The upper house of the USA has passed broad energy legislation with a huge majority of bipartisan support.
The bill, which aims to strike a balance between conventional and alternative energies, includes significant provisions for new nuclear developments and is aimed primarily at reducing dependence on foreign oil.
In remarks on the bill’s passage, chairman of the Senate energy and natural resources committee Senator Pete Domenici noted that the bill clearly expressed the will of the Senate that nuclear power should play a bigger role in America’s energy strategy.
The bill includes a federal loan guarantee programme to encourage the design and deployment of innovative technologies such as advanced nuclear plants aimed at diversifying and increasing energy supply while protecting the environment. A programme of tax incentives is also included in the bill to increase the production of electricity from new nuclear power plants and encourage the construction of clean coal facilities.
These measures include a new 20% investment tax credit for clean coal facilities and coal gasification units. The bill also includes a federal renewable portfolio standards provision that requires electric suppliers to acquire 10% of their supplies from renewable resources by 2020.
With an 85 to 12 vote in favour of the bill it is hoped that the four-year congressional deadlock over energy policy will now be drawn to a close. However, the Senate measure is set to clash with a bill already passed by the lower house when the two are combined for the executive branch to pass into law. Furthermore, the White House is also likely to object to parts of the Senate bill, notably the renewables portfolio standard measures and the $14 billion in tax incentives for energy production and conservation.
In another move at odds with the White House, the Senate has gone on record calling for mandatory limits on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, although the resolution is not binding. President Bush has called on Congress to send him a final bill by August.
Meanwhile, the President has firmly nailed his pro-nuclear agenda to the mast with a recent visit to the Calvert Cliffs facility, the first presidential visit to a nuclear plant in 26 years. During the visit Bush told workers that the federal government needs to encourage the construction of new reactors by streamlining the licensing process and providing financial incentives to the nuclear industry saying, "It is time for this country to start building nuclear power plants again," before adding: "The energy bill will also help us expand our use of the one energy source that is completely domestic, plentiful in quantity, environmentally friendly and able to generate massive amounts of electricity — and that's nuclear power."