Workmen break apart coal with sledgehammers at an open mine.
Workmen break apart coal with sledgehammers at an open mine. - 
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Steve Chiotakis: Today, Congress looks at a renewable energy proposal. It would require utilities to tap more into alternative sources such as wind and solar. At least half the states have some mandates already in place, but creating a single national policy, well, could be pretty tough. Here's Marketplace's Sam Eaton.

Sam Eaton: The proposed standard would require utilities to generate 20 percent of their power from renewable sources within 12 years. It covers everything from biomass to geothermal to wind and solar.

Nathaniel Greene with the Natural Resources Defense Council says the U.S. has an abundance of renewable energy. It just needs the right incentives to tap it.

Nathaniel Greene: This sort of a federal policy will get us out there, get us developing these projects, get these, this resource into the marketplace. And it's the only way really to make sure we really get it into the marketplace quickly.

But at what cost? David Wright heads the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners:

David Wright: All states and certainly all regions are not the same.

Wright says coal-dependent southeastern states don't have sufficient wind and solar resources to meet the mandates. That means either paying fines or buying renewable energy credits from other states. Either way, he says ratepayers will bear the cost.

Environmentalists disagree. They say the Southeast has ample biomass resources to meet the mandate.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam