Authority at issue in energy integration talks

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid on Thursday called on the Senate to push forward a bill that seeks to broaden electricity networks and transfer potentially bountiful green energy to consumers.

But an array of thorny issues pitting the rights of states against the federal government must be hashed out before solar, wind and other renewable sources are to be fully integrated in the nation's power grid, experts said at a hearing.

In the interest of progress, how much authority should the government exercise to prod states and regional planners to blueprint new power lines? When should the government step in to claim land by eminent domain from recalcitrant owners? How should the costs of power projects be allocated among stakeholders?

Testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Reid, D-Nev., spoke for a bill he introduced that would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stronger powers to step in when efforts to add capacity to the power system bog down.

"Absent a permanent, long-term federal commitment, and major policy reforms, we are not close to reaching our national potential" to tap renewable energy sources in the West and other parts of the country.

The committee chairman, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., has circulated a draft bill that varies from Reid in several ways. Reid said he expects to work on a compromise.

Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said it is foregone that Congress will act to modernize the energy grid.

"This is not a 'whether' any longer," Dorgan said. "This is 'how.' "