Network of power lines called key to 'green' energy

CARSON CITY -- The chairman of a key Senate panel said Friday that a network of power transmission lines is a key factor in development of renewable energy in Nevada -- a step that will help the state emerge as a leader in alternative energy production.

Senate Energy, Infrastructure and Transportation Chairman Mike Schneider commented as the head of an advisory panel discussed power lines that would link solar, wind and geothermal energy generating sites, making the energy available for Nevadans to use.

Gov. Jim Gibbons formed the Nevada Renewable Energy Transmission Access Advisory Committee to plan for use of renewable resources within the state and for export to markets outside the state.

Thousands of megawatts of renewable energy resources with poor or no transmission capabilities have been identified throughout the state, RETAAC Chairman Daniel Schochet told the committee.

Schochet said the resources include geothermal energy in northern rural areas, wind energy in north-central rural regions and solar energy in the south. He added there's no direct power line between northern and southern energy grids in Nevada.

The transmission lines also have the potential to help rural Nevada develop economically if alternative power projects are built there, Schochet said.

Mario Villar of NV Energy, Nevada's major utility, said transmission lines act as a "highway" for electric power, transmitting energy efficiently over long distances, creating jobs and reducing energy costs.

Transmission also allows regions with different seasonal resources to share energy generation. In materials provided to the panel, Villar used the example of Southern California selling power to the Pacific Northwest in the winter.

Schneider, D-Las Vegas, said the transmission line presentation was timely, given U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's introduction of the Clean Energy and Economic Development Act of 2009 on Thursday.

"Transmission is a big piece of the energy puzzle and already we've heard a lot between the connection, between access and transmission and development of renewable energy in Nevada," Schneider said.

In unveiling the proposal, Reid, D-Nev., said an increased federal role in locating power lines was needed to encourage greater availability of electricity produced from wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources. The proposal is expected to become part of a broader energy bill the U.S. Senate plans to take up in the coming weeks.

Reid's measure would give the president authority to declare "renewable energy zones" that have great potential for generating electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar but which have no high-voltage transmission lines to bring that power to consumers.

Schneider said the discussion of transmission lines will continue during upcoming meetings of his committee.