we can get some more Republicans to work with us.

“We are going to continue working on this. You won’t hear the last of us until we adjourn sine die,” he added, referring to the close of the current Congress.

The energy and oil spill response package that Reid unveiled in late July contained rebates for home-efficiency retrofits and measures to boost deployment of natural gas-powered trucks and electric cars.

But Reid is under heavy pressure from renewable energy groups, environmentalists and many members of his caucus to include an RES.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year approved an RES as part of a broader energy package that cleared the panel with several GOP votes.

It would require utilities to provide 15 percent of their power from renewables by 2021, although about a fourth of the requirement could be met with energy-efficiency programs.

A renewables mandate has long been a pillar of Democratic energy plans, but the proposals face resistance from many Republicans and some southeastern lawmakers from both parties have expressed fear that their states lack enough renewable resources to meet the targets.

Some Republicans — notably Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) — have floated a broader “clean” energy standard that would include nuclear power and electricity from coal plants that trap carbon emissions.

One issue that apparently won’t creep back onto the agenda is legislation to impose a cap on greenhouse gas emissions. “It doesn’t appear so at this stage,” Reid said when asked whether a cap-and-trade plan could be revived. “It doesn’t have the traction that a lot of us wish it had.”