WASHINGTON The Senate, moving toward passage of a broad energy bill, further weakened a requirement Wednesday intended to get power companies to use more renewable fuels such as wind and solar power in generating electricity.
Senators agreed to cut in half utilities' payments for credits that would allow them to avoid buying renewable fuels under a federal requirements already in the bill. The legislation requires generators of most of the nation's electricity to produce 10 percent of that power from renewable fuels by 2019.
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On the motion To Table Nickles Amdt. No. 3256. Nay vote erodes incentives for wind, solar power.
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Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., sponsor of the change, said that the renewable fuels requirement would cost utilities tens of billions of dollars an expense customers would end up paying.
"This is about an assault on ratepayers," Nickles said. For some utilities, he said, the credits would cost more than the fossil-fuel energy source they would replace.
His amendment reduces the maximum price of the credits from 3 cents to 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. It was approved by voice vote after an attempt to kill it failed.
Sen. Harry Reid said as a result of that lower price, many utilities would decide to buy credits instead of investing in renewable fuels such as wind turbines, solar panels, and agricultural and forest waste.
"It is undermining what we're trying to accomplish," said Reid, D-Nev.
The amendment was among a rush of last-minute issues senators debated and acted upon Wednesday as they moved closer to wrapping up the energy legislation on which the Senate has focused for nearly six weeks.
A final vote on the 580-page bill was scheduled for late Thursday.
Senators approved a proposal by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., that promotes the use of combined heat and power facilities to produce electricity. These facilities are attractive to environmentalists because they use energy more efficiently than conventional power plants.
They rejected an amendment by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., that would have directed stronger consumer protection measures by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in electricity markets. She said such measures were needed in the aftermath of market abuses by power providers in the West.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., the bill's manager, said the legislation already offers adequate consumer protections "and will cure many of the problems" that surfaced in the West.
The Senate also instructed federal agencies to find ways to streamline the relicensing of hydroelectric dams so it is easier to increase power generation from dams.
© 2002 The Associated Press