Comprehensive US energy bill ready for executive branch approval

4 August 2005

Congress has approved a combined bill that is expected to deliver the long-awaited comprehensive energy legislation. The House passed the combined energy bill on 28 July while the Senate passed it the following day and it rests on president Bush's desk.

Designed to reduce domestic dependence on foreign oil, the bill will cost $14.6 billion over 10 years, double the cost the administration was seeking, and this mostly goes to nuclear and fossil companies. Of the provisions set out in the bill, electric utilities will save $3.1 billion over 10 years, the coal industry $2.9 billion, and the oil-and-gas business $2.7 billion.

Republicans hailed the bill for its free-market principles and support of less polluting energy sources, while Democrats criticised the bill, calling it corporate welfare for already wealthy industries.

Among the major items in the bill are a range of supports and subsides for licensing, constructing and operating a new fleet of nuclear plants and a nuclear risk insurance fund that would provide up to $2 billion to pay for any government delays to the licensing, constructing and operating of a nuclear plant. The new risk fund would cover all of the cost of delay for the first two new plants, up to $500 million each, and 50% of delays, up to $250 million each, for the following four plants. Loan guarantees and a ¢1.8/kWh production tax credit for newly designed and constructed nuclear plants are also available. The bill also updates the tax treatment of plant decommissioning funds.

The final bill also provides $1.25 billion over the next decade towards research, development and construction of an advanced cogeneration nuclear reactor for electricity and hydrogen at the new Idaho National Laboratory. The Department of Energy is also authorised to spend $100 million to support hydrogen demonstration projects at two existing nuclear power plants.

The nuclear industry is also eligible for clean energy loan guarantees of up to 80% of the total project cost if the technology is new and it reduces air pollution or greenhouse gases.

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