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Gas, Nuclear Key Elements of Clean Energy Standard, Report Says

If natural gas and nuclear power are included as part of the clean energy sector, the United States could already be more than half of the way toward meeting a national clean energy standard (CEC) as outlined by President Obama in his State of the Union address earlier this year, according to a white paper on the CES concept released Monday by the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Released by the committee's ranking members, Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), committee chairman, and Lisa Murkowski (R-AS), the white paper was developed to identify key questions and potential design elements for a future CES mandate, the authors said. Various energy sources can be helped or hurt depending upon the design elements applied, the white paper acknowledged.

Taking the Obama administration's strawman of an 80% CES by 2035, the white paper raises various hypothetical questions including whether a CES is the "right policy" for the nation at this time? The paper points out the CES and its role would change depending on what its primary objectives are -- greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, lower electricity costs, diversifying sources of electricity, encouraging the use of specific assets, or a combination of all of these?

"If the [Senate energy] committee elects to develop a CES, there are a number of design questions that require careful consideration," the white paper said. "The decisions made in the design of such as standard will necessarily favor certain priorities over others."

In looking at the mix of fuels for power generation nationally now and the projections, according to the federal Energy Information Administration, for 2035, the white paper sees natural gas as playing a key role. The current mix of coal (45%) gas (25%), nuclear (20%), and renewables (10% from hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass) will shift over the next 25 years, but not in any major way -- coal slips to 42%, gas stays at 25%, nuclear drops to 17% and renewables move up to 14%.

"The majority of the generating capacity is expected to come from natural gas power plants," the report indicated. "Natural gas is expected to maintain its 25% share of overall electricity generation throughout this period."

In terms of drafting CES proposals, the paper recommends that six key elements be addressed:

As the white paper acknowledges, the past decade has seen several different approaches proposed, including the renewable electricity standard (RES) looked at in the last Congress only to be left incomplete. Despite this, the CES white paper concluded that the "concept has not yet been seriously considered or analyzed."

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