Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., whose committee is responsible for writing energy legislation, will next week review a draft bill that could require that 20% to 25% of the nation's electricity comes from renewable energy sources, according to aides and people close to the matter.

Analysts say an increased Democrat majority means Congress stands an excellent chance of passing such a renewable mandate, which would give the wind, solar and other alternative industries a major financial boost.

President Barack Obama has already pledged to push for a 25% mandate, with a 10% standard achieved early in the next decade, and enacting such a standard would help Democrats accelerate their clean energy program they say is essential not only for cutting greenhouse gases and reducing the nation's dependence on oil imports, but also to stimulating an ailing economy.

Senate officials and lobbyists close to the matter say the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will review next Tuesday draft legislation to create a standard.

Although the House of Representatives has passed a renewable portfolio standard, or RPS, the Senate failed to by a small number of votes. Many of those "no" votes have been replaced, however, by Democrats who support the measure.

"In the coming Congress, I think we finally have the opportunity to see such a policy adopted and implemented," Bingaman said late last year. "It will start preparing our electricity sector for the inevitable requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

With strong support from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Bingaman's also drafting measures that would reform the nation's transmission infrastructure.

The Energy Policy Act Congress passed in 2005 authorized the Department of Energy to designate national power corridors that would relieve power-transmission bottlenecks and prepare for new high-voltage lines across the country to connect new generations to demand centers. However, a host of planning and siting obstacles have prevented much progress.

That's why momentum is growing on Capitol Hill to establish federal planning and siting authority, and develop cost-allocation strategies to encourage transmission for renewables.

The current high-voltage power grid simply transmits electrons from generation to demand. Alternative sources of power like wind and solar don't produce steady streams of electricity like nuclear or coal plants. A "smart" grid, using advanced technology to balance the load from such intermittent power sources, would manage transmission much more efficiently.

Southern utility companies, including Duke Energy Corp. (DUK) and Southern Co. (SO), have lobbied against a federal renewable portfolio standard, though some encourage state mandates, saying it would put an unfair burden on states and consumers that aren't endowed with the same renewable energy resource bases others are.

Wind turbine manufacturers such as GE Energy, a unit of the General Electric Co. (GE), India's Suzlon Energy (532667.BY) and Denmark's Vestas Wind Systems (VWS.OS), as well as solar firms such as Norway's Renewable Energy Corp. ASA (REC.OS), and U.S.-headquartered First Solar Inc. (FSLR) and Evergreen Solar Inc. (ESLR) would benefit under a renewable portfolio standard.

Many lawmakers are likely to try to include provisions that would allow utilities to supplant a certain percentage of the mandate with projects that increase energy efficiency.

The industry is already likely to get a major fiscal boost from a stimulus bill lawmakers are seeking to pass, providing at least $13 billion in extended production tax credits, tens of billions of dollars in loan guarantees and grants, and more than $30 billion for a 30% tax credit for domestic manufacturing of renewable energy projects.

-By Ian Talley, Dow Jones Newswires; 202-862-9285;

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