This second pre-conference update also focuses on – what else? – electricity. While yesterday’s message spelled out how the Senate’s energy bill would deal with infrastructure protection and reliability, this one outlines what that bill would do to improve our nation’s electricity transmission system. Senator Bingaman last Friday said that the recent blackout “is a dramatic illustration of the fact that electricity is a regional commodity that doesn’t respect state boundaries.” The existing transmission grid was built by individual utilities to serve their local needs; it was never meant to be “an electricity superhighway,” constantly moving large amounts of power from utility to utility and from one region to another. The Senate-passed energy bill does several things to strengthen the transmission grid to meet the demands now being placed upon it: -- It encourages states to work together to solve their energy needs on a regional basis, and directs the Secretary of Energy to provide technical assistance to the states and to regional organizations to help them do so. -- It requires federal transmitting utilities (such as Bonneville and TVA) and large municipal utilities and cooperatives to provide open access to their transmission lines. -- It ensures generators of wind and solar energy access to the transmission grid and protects them from discrimination. -- It authorizes funds for research and development projects on wind, solar and renewable energy, for new technologies and materials to improve the efficiency of the transmission grid and make it “smarter,” and for special energy projects that benefit rural electric cooperatives and other rural entities. -- It directs the Secretary of Energy to take steps to “increase the understanding of physical and information system disruptions to the energy infrastructure that could result in cascading or widespread regional outages,” and to prevent, mitigate and recover from blackouts and other energy infrastructure disruptions. All of these provisions are in the energy bill that Senator Bingaman and Senator Daschle brought to the floor and the Senate passed last year, as well as in the bill the Senate passed again on July 31.