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Let's Seize the Opportunity to Pass a Renewable Electricity Standard This Year

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Let's hope that a bipartisan group of six U.S. senate visionaries can accomplish what so far has eluded those of us hoping to bring more clean energy to the U.S. That is to prod federal lawmakers into passing a national renewable electricity standard this year yet. Our world needs the U.S. to adopt such a standard to help solve our planet's long-term energy puzzle.

The senators, led by Democrat Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Republican Sam Brownback of Kansas, introduced in September a stand-alone bill that would require utilities to purchase at least 15 percent of their electric supplies by 2021 from renewable-energy resources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydropower. Their surprise move came as it appeared such a national RES vote was dead for this year in Congress.

And it is far from certain that anything will happen. For the proposed legislation to move forward, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will need to let it come up for a floor vote. Then at least 60 Senators must vote in favor of it. Still, we applaud the efforts of the senators, who also include Democrats Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Udall of Colorado, Byron Dorgan of North Dakota and Republican Susan Collins of Maine.

As Sen. Brownback put it when he introduced the measure, "A sensible and modest renewable energy standard will help encourage home-grown supplies like wind in Kansas and help diversify our nation's energy sources." It will help move the Smart Grid forward, making the nation's electrical infrastructure smarter. And it also will improve energy security in the U.S. and create plenty more - and very much needed - clean-energy jobs.

As for renewables such as wind energy, a national RES is essential. Why? Without it, utilities lack the business incentive to sign long-term deals for renewable energy. While banks have begun again to do some project financing and the Energy Department is awarding grants for renewable-energy companies, those efforts aren't sufficient to jump start the alternative-energy sector hit badly during the recession and the aftermath of the financial-markets crisis.

As for jobs, a national RES would spark plenty of new green jobs. A study early this year by Navigant Consulting, a major global energy consultancy, estimated that a national RES of 20 percent by 2020 would generate 191,000 more jobs. While the new Senate bill seeks a smaller 15 percent mandate by 2021, it would still create a significant number of much-needed jobs. These jobs would come in the wind, solar, biomass, waste-to-energy and hydropower industries that particularly benefit U.S. manufacturing states, the Southeastern U.S., and rural America hard-hit by the recent recession.

Still, a much more fundamental and broader reason exists for U.S. Congressional action. A renewable electrical standard in the world's leading superpower would have a profound world impact - now and in the future. Many countries - and, indeed, many U.S. states - already have such a standard. But a U.S. standard would send a message to the rest of the world that America's leaders are serious about clean energy and enhancing alternatives to fossil fuels. Already, in survey after survey, Americans themselves overwhelmingly favor development of renewables to reduce or eliminate U.S. dependence on foreign oil and to create green jobs.

And with the U.S. economy on the rebound, the timing couldn't be better. While the demand for electricity has temporarily declined in the U.S., economic growth will very quickly drive that demand back up. The time to put incentives in place for more renewable capacity is now. In today's interconnected world, we must consider the effects of what we do in each of our countries on the larger world community. Our planet's greener future depends on nurturing our natural and abundant renewable resources. And a renewable electricity standard in the U.S. would be a step in the right direction. We fervently hope that their colleagues will follow the example of the six stalwart senators and clear the proposed legislation this year.

Tulsi R Tanti is founder, chairman and managing director of Suzlon Limited. Suzlon is the majority shareholder in German-based REpower and the largest shareholder in Belgium engineering firm Hansen.

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