Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–Nev.) yesterday introduced legislation that would give the feds the authority to build so-called "green" power lines to carry renewable energy, such as solar, wind and geothermal, from remote sources to the nation's electric grid. Under the measure, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) could step in if states fail to install lines—deciding where to place them and who should pay the tab. This move comes just two weeks after a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va., upheld a state's right to nix a federal transmission line project.

The proposed Clean Renewable Energy and Economic Development Act of 2009, would give President Obama the authority to declare "renewable energy zones" that have great potential for generating electricity from renewable sources but currently lack high-voltage transmission lines to bring that power to consumers, the Associated Press reports.

In introducing the measure, Reid noted that new stimulus package includes $11 billion for smart grid technology and expanding transmission to include renewable rich areas. It's no secret that the legislation would be a boon to Reid's home state's economy. "Nevada and other parts of the desert southwest have enough solar energy potential to power our country seven times over," Reid said in a statement. The bill would also gives states the right to tap into any renewable lines passing through their borders.

But building a smart grid is easier said than done, according to a report issued last month by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a Washington, D.C., think tank headed by John Podesta, former President Bill Clinton's chief of staff. One obstacle, according to study author and CAP senior fellow Bracken Hendricks: the inability of the current high-voltage transmission grid to access these renewable energy resources. 

Image © Forest Woodward