Consensus on Need to Update Energy Delivery but Debate on How to Get There

Grid Could Pay for Itself

What's unclear is the feasibility of funding a project capable of lower emissions significantly. It would take anywhere from $150 billion to $1 trillion or more in the next 15 years to build enough transmission lines to upgrade the grid enough to clean the energy supply, several experts told ABC News.

Existing limitations on the grid cost the nation anywhere from $80 billion to $188 billion a year because of grid-related power outages and other issues, according to the National Renewables Energy Laboratory, which conducts research and development as part of the U.S. Department of Energy.

The new grid would pay for itself with gains in efficiency alone, in addition to addressing climate change, Zoi of the Alliance for Climate Protection said, citing the National Renewables Energy Laboratory.

Private entrepreneurs such as VantagePoint Venture Partners are ready to step in and help, Kennedy says of the venture capital firm that he advises. "If the president works with governors to lift constraints and encourage investment, utilities and private entrepreneurs will quickly step in to revitalize the grid," Kennedy wrote in a recent Vanity Fair article.

"The cost of updating the grid is $150 billion for transmission and distribution," Kennedy told ABC News. "It would cost an additional $650 to $700 billion for actual capacity, meaning the cost of building the solar and power plants that produce the energy."

As for Obama's stimulus package, Kennedy said, the effectiveness of its renewable energy component would depend on how well the funds are allocated and used.

While several bills are being developed in Congress that aim to make it easier to build new transmissions lines and add renewable energy sources to the grid, experts argue that a complete switch to renewable sources within a decade would require new legislation on par with the Federal Aid Highway Act developed under President Dwight Eisenhower that created the Interstate highway system. It would give the federal government jurisdiction to bypass state and local authorities to build new transmission lines.

Climate Change as Motivation

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has introduced a bill that would give the federal government a larger role in creating new transmission lines. Reid cites climate change as his motivation.

But it might not be that easy with "nearly $500 million in lobbying and advertising spent the first six months of this year by the oil and coal industries in Washington," Zoi said. "That's pretty powerful, the energy legislation, the squeamishness that we had about 'drill baby drill,' the difficulty that we had passing renewable energy tax breaks suggests that in the past the fossil fuel industry has had a pretty tight hold on Washington."

The United States is not alone in needing a new energy grid. Other nations in Europe and Asia have already started to update theirs. China, for instance, is allocating funds from its recent economic stimulus package to update theirs, allowing the country to add more renewable energy such as wind, solar and hydro to its energy portfolio.

But it remains to be seen whether China's upgrade will lower emissions.

Double Renewable Energy?

Then again, it's also unclear whether the Obama administration's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would make good on the plan to double renewable energy capacity within three years and add more than 3,000 miles of new transmission lines.

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