DOE chief floats talks with Congress on ‘clean’ power standard that includes nuclear

A narrower renewable-electricity standard — which would require utilities to provide growing amounts of power in coming years from wind, solar and other renewables — has long been a pillar of Democratic energy proposals, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs plugged the idea as recently as last month.

But some Republicans — notably Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) of late — have floated a wider “clean” standard that would give credit to nuclear energy, coal plants if they trap and store carbon, and perhaps other non-renewable sources.

The renewables-only idea faces big hurdles despite a limited amount of GOP buy-in.

But giving credit to nuclear power, or coal with carbon capture (a technology not yet commercialized), would in turn face opposition from green groups and some key Democrats.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) supports the renewable-power standard — he was hoping for a vote in the lame-duck on his legislation — and has for years criticized calls to allow non-renewable sources in a standard.

President Obama and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have both called nuclear power an area ripe for bipartisan collaboration.

The White House is seeking to pick up the pieces on energy policy and legislation now that a sweeping climate and energy bill has collapsed in Congress.

White House energy czar Carol Browner, appearing at the same event Tuesday, reiterated administration calls for Congress to expand the amount of federal loan guarantees available for reactor developers.

The White House’s fiscal year 2011 budget plan rolled out early this year asked Congress to provide an additional $36 billion in Energy Department loan guarantees for nuclear plants. The administration announced the first nuclear plant loan guarantees, offered to utility giant Southern Company, under existing funding in February.

“We were once at the forefront of this industry, and we need to recapture that dominant position,” Browner said.