The committee held a hearing on draft legislation that would set a national renewable electricity standard, which would help meet President Barack Obama's goal to double renewable energy production over the next three years.
Under the bill, the amount of the U.S. electricity supply coming from renewable energy sources would gradually increase to 4 percent in 2011-12, 8 percent in 2013-15, 12 percent in 2016-18, 16 percent in 2019-20 and 20 percent in 2021-39.
"I think that the votes are present in the Senate to pass a renewable electricity standard. I think that they are present in the House," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the energy committee's chairman, said. "I think that we need to get on with figuring out what we can pass and move forward."
Qualifying renewable energy sources under the bill would be wind, solar, ocean currents and waves, geothermal, biomass, landfill gas and incremental hydropower.
Creating a renewable electricity standard would reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuel sources that run power plants and cut those facilities' emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming and other pollutants, Bingaman said.
"This standard would also spur the development of a national green energy economy, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs, many in rural areas," he said.
However, power companies and regulators in southern states, where coal is popular for electricity generation, generally oppose a federal renewable standard. They argue not all states have abundant renewable energy resources like wind.
David Wright, commissioner of the South Carolina Public Service Commission, said a federal renewable standard "fails to recognize that there are significant differences among the states in terms of available and cost-effective renewable energy resources, and that having such a standard in energy legislation will ultimately increase consumers' electricity bills."