August 11, 2009 6:04 PM ET
By Kathleen Hart

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Aug. 10 that Congress should provide FERC with the power of eminent domain to site electric transmission for renewable energy.

“We have 120-some-odd agencies that have a lock, a stranglehold on the ability to move electricity. They are antiquated; they’ve been in existence for more than 100 years, most of them, and they stop power from being transmitted,” Reid said Aug. 10 at the second National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, which he co-hosted. “We have got to give FERC the same power with electric transmission that they have for natural gas.”

While the United States has vast potential to produce solar energy and wind energy in rural areas, transmission lines are needed to bring the electricity to load centers, Reid said. “What good does it do to produce a lot of energy if you have no place to take it? And that’s what’s happening all across America … because it’s so difficult to get a power line built,” he continued. “We need a smart grid. What does that mean? It means a superhighway to take the power where it’s needed.”

Charging that the average time to build a power line in America is 19 years, Reid said: “It’s obvious we’ve got to do something about that.” The national railroad system, the interstate highway system, all the natural gas pipeline systems could not have been built without the power of federal eminent domain, he said, adding, “I will not be satisfied with an energy bill unless it has a strong component that allows transmission.”

Reid said that while the current Congress has been productive, he insisted that it will be necessary to pass comprehensive energy legislation, including a provision to address global warming. “There are some things that we’ve done regarding focusing on global warming. We’ve raised [corporate average fuel economy] standards, but so minimal — and they’re done in a scattershot way.” He did note that the economic recovery bill Congress passed contains tens of billions of dollars directed to addressing global warming.

Reid argued that Congress should “do energy legislation as a package. We have to have a renewable portfolio standard. We have to do something that deals with appliances. We have to do something that deals with efficiency. … We have to do something about producing batteries that’s meaningful.”

Siding with FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, who recently made the case for the nation making use of natural gas as a “bridge” to a clean energy future, Reid said the United States has to “do something with our own energy, especially natural gas.”

Wellinghoff told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Aug. 6 that the United States should consider using natural gas as a “bridge” to take the nation from the current mix of electricity generation to a low-carbon energy future. Noting that the United States probably has more than 100 years’ supply of natural gas, Wellinghoff argued that it would make sense to use natural gas — combined with wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable resources, in addition to energy efficiency and demand response — as a bridge to a low-carbon energy future.

“Our natural gas supply resource base has been increased by more than 50% in the last three years. We’ve found vast amounts of new natural gas that we never knew existed before,” Wellinghoff said. “We need to look at that, consider that, as how it can fit into the bridge of getting into a low-carbon society.”



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