Sunday, March 15, 2009

High-Voltage Lines Wouldn’t Need State Action Under Senate Plan

(Here is an update on legislation pertaining to the transmission corridors meant to bring renewable energy from the central U.S. to the coasts):

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. regulators would take from states the authority to approve certain high-voltage power lines in order to speed development of renewable energy, under draft legislation released by a Senate panel today.

The proposal by the Democratic staff of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, posted online, would give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authority to approve lines that would carry electricity such as wind and solar energy.

President Barack Obama has called for the U.S. to build 3,000 miles of new transmission lines and double renewable energy use by 2012. The proposed legislation would eliminate an obstacle to the goal that has been cited by builders of power lines: individual states blocking multi-state projects.

“This is only one step toward a truly comprehensive energy security bill, but it is an important one,” said Robbie Diamond, president of Securing America’s Future Energy, a nonpartisan group that supports reducing U.S. oil dependence.

The draft measure would increase the authority FERC gained under 2005 legislation, which let it approve power lines if states failed to act within a year of an application. Federal siting authority would apply to power-line projects of 345 kilovolts or higher that are included in a FERC-designated group’s regional transmission plan.

Economic stimulus legislation signed last month by the president includes $11 billion for new transmission lines and improving the nation’s power grid.

The energy committee, led by Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, plans to hold a hearing on March 12 to consider new transmission-line legislation.

“It’s not a Bingaman draft, necessarily,” David Marks, spokesman for the committee, said of the proposal in a telephone interview. “These are ideas that the committee staff has proposed.”

Reid’s Plan:
The committee will also consider transmission legislation offered by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Reid, a Nevada Democrat, last week introduced legislation that would give FERC authority to step in to approve transmission projects in areas designated as “renewable energy zones.”

Rob Thormeyer, a spokesman for the Washington-based National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said in an e-mail his group is “still analyzing” the legislation.

Renewable-power supporters, including wind-power developer T. Boone Pickens, have called for greater federal authority over high-voltage transmission. Renewable-energy projects such as wind and solar power are often located in areas far from major urban centers, where the demand for power is greatest.

A study released last month by regional grid operators estimated that more than $80 billion in new transmission infrastructure spending would be needed to get 20 percent of the eastern U.S.’s electricity from wind by 2024.


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