Senate panel to discuss 22 infrastructure proposals for broader bill 

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 11, 2015

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this week will continue its work on a bipartisan energy bill with a hearing to consider nearly two dozen proposals aimed at promoting natural gas pipelines, rooftop solar panels, “smart grid” technology and related energy infrastructure needs.

The agenda for Thursday’s infrastructure hearing includes 22 bills introduced by members on both sides of the aisle.

ENR Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) last week stressed her desire to put aside “messaging” bills that have monopolized much of the congressional agenda in recent years. She and ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) are looking for areas of bipartisan agreement on needed updates to federal energy policies that have not been significantly changed since passage of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (E&E Daily, May 8).

This will be the second ENR hearing to consider candidates for a comprehensive energy bill. The committee examined efficiency proposals last month, and hearings on energy supply and accountability proposals are scheduled for the coming weeks.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee also is writing a companion energy bill, although its proposals have tended to start from a more conservative position than in the Senate. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in the Energy and Power Subcommittee on proposals related to natural gas pipelines and hydropower projects (see related story).

ENR’s slate of bills is primarily focused on four main areas: natural gas pipelines, electric transmission lines, smart grid technology such as energy storage, and alternative sources such as distributed generation.

The list does not include many overtly controversial proposals — such as approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline — but that does not mean the hearing will be without controversy.

For example, the committee will consider proposals on transmission that appear to conflict with each other — New Mexico Democrat Martin Heinrich’s bill to give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission backstop authority to approve projects that face state-level delays and Arkansas Republican John Boozeman’s bill to limit federal eminent domain authority (E&E Daily, April 24).

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) and Murkowski also are expected to defend their own separate proposals to address concerns over net metering and how to determine what rates are “just” for utilities to pay customers who sell back to the grid electricity generated from their rooftop solar panels.

King’s bill would set parameters to guide state net metering decisions to account for the benefits provided by distributed generation resources — a proposal he expects to draw criticism from the utility sector (E&E Daily, May 6). Murkowski’s bill would call for a study on the issue, including considering the effects on reliability and low-income consumers who cannot afford solar panels.

The agenda also includes a bill from Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) to eliminate the required presidential permit for cross-border pipelines and transmission wires; Hoeven and other supporters point to the years-long delay KXL has faced waiting for a presidential permit decision. The White House has previously threatened to veto the bill.

Schedule: The hearing is Thursday, May 14, at 10 a.m. in 366 Dirksen.

Witnesses: TBA.