WASHINGTON — Sen. Harry Reid introduced legislation Thursday to speed development of a green-powered electricity system, an effort he said was a big part of his vision of a nation that might someday run 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 said as he submitted the bill, called the Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act.
The measure sponsored by the Senate majority leader from Nevada 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 the bill; it is likely to be rolled into broad legislation the panel plans to write later this month.
The bill expands authority for federal electricity regulators to keep projects on track, a matter expected to spark debate on states’ rights. The power to locate transmission lines traditionally has been guarded by the states.
But streamlined planning and utility line siting could save years, a Reid aide said. A high- voltage transmission project that normally would take eight to 16 years to build could be finished in three to five years under terms set by the measure.
Under the bill the government would designate zones that hold the potential to generate 1 gigawatt of electricity from geothermal, solar, wind or other 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 through 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.
Scot Rutledge, executive director of the Nevada Conservation League, said several areas in Nevada with “excellent solar, wind and geothermal resources” could be designated special renewable energy zones.
“Right now, only a small percentage of Nevada’s power comes from renewable energy because it’s impossible to get energy from remote areas of Nevada, where it is generated, to the cities that need it,” Rutledge said. “Sen. Reid’s bill will encourage renewable energy development in Nevada, create thousands of new, green jobs, and put Nevada on the map as a leader in a clean energy economy.”
State utility regulators were cautious on Reid’s proposal.
Frederick Butler, chairman of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said in a statement that the group hopes to work with Reid on the issue. “We are optimistic that our continued dialogue will produce a better outcome for consumers and the environment,” he said of the proposal.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.LS POWER DROPS PLANS FOR NEVADA COAL PLANT
For the second time in less than a month, a major power company has scrubbed plans for a coal-fired electric plant in Nevada.
New York-based LS Power said Thursday it has indefinitely postponed construction of its 1,600-megawatt White Pine Energy Station near Ely because of poor economic conditions and “increasing regulatory uncertainties.”
But LS Power will forge ahead with its Southwest Intertie Project, a 500-mile transmission line stretching from southern Idaho to Las Vegas. Construction on the transmission line could begin as early as the summer, and when it’s complete, it will help move renewable energy generated in rural areas to the cities that need the power.
LS Power’s announcement came on the same day that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada held a press conference to discuss laws that would encourage investments in renewable power.
It also comes just a few weeks after Southern Nevada’s electric utility, NV Energy, temporarily shelved plans for a coal-fired power plant in Ely. NV Energy officials said on Feb. 9 that they would postpone development of the 1,500-megawatt Ely Energy Center until technology for capturing and storing carbon dioxide was more readily available. That could mean a delay of 10 years or more, they said.
Reid couldn’t be reached for comment after LS Power’s announcement late Thursday, but he issued a statement after the NV Energy decision in February in which he “applauded” the company for delaying the Ely Energy Center, and focusing instead on plans for the 250-mile transmission line for the plant.
New York-based Sithe Global Power is the only company continuing to pursue plans for a coal-powered plant in Nevada.
JENNIEFER ROBISON/LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL