I suppose it shouldn't come as any real surprise, since the "fix" has been in on the sale of three national parks since last fall, so let's call it outrageous, disgusting and contemptible.  The Obama Administration, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and the upper echelon of the National Park Service sold something that belongs to YOU to two huge energy corporations today.  And guess what?  YOU will pay for the energy corporations' bribe!

After recommending the "no action" alternative for the Susquehanna-Roseland Transmission Line last fall, the NPS reversed themselves today and selected the power companies' preferred Alternative 2, the most damaging route across the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, the middle Delaware National Scenic River, and the Appalachian Trail.

“In identifying the preferred alternative, we closely examined the existing easements owned by the utilities, the impacts of the proposed transmission line, alternatives to the proposal, and mitigation measures to avoid and minimize adverse impacts to park resources,” said Dennis Reidenback, the Park Service's Northeast regional director.

Oh, and those "mitigation measures?"  That is the $40M land-bribe that the power companies are offering to the NPS in exchange for license to ruin three parks that belong to the citizens of the United States.  And, under federal electric ratemaking schemes, the power companies won't be paying that $40M.  They are permitted to recover the full amount from ratepayers in 13 states and the District of Columbia over the next 50 years.  Under the same ratemaking scheme, the power companies will also make a profit on this $40M through the 12.9% interest they will earn on the unpaid balance of the $40M bribe each and every one of the next 50 years.  The Obama Administration and the National Park Service has sold YOUR parks to corporations and is making you pay for the bribe they received in return for agreeing to the sale of YOUR assets!  

Although the power companies and the Obama Administration are pretending that the Susquehanna-Roseland line will "save you money" by alleviating made-up "congestion," it's all a bunch of phony invention.  Susquehanna-Roseland is going to do nothing but make my electric rates go up.  Hmm... wouldn't this make a delicious formal complaint?  

Check out the comments of New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel, who isn't afraid to call a spade a spade.

"Today the Obama administration sold out our National Parks.  Lands that are supposed to be protected for future generations, they turned over to power companies. This is a shameful day in the long history of our parks and may set precedent for more gas and power lines through our parks.  This decision is an insult to the more than 5 million people that visit the Water Gap every year," said Jeff Tittel, Director, NJ Sierra Club.

"We will continue fighting this project, even in the Courts if necessary.  We will stand up for the integrity of our National Parks, even if the Department of Interior will not."

"This is all about the power of money, whether it is coal companies and utilities pushing a power line that will cut through a national park, or people standing in line to get mitigation money so that they can profit on the destruction of a National Park's resources."

Perhaps worst of all, the environmental destruction could cause a severe infestation of bolt weevils in the Parks!!
 
 
In the wake of Judge Dwyer's affirmation of Frederick County, Maryland's, Board of Zoning Appeals denial of a special exception for PATH's  gigantic substation last month, PATH had 30 days to file further appeals.  The deadline quietly passed at the end of last week, with no further whiny filings from PATH.  They've finally shut up about it, at long last!  Break out the ale!

Is this another indication that PATH is precariously perched on the precipice of abandonment?  C'mon, let's get on with it!  No time like the present.

March 28 addendum:  We now have "official" quotes from PATH stating that it will not file further appeals.

Although PATH's talking head claims that PATH's "rationale" (when has PATH ever made a rational decision?) for the decision is "confidential," it's more than obvious.  Contentious federal abandonment hearings, where PATH will have to prove the prudence of its expenditures, are starting to become more of a certain reality to the companies.  

One of the incentives that the PATH Project was granted by FERC way back in 2008 was a guarantee for recovery of 100% of prudently incurred investment in the event the project is abandoned.  PATH hopes to recover their approximately $140M investment in the project from ratepayers in 13 states over an as yet undetermined number of years (for their TrAILCo project, they suggested 49).

When PJM put the PATH Project "in abeyance" last February 28, continued costly appeals on the substation decision were no longer prudent.
"As we've discussed on numerous occasions, the proposed PATH Project, including the proposed Kemptown Substation, remains in suspension at the direction of PJM. Potomac Edison will consider its options for constructing the Kemptown Substation if the PATH Project should be re-activated by PJM," Meyers wrote.
If continued legal appeals are no longer prudent, PATH's first appeal to Circuit Court was not prudent either, since it occurred after the "suspension."

PATH has been spending your money willy-nilly on whatever they thought would foster the influence they would need to ram this project through state approvals.  They never thought they would be challenged on their expenditures, or that their project could fail.  Now they're left "holding the bucket" and this particular bucket is not full of water, electricity or money.  It's chock full of something rather pungent...
 
 
That old adage, "what goes around comes around" never fails.  While we may have been mentally and financially tormented by AEP's PATH subsidiary for the past (nearly) 4 years, AEP is getting plenty of torment of their own in return lately.  And, it couldn't happen to a nicer bunch of *insert inappropriate word here*!  So, pull up a chair and let's get started.

We've been following AEP's pummeling at the hands of fed up customers in Ohio.  Earlier this week, AEP-Ohio had a serendipitous changing of the guard when the President (who got them into this mess) left for another job with a gas company.  "Curiouser and curiouser," cried Alice... 

Today, AEP-Ohio held what they called a public forum at the PUCO, although PUCO denied official responsibility for the process as being a part of any active case.  Over a hundred angry customers from all classes, such as small business, large business, residential, schools, non-profits, etc., showed up to return a little of their misery to AEP. 

The mayor of Hillsboro had this to say,
"AEP lit a prairie fire with its destructive actions and brought itself intractable and vocal critics, including myself and the people I represent." 

Customers also told AEP they're tired of the incomprehensible gibberish that goes on in rate cases and in the bills they receive
.  AEP pretended to take a lesson and incorporate the customers' concerns in their new rate filing expected next week.  Somehow, I don't believe that AEP hasn't started putting together their rate filing yet.  I would bet it's already done and the most the public's concerns will do is slightly modify things here and there.  If AEP really cared what the consumers think, they would have been paying attention all along, instead of ignoring consumer pain and crowing about their earnings every quarter.  These consumers aren't going away, and AEP is unlikely to truly change their behavior.  This story will continue...

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who desperately wants to be elected Governor next year has been holding town hall meetings to grandstand as "the people's lawyer" and pretend to explain electric rate increases to the voters.  He vigorously defended AEP's Appalachian Power subsidiary's recent rate increases and said they were caused by anything but the truth -- AEP's out-of-control coal addiction.  The only problem here is that ol' Kook doesn't know what the heck he's talking about.  He said previous rate increases in Virginia are the fault of the EPA (for regulations that haven't even been effected yet). 

He must have served some really potent Koolaid, as one Stepford wife said on her way out the door, “The EPA regulations are having a negative effect on the rates for people.” 

But where was Kooky Ken when Appalachian Power was granted recovery of 50% of their charitable contributions from ratepayers last year?  He forgot to mention that!  I guess "the people's lawyer" is looking for some of "the power company's campaign contributions."

Also this week, AEP officially notified PJM and SPP of anticipated plant closures.  It ended up being over 1,000 MW less than AEP has been bellyaching over since June, due to some creative math that suddenly made it more economical to install a scrubber on Big Sandy than to repower one of the units with natural gas (not that anyone believes them).  The Little Drummer Boy's canned quote shows how much denial of fact still predominates at AEP. 

"Our retiring units were required to run to meet peak demand last summer, and little new generation is scheduled to come on line prior to the retirement dates to replace this lost generating capacity." 

He continues to ignore the fact that previous "peak" is being vigorously hacked down to size by booming demand side management and energy efficiency.  Oh, cry me a river!

Closer to home in West Virginia, Appalachian Power is salivating at the thought of Century Aluminum reopening.  Century has been offered a $20M "tax break" to pay for electricity supplied by APCo.  And whose pocket do taxes come from?  Yours!  Be sure to thank your legislator for that one! 

Also, APCo has polished up its "economic development efforts" by re-hiring some guy they laid off years ago.  Good luck with that, I'm sure businesses just can't wait to relocate to West Virginia, where they will be paying off old coal debt for power that was consumed by other ratepayers in 2008.  What an incentive!

What will AEP do for an encore next week?
 
 
CleanTechnica, who prides itself on being "the most-visited clean energy or cleantech news site in the world" that "share[s], and inspire[s] others to share, correct information on cleantech and its dirty competitors (there’s a lot of misinformation out there)," got ironically fished in by one of the biggest energy industry scams in Washington.  Yesterday, they published an analysis of PJM's 2011 State of the Market Report, to show gains in renewables and demand side management, and a drop in coal-fired resources.  While that part of the article could certainly be fairly argued with (and is, by many flat earth cavemen), CleanTechnica loses all credibility when it finishes up by quoting The COMPETE Coalition as a "group of 622 U.S. electricity industry stakeholders advocat[ing] for competitive electricity markets," and refers to one of COMPETE's PR spin opinion pieces as a "report."  So much for "correct information."

The COMPETE scam isn't even that hard to figure out.  The truth is readily available for any reporter who wants to spend a few minutes doing something more than copying & pasting text from a website.

Here's what the COMPETE Coalition is really all about:  It is a corporate-funded lobbying group intended to protect its Board of Director's generation revenue monopolies, including revenue derived from Reliability Must Run (old, dirty, generation) contracts and new coal-by-wire transmission projects.  I'm sure it's perfectly legal to pretend the coalition is a 501(c)6 trade association with a membership that pays "dues," and not an organization whose sole purpose is lobbying for their own financial interests.  The coalition accomplishes this under the guise of supporting competition in electricity markets, which is the exact opposite of their true goal.  While the APPA article linked below has more general information about COMPETE's overall scam, a recent example of coalition chicanery would be COMPETE's deployment of shills to interfere in New Jersey's LCAPP hearings.  COMPETE claims that RMR contracts and transmission lines produce cheaper electric rates than building new, competitive generation in high-priced markets, like New Jersey's.  This isn't true at all.  In the case of new transmission lines, for instance, the cost of the project is subsidized by ratepayers in 13 other states, making New Jersey's cost of new transmission to satisfy load deceptively "cheaper" only through creative accounting.

The COMPETE Coalition fairy tale was deconstructed in the publicly-filed Formal Challenge to Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline's 2010 Transmission Revenue Requirement.  The Challenge (complaint), which was filed by two concerned ratepayers with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in December 2011, had this to say about COMPETE:

Click here to read more and see full, linkable content


There's plenty of new reading waiting for you over on the citizens' Coalition blog!
 
 
Just when you had puzzed and puzzed until your puzzler was sore trying to interpret PJM's 5-book RTEP set, concisely edited by Leo Tolstoy, PJM has issued another voluminous report.  The 2011 State of the Market Report is like the world's biggest fortune cookie, with your hidden fortune cleverly translated into Ancient Sanskrit.  I wish PJM would get more efficient and issue Magic 8 Balls instead.  I mean, how easy it could be to give it a shake and say, "Oh, PJM Magic 8 Ball, will the PATH Project be coming back?"  The PJM Magic 8 Ball would give you an immediate answer like, "Don't count on it!"  Instead all we get are these encyclopedic mystery novels with "Reply hazy, try again!" stamped on the front cover.

Here's PJM's CliffsNotes version press release summarizing the report.  This is about as concise as it gets:

"The report noted that gas prices fell and coal prices rose in 2011. Gas prices decreased on average by 10 percent and coal prices increased on average by 19 percent in 2011. PJM LMPs were lower. The load-weighted average LMP was five percent lower in 2011. PJM capacity prices were lower. PJM average capacity prices were 18 percent lower in 2011. Operating reserve charges increased by 1.0 percent in 2011. Congestion costs decreased in PJM by 29.9 percent in 2011."

Inside the big report, there's a section entitled, "Generation and Transmission Planning" (Volume 2, Sec. 11!)  The report's mention of PATH seems to be missing one crucial fact -- that this project is supposedly "suspended."  The report prattles on like PATH hasn't skipped a beat, but throws you a tiny little bone at the end saying that PJM is "considering new information."  What is that supposed to mean, PJM Magic 8 Ball?  "Outlook not so good."  I hope Magic 8 Ball was speaking from PATH's perspective...

The Potomac - Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) project is required to resolve reliability criteria violations. The PATH project consists of a 765 kV transmission line extending approximately 275 miles from the Amos Substation, which is located in southwestern West Virginia, to the proposed Kemptown (765/500 kV) Substation, located in central Virginia. The project also includes a new Welton Spring (765/500 kV) Substation.
Currently, right-of-way issues are being discussed in West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland. The property for the Welton Spring and Kemptown substations has been acquired. The preliminary engineering design work, as well as the preliminary procurement activities, is in progress. Construction will be scheduled to begin following receipt of state commission approvals to construct. The required in-service date for the PATH line is June 1, 2015.
PJM is in the process of considering new information, including fuel cost estimates, emissions costs, future generation scenarios, load forecast updates and demand response projections.

Further down in the report, the MMU goes and gets all cranky about transmission projects dropping out of the RTEP messing up his little markets and makes this recommendation:

"The MMU recommends that PJM propose modifications to the transmission planning process that would limit significant changes in the status of major transmission projects after they have been approved, and thus limit the uncertainty imposed on markets by the use of evaluation criteria that are very sensitive to changes in forecasts of economic variables."

Way to send us all to the poor house, MMU!

This little transmission project went to market,
This little transmission project stayed in the RTEP,
This little transmission project is "in abeyance,"
And this little transmission project is not,
But this little transmission project cried, "Wah, Wah, Wah" all the way to abandonment.

Don't you just love the new "stakeholder friendly" PJM?

 
 
Not much to dwell on here, because it would probably get ugly... but nowhere near as ugly as "Potomac Edison's" carpet.  I think my eyes just rolled back in my head in self defense.  I hope they didn't waste our money on this.  Maybe it was free as part of some new  "interior decorating gone bad" reality show.  At least that's what I'll keep telling myself.

I note that although they brag that their new building is energy efficient, the crappy energy efficiency program they foisted off on the rest of us on January 1 was the bare minimum they could get away with under law.  One half of one percent energy savings over 5 years is nothing to be proud of, especially when the majority of the customers who are paying for it don't qualify for any benefits.

Who knows... maybe next they'll update their canned phone butler who still thanks you for calling Allegheny Power, and let all those missing meter readers out of the basement, or wherever it is they've hidden them.
 
 
The Department of Energy is seeking comments on their 2012 National Electric Transmission Congestion Study.  Deadline for comments is March 30.

NIETCs are another one of the nifty tools the energy industry gifted themselves with in the 2005 EPAct that helped set the stage for their great transmission-building gold rush.  The idea was for DOE to do a congestion study every three years and designate NIETCs.  FERC was granted transmission siting authority in a designated NIETC, in the event that a state withheld approval for 1 year (as well as a few other situations).  They thought they'd set up a system that usurped state siting authority.  Combined with a delicious buffet of transmission incentives from which to choose, it created an IOU transmission feeding frenzy.

Unfortunately for them, their game plan was successfully challenged in the courts by environmental groups.  In Piedmont Environmental Council v. FERC, the 4th Circuit ruled that denial of a permit by a state wasn't "withholding," and took away FERC's authority to site a line in the event that a permit was denied by a state.  And in California Wilderness Coalition v. U.S. Dep’t of Energy, the 9th Circuit vacated the NIETCs that DOE had designated, further obliterating FERC's authority to override state siting decisions by doing away with the corridors upon which FERC's authority rested.  Their little scheme has been rendered completely useless.

Never fear though, dear consumer.  They're already busy with their next plan of attack.  This time, DOE plans to solicit suggestions for NIETCs from utilities for narrow corridors that coincide with the utility's desire to build a certain transmission line.  There's an interesting article about their conniving in the Public Utilities Fortnightly snooze-rag.

If there's one over-riding lesson we've all learned from our experiences over the past 3 1/2 years, it's that you've got to keep your eye on these greedy shysters.  It's much easier (and a lot less stressful!) to attempt to prevent bad policy than it is to fix it after it happens.

Do you want to get in on the ground floor this time, instead of being rudely awakened by a transmission line dropped in your backyard by a power company routing etch-a-sketch after it's too late to comment?  Don't be intimidated.  Federal energy policy really isn't that scary and there's plenty of material on the site to use in crafting your own, or your group's, comments.


 
 
The Colorado Public Service Commission is a bit disturbed by electric utility Xcel's cost of corporate jets for which they are seeking reimbursement from ratepayers.  And if you think they're disturbed, you can imagine how the consumers feel about it.

Xcel added $1.1M of their $5.7M cost of the aircraft to their recent request for a rate increase.  Xcel says the expense is prudent to jet their execs around like mass transit for hoity-toity commuters.  This isn't a rare occurrence.  All the big investor owned utilities feel entitled to live like kings at your expense.  You might even come across the words "corporate jet" in the PATH Formal Challenge (page 60).

These clueless plutocrats need a few lessons in humility and a day or so spent inhabiting the real world in which the rest of us live.  News flash:  The economy is in the dumpster and we can't afford your sense of entitlement any longer!  Your train has run off the rails.  All passengers must disembark!


 
 
Word is that NPS personnel working on the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission project's EIS have been called to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area this week for meetings.  They may not come out of it with their integrity intact!  Help them out by signing this petition.  Do it right now!

Have you signed it yet?  If you just said "no" then you're not allowed to finish reading this blog post.  Go away.

NPS personnel have been under increasing pressure to permit profit-seeking utilities PSE&G and PPL to destroy the most scenic vistas of the park with one of PATH's sister Project Mountaineer unneeded transmission lines.  In exchange for rolling over and selling your public resources to the highest corporate bidder, the Park Service will receive some inferior land on the fringes of the current park as "mitigation."  Those on the inside report that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has already cut a deal with power company lobbyists to approve the destruction, before the EIS is even finished!  The NPS personnel working on the project have been put into the compromising position of just going through the motions when approval is already in the bag, bought and paid for.  And guess who's paying?  YOU ARE!  Cost of the mitigation bribe will be rolled into the project's rate base that you'll be paying off for the next 50 years in your electric bill, along with 12.9% interest for the power companies every year.

Show your support for the honest NPS personnel who are facing a serious moral dilemma that risks their jobs by signing this petition today!
 
 
West Virginia's penny wise and pound foolish legislators have passed a bill that would enable the Public Service Commission to approve the issuance of bond debt which would allow Appalachian Power to recover its cost of coal over the past 4 years.  The long-term debt will be repaid by electric consumers in their monthly bills over the next decade.  Coal prices are expected to continue to increase in the future.

I'm not going to harp on why this is completely wrong anymore.  I'll turn it over to an expert - James M. Van Nostrand, Director, Center for Energy and Sustainable Development and Associate Professor of Law, West Virginia University College of Law.  Read his analysis of West Virginia's big mistake here.  When our legislators and Public Service Commission won't listen to learned experts, but instead choose to buy into the pie-in-the-sky promises of corporate lobbyists, it's time to clean the state house, before we go bankrupt trying to stay warm in our own house.