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Senate rejects bill on renewable energy

The Senate handed Southern electric utilities a victory Friday by rejecting legislation forcing such companies to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020.

Many utility companies, led by Atlanta-based Southern Co., say the 15-percent goal is unrealistic in the hilly Southeast, which lacks the wind and solar power capacity of flatter, sunnier parts of the country.

On Thursday, the Democratic-led House, by a 235-181 vote, passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The bill has three main goals: reducing vehicle emissions; increasing the use of renewable energy sources and providing tax incentives for development of alternative fuels.

Senators voted 53-42 for the bill, but that fell short of the 60 votes needed to overcome procedural hurdles erected by Republicans.

Conservatives generally oppose the renewable energy provision and object to the tax package, which offsets the cost of tax incentives by eliminating some subsidies for oil and gas.

Over the weekend, Senate and House negotiators will try to find a compromise, and Southern Co. will be lobbying to make sure its victory stands. As lawmakers consider the issues, “we’ll continue to provide information and answer questions,” Southern Co. spokesman Mike Tyndall said.

Southern Co., which owns Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Gulf Power, and Mississippi Power, says passage of the renewable energy mandate would send electric bills higher for consumers, but environmentalists say it would reduce pollution.

The White House has said the bill would face a presidential veto if it contained the renewable electricity requirement and controversial tax package.

Key lawmakers are promising to have the legislation back on the Senate floor quickly, perhaps as soon as next week. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that while she was “disappointed” by the Senate vote, she plans to negotiate in good faith. “The House will work with the Senate on a bipartisan basis to pass a strong energy bill,” she said.

Those negotiations may be tough, given how determined both sides are.

The tax package “will not be jettisoned,” Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., told reporters. “We’ll find a way to get it passed.”

The one provision that seems safe is the one raising the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

By Marilyn Geewax

Cox News Service

Rutland Herald

8 December 2007