Written by Ucilia Wang

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., told a solar conference audience Thursday that she will work on policies for building new power transmission lines and allowing consumers to get credits for excess electricity from their solar panels.

Cantwell was one of several politicians and representatives of Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain who used the well-attended Solar Power International in San Diego this week to tout their greentech credentials. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a last-minute appearance and said nothing surprising.

Fresh from helping to pass an eight-year solar tax credits bill, Cantwell was gung-ho about what she plans to tackle in 2009. She talked about the thorny and complex issues that surround building a national electric grid as well as speeding up the approval process for building solar and other renewable energy projects on public lands. She also discussed making a loan-guarantee program that is run by the U.S. Department of Energy available to more mature technologies.

States have traditionally been tasked with regulating utilities and transmission-line projects, and dozens of states also have passed laws to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies through rebates and tax breaks. But that should be changed, Cantwell said.

"We need to rethink the traditional sphere of policy making," Cantwell said. "Some policies can make a big difference in the deployment of renewable sources into the grid. These are policies of national interest."

Anyone who has followed the tortuous process it took to pass those solar tax credits knows that the federal government rarely moves quickly, except in the case of the $700 billion plan to rescue the faltering financial markets. Some would argue that the tax credits wouldn't have gained approval this year if they weren't attached to the bailout plan.

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