WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States must develop policy allowing the federal government to lead the expansion of the electricity grid to meet any new renewable energy mandates, a key lawmaker said on Thursday.
“We can not and will not maximize the production of renewable energy in this country unless we fix the transmission problem,” Democrat Senator Byron Dorgan of North Dakota said at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee meeting.
President Barack Obama has pledged to double renewable energy production in three years. Obama also wants to generate 10 percent of the nation’s electricity from renewable sources by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025.
To meet these goals, the U.S. grid must be upgraded and expanded to deliver power generated from wind turbines and solar panels from remote locations to urban populations.
The Senate committee met to discuss legislation that would allow the federal government to override state objections to establishing new electricity transmission lines.
The draft proposal would give states one year to provide sites for high-priority national transmission projects.
If states do not decide on a location for a proposed transmission line or reject the development, then the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will be able to step in.
Dorgan said it might be necessary strengthen the bill by giving FERC authority up front to designate sites for transmission lines, while allowing states to participate in a “robust” planning process.
Some lawmakers also questioned language of the proposal that allows FERC to spread costs of constructing power lines throughout an entire region that substantially benefits from the grid expansion.
“There’s a lot of vagueness here that I would hope we could work out,” said Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee.
The Senate panel plans to vote on a final version of the proposal next week.
The draft grid measure, if approved, would be folded into a comprehensive energy bill the committee is now debating. That bill will also address a national renewable electricity standard, strengthening appliance efficiency standards and clean energy investments.
Congress had given FERC authority to site and permit electric transmission lines crossing state borders within important corridors with grid congestion. But a federal court ruled FERC cannot use this authority if a state denies a transmission project in a timely manner.
The committee will hold hearings and votes on various aspects of the energy package over the next few weeks, with a goal of approving the legislation by the Memorial Day recess.
Editing by Christian Wiessner