A new lobbying effort is underway by solar and wind energy advocates – building new electric transmission lines across the nation.

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released a report Wednesday calling for the federal government to take a larger role in planning and approving interstate transmission projects. The industry organizations contend that a national policy is necessary to speed up the permitting and construction of transmission lines.

The call for more and better transmission lines is not new. The growth of renewable energy production in the United States has highlighted a need for upgrading the aging grid, which has relied on equipment that has been around for decades.

In certain areas of the country, such as Texas, an inadequate transmission network means renewable energy producers have to compete fiercely for the opportunities to send power to the grid (see Texas Wind Farms Paying People to Take Power and Texas Approves $5B Worth of Transmission Line Projects).

The report, "Green Power Superhighways," said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) should be given more authority to oversee the planning for and approval of high-voltage transmission lines. FERC should decide who should pay more for the project based on usage.

Right now, states typically have the most authority in approving transmission construction projects and deciding how much the project developers can recover the costs by passing them on to ratepayers. This set up isn't ideal for building interstate transmission lines, which are necessary in many cases to bring solar and wind energy from isolated areas to cities and suburbs, said Rhone Resch, CEO of SEIA. One state can veto a project that would benefit residents in neighboring states, he added.

"Policy barriers are the primary reasons why modernizing the grid has been slow going," Resch said during a press conference. He added that a new national policy should also include provisions that give renewable energy producers the priority to connect their projects to the grid.

The call for more federal authority has to do with where large-scale solar and wind power plants are being built. Although solar electricity can come from anywhere that sees sunlight, not all locations offer the same number of sunny days throughout the year or the same solar intensity (irradiance) that determines how much electricity can be produced at any given period of time. This kind of consideration doesn't exist for building coal- or gas-fired power plants.

The American Southwest, for example, promises to become a hub of solar power plants because of its sunny climate. The windy plains of the Midwest, meanwhile, are ideal for wind farms. ITC Holdings Corp. recently proposed a $12 billion project to build 3,000 miles of transmission lines to ship wind energy from North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa to other Midwestern states (see Wind Growth Could Cost Eastern U.S. $80B in Transmission Lines).

Resch said he expects any new national transmission policy to be part of a larger energy or climate change legislation instead of a stand-alone bill.

The solar and wind energy industry associations released the report just one day after President Obama signed a $787 billion stimulus plan that contains tax credits and grants for boosting renewable energy generation and upgrading transmission networks. The plan will allow Western Area Power Administration and the Bonneville Power Administration to borrow $3.25 billion each to build transmission lines. 

Obama has called on the country to double its renewable energy generation in three years, and mentioned the need to upgrade the nation's grid before he signed the bill (see Namaste Solar Becomes Poster Child for Economic Recovery).