US Senate to tackle renewable energy grid in weeks

WASHINGTON Mon Feb 23, 2009 8:36pm GMT

WASHINGTON Feb 23 (Reuters) - U.S. energy bills addressing renewable energy transmission will be unveiled over the next several weeks, key Senate Democrats said on Monday.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he plans to introduce legislation Thursday aimed at facilitating the development of an electricity grid that can deliver power generated by clean energy sources from remote locations to urban populations.

Reid's bill would require the president to designate areas that have the potential to produce significant amounts of clean energy. Planning for the grid would then begin in those selected areas. Reid stressed, however, that the federal government would have authority to complete transmission lines without the approval of local governments.

"We cannot let...state regulators hold up progress," Reid told reporters at the National Clean Energy Project event he hosted along with the Center for American Progress.

Reid said state regulators would have opportunities to try work out a plan for the grid, but as in the cases of other national projects such as building railroads and interstate highways, "there may come a time when the federal government has to step in."

Once Reid's bill is introduced, the bill would go to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for consideration.

Separately, the energy committee's chairman Senator Jeff Bingaman said on Monday he hopes to have a package that would deal with energy efficiency and renewable energy power generation on the Senate floor in four to six weeks.

Bingaman has already begun holding hearings on the possible energy legislation, that is set to include a measure that would require utilities to produce a certain amount of electricity from clean energy sources.

"We'll proceed as rapidly as we can," Bingaman told reporters at Reid's event.

Lawmakers and administration officials at the forum discussed the importance of developing a national electricity grid that can support clean energy sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal power.

Bingaman said he would like the energy package proposed by his committee to provide Federal Energy Regulatory Commission with more authority to oversee the construction of a modern electric grid.

Bingaman said he hoped to be able to fold Reid's proposal into the energy committee's package. Climate change proposals that would begin to regulate carbon dioxide emissions will not be included in this upcoming legislation, however.

Reid said the Senate will tackle global warming issues later in the year in a separate package. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by Marguerita Choy)