WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid introduced legislation today to speed the development of a green-powered electricity transmission system, an effort he said was a big part of his vision of a nation run largely on renewable energy.
"Reforming our energy policies to build a cleaner, greener, national transportation system -- an electric superhighway -- must be a top national priority," Reid, D-Nev., said as he unveiled the bill, called the "Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act.
The bill sponsored by the Senate majority leader is expected to receive a good deal of attention in Congress this year as lawmakers focus on President Barack Obama's goals to increase use of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. The Senate energy committee has scheduled a hearing on it later this month.
Streamlined planning and utility line siting in the bill could save years, a Reid aide said. A high voltage transmission project that normally would take 8-16 years to build could be completed in three to five years if all deadlines were met.
Under the bill the government would designate zones that hold the potential to generate 1 gigawatt of electricity from natural sources, but that cannot be reached by the present grid.
It directs states, utilities and developers to cooperate in forming plans to integrate renewables into the current transmission system, to map new lines and conduct studies of what could be saved thorugh new efforts at energy efficiency.
The government through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would be authorized to step in "to keep things moving" if there are delays anywhere in the process, Reid said.
The bill also seeks to streamline siting for new transmission lines. It gives FERC authority to exercise eminent domain and to issue construction permits for projects as a "backstop" to states.
FERC also would have authority to allocate costs of the projects among stakeholders if they are unable to do so themselves.
The bill requires transmission projects that use federal siting authority to carry at least 75% of their capacity from renewable sources. It also authorized the Energy Deparmtent to make grants to states and organizations that participate in site planning and make improvements to the transmission system.
Since Nevada already is mostly federal land, the legislation is not expected to have as much impact there as in other states, a Reid aide said in a briefing on the bill. NV Energy, for instance, is moving forward with plans to build a north-south intertie in the state.
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