Harry Reid Flexes Power at Electric Grid Regulatory Agency

Image: Harry Reid Flexes Power at Electric Grid Regulatory Agency

Monday, 09 Jun 2014 07:38 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wants the next chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to be a booster of renewable energy. He blocked two Obama administration nominees that were to his mind insufficiently committed to the cause, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Reid wants to promote Nevada's renewable energy industry. The state is No. 2 in geothermal energy production and No. 3 in solar energy. Some 18 percent of its electricity comes from renewable sources, 5 percent more than the national average, according to the Journal.

One obstacle to electricity from renewable energy is lack of infrastructure in the form of transmission lines to move power from where the resources are located to where the energy is needed. FERC oversees the electric grid and influences where companies put up power lines. Reid wants FERC to pursue policies that would lead companies to invest in renewable energy in his region.

He blocked the appointments of Cheryl LaFleur and John Norris to chair the commission, the Journal reported. He did not strongly champion the nomination of Ron Binz, who withdrew, according to Politico. Binz was in favor of renewable energy but drew Republican and some Democratic ire for remarks against fossil fuels. Reid opposed Norris because he thought he was too friendly to coal and LaFleur because she had done "stuff" as acting commissioner he didn't like, the Journal reported.

On Thursday, the Senate's energy committee will vote on Reid's preferred candidate for the chairmanship, Norman Bay. LaFleur is up for confirmation as a commissioner.

Norris said, "The uncertainty over the makeup of the commission has created a level of dysfunction I have not seen in my five years on the commission. The dysfunction of the Senate seems to be spilling over to those agencies Sen. Reid wants to have a controlling hand on."

Nevadan Jon Wellinghoff, who retired in 2013 as FERC chairman and had Reid's backing, said, "Sen. Reid understands and appreciates the tremendous opportunities that there are for Nevada to develop its own renewable energy resources. And he supports Nevada becoming an exporter of these resources."

Besides geothermal and solar, renewable energy sources include hydropower, tidal, wave, bio-fuel, bio-mass, and wind power.

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