WASHINGTON - Over the objections of the White House and the utility industry, the Senate yesterday voted to require that 10 percent of the nation's electricity be generated from alternative energy sources - such as solar and wind power - by 2020.
The vote complicates efforts to produce the first overhaul of national energy policy in a decade.
Environmentalists, who have found little else they like in the bill, welcomed the decision to add the provision to the energy legislation. The bill includes measures designed to promote conservation and greater use of cleaner energy sources, but environmentalists have complained that it is still too heavily tilted toward greater production of traditional energy sources such as oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear power.
Opponents of the requirement that utilities generate more electricity from alternative sources contended it could drive up utility costs, especially in regions where the climate does not produce strong wind or bright sunshine.
"It's a multibillion-dollar rate increase," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, complaining that utilities that could not meet the standard would have to buy credits from power companies that exceed it, and then would pass those costs on to consumers.
He also questioned the practicality of the amendment, saying, "I'm not anxious to go home to Tennessee and say, 'We are worried ... that natural gas prices are at a record high, and our solution: tens of thousands of windmills." The renewable portfolio standard, as it is called, was added to the energy bill by a 52-48 vote.
Although the provision helps solidify Democratic support for the bill, it is likely to become a contentious issue during negotiations with the House on a final bill. The House bill, approved in April, did not include a similar provision.
The Senate rejected, on a 53-47 vote, an effort to include in the bill a measure that would have set a goal of cutting projected oil imports for 2025 by 40 percent.
The bill would direct the president to find ways to reduce the country's projected demand for oil by 1 million barrels a day by 2015. But Sen. Pete V. Domenici, a New Mexico Republican who is chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, said that anything further is "beyond the realm of the responsible and reality."
The administration has opposed the million-barrels-per-day oil savings provision, contending it could force an increase in vehicle mile-per-gallon rules "that could reduce vehicle safety and eliminate auto sector jobs."
Supporters of the measure to require utilities to generate more electricity from renewables said it would help prevent price spikes that can occur from utilities relying on a single energy source, and would reduce emissions from fossil-fuel burning power plants that are blamed for a share of global warming.
In opposing the provision, the Bush administration said that such a standard is "best left to the states" - about a third of which have passed renewable portfolio standard laws - and warned that it could lead to higher consumer costs.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.