Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) is putting the final touches on legislation to create a national transmission network to move renewable energy from rural deserts and plains into major energy markets. The bill--which the Senate majority leader said he planned to introduce as early as today--is aimed at developing a federal transmission plan to open up vast amounts of wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass resources to development. “My legislation will require the President to designate renewable energy zones with significant clean energy generating potential,” said Reid. “Then, a massive planning effort will begin in all the interconnection areas of the country to maximize the use of that renewable potential by building new transmission capacity.” Reid called the recently passed economic stimulus bill--with its $11 billion for smart grid and transmission projects--”a giant step in the right direction.” However, he added that “we must also focus our energy and investments on planning and siting new transmission and breaking down barriers to a truly national approach.” Reid compared his bill to legislation during the 1950’s to create the interstate highway system and earlier federal involvement in building the nation’s rail network As well as federal transmission planning, he said his bill likely would encompass a renewable energy standard for utilities and energy efficiency standards. The Nevada Democrat indicated the measure would go to the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee where panel chair Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) already has drafted legislation for a 20 percent renewable energy standard by 2021. Similar legislation is circulating in the House, where an enhanced energy efficiency measure is pending too (Circuit, Feb. 13, 2009). Reid made his remarks at a conference in Washington February 23--National Clean Energy Project: Building the New Economy--organized by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Billed as an “energy summit,” the high profile event featured talks by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Energy Secretary Steven Chu, former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, and energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens, who has funded a national clean energy campaign. Former Senator Tim Wirth, a Colorado Democrat, moderated the meeting (see article below). Chu called transmission siting “the biggest bottleneck” in moving toward greater reliance on renewable energy. However, he noted there are technical hurdles too, including the need to build new high voltage direct current transmission lines and the “step up and down” facilities needed to integrate them into the nation’s grid. The energy secretary further called for investment in new pumped storage hydropower dams and compressed air storage facilities to help integrate ever increasing percentages of wind and solar power into the grid. Due to their intermittent nature, Chu said storage facilities would be needed once renewable energy on the grid reaches and exceeds 15 percent. He called for the industry to quickly set a uniform technical standard for the communications and control technologies needed to create a smart grid. He joked that the parties involved in the technical protocol debate “should be locked into a room” until they reach an agreement. Clinton said the federal government and power industry should do more to achieve energy efficiency. He backed a federal standard that decouples utility profits from electricity sales volumes and instead bases returns on system investments, which can include energy efficiency measures that reduce power use. California is one of the few states with such a policy and it has been credited with helping keep per capita electricity consumption level while it has risen in the rest of the nation (Circuit, Feb. 20, 2009).