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Steven Chu: Clean Energy Standard Could Include Nuclear, Clean Coal

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WASHINGTON — The Obama administration's energy chief asked Congress on Tuesday to consider nuclear power and other nonrenewable sources in a mandate for utilities to use more clean energy, which could attract Republicans who have opposed focusing exclusively on renewable energy like wind.

Efforts to pass the "renewable electricity standard" requirement have stalled in Congress, in part because of regional resistance. Opponents in the Southeast, for example, argue that their region lacks renewable sources such as abundant levels of wind.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu said his call was an acknowledgment of those differences.

"There's all sorts of other forms of clean energy," Chu told reporters. "Some states would favor something in terms of clean energy like nuclear."

Chu said a clean energy standard, which has been pushed by the nuclear industry, could include clean coal and nuclear along with renewables. A clean energy mandate is just one of several proposals the Obama administration and Congress should look at to curb carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming, he said.

With the death of legislation to cap carbon emissions, the administration is considering other ways to reduce them. Following sweeping GOP gains in the midterm elections, President Barack Obama said cap-and-trade "was just one way of skinning the cat; it was not the only way."

Chu participated Tuesday in a summit on the future of nuclear energy. After the event, Chu's spokeswoman, Stephanie Mueller, stressed that the secretary "was not specifically calling for a clean energy standard." She called it "just one option to consider as America transitions to a clean energy economy."

At the session, Chu said requiring utilities to get 25 percent of their energy from clean energy sources by 2025, and 50 percent by 2050, would be "about right."

By contrast, the chairman of the Senate energy committee, New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman, has legislation which would require utilities to get 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources – such as wind, solar and geothermal – by 2021.

"Bingaman remains strongly of the view that a national standard of this kind should have a strong focus on renewables," said his spokesman, Bill Wicker.

Rob Gramlich, a lobbyist for the American Wind Energy Association, said in a statement that his group is still focused on getting Bingaman's bill passed in the lame-duck session of Congress.

Sen. Tom Carper, a Delaware Democrat who co-hosted Tuesday's summit, acknowledged that most Republicans have opposed a renewable energy standard but added that "we can try to find common ground."

Steven Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a trade group, said including nuclear energy in the standard makes sense because it will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Tuesday's summit aimed to find ways to kickstart the nuclear energy industry, and the Energy Department's Idaho National Laboratory and the centrist-Democratic group Third Way delivered a new report.

The report urged Congress to increase money for loan guarantees for nuclear power plant construction and called on the federal government to support nuclear research and development and help export U.S. nuclear designs. It also suggested that new agencies could be enlisted, such as the Commerce and State departments, to help the nuclear industry compete with foreign industries.

Also Tuesday, renewable energy industry groups urged Congress to extend a cash grant program for the production of wind, solar and other renewable energy. The groups say that thousands of jobs are at stake. The program, which was created by the federal stimulus law, is set to expire at the end of the month.

A bird advocacy group, the American Bird Conservancy, urged that grant recipients be limited to those that take steps to protect wildlife.

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