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Nevada Senator calls for national renewable energy zones

U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada is calling on President Bush to provide additional financing options for the building of new power lines and interconnections to enable the transmission of renewable energy from remote areas of the country to those with growing electricity demand.

The Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act, which Reid introduced last week, would direct the President of the United States to identify areas of the country, especially rural areas, where renewable energy resources could generate at least 1,000 MW of electricity.

“I recently came out in opposition to the proposed coal power plants,” said Reid. “But I want to do more than just voice my opinion. I want to be part of the solution… This legislation puts to rest the false assumption that the only way to finance transmission lines is through building dirty coal power plants.”

Under the legislation, the Federal power marketing administrations, like the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), would have a year to identify the types of high-voltage or interconnection lines needed to access the renewable power in those zones.

If, after two years, no private entities step forward to fund the construction of transmission lines to the renewable energy zones, then WAPA and the four other Federal power administrations (Bonneville, Southeastern, Southwestern, and Tennessee Valley Authority), would each be granted an additional $10 billion in bonding authority to finance those lines.

According to Senator Reid’s office, this is particularly important for WAPA, which does not now have sufficient authority to finance transmission.

This approach, which has been pioneered in Texas under the name Competitive Renewable Energy Zone, would solve the “chicken-or-the-egg” transmission dilemma: renewable energy developers are reluctant to build projects in areas that have renewable resources but lack transmission, while transmission developers do not want to build lines to such areas without any generation facilities present.

“Our nation’s citizens overwhelmingly support increasing the generation of electricity from renewable sources like wind, biomass and solar power,” said Randall Swisher, Executive Director of the American Wind Energy Association. “National Renewable Energy Zones would tap America’s world-class renewable resources that currently are not being used due to transmission constraints and the lack of a cohesive national approach to accessing them.”

Reid’s legislation would also require the power administrations to start integrating renewable energy and energy efficiency into all of their programs, including finding ways to reduce petroleum consumption through electricifying the transportation sector using renewable power and encouraging more distributed generation.

The estimated cost of building connecting the northern and southern grids is about $600 million. That is roughly the cost that ratepayers will pay for importing coal for just two years at the proposed coal plants. Those plants will burn at least $12-20 billion worth of coal and ratepayers money over their 40-year lifespan, though most coal plants last much longer.

Experts estimate that there are at least an estimated additional 1,300 MW of baseload geothermal electricity generation in the northern part of Nevada that could be brought online within the next 5-6 years with sufficient investment and thereby help finance the interconnection of the Sierra Pacific Power and Nevada Power grids.

Reid’s bill limits the Federal financing of high-voltage transmission lines to only those that carry at least 75 percent renewable electricity, and applies the same limitation to any new lines to be built across Federal lands.

“The proposed legislation includes provisions to use the existing transmission system more efficiently and to use the federal Power Marketing Administrations, which are well positioned to advance the national objective of developing renewable energy, given their capabilities and geographic locations,” added Reid.


28 September 2007