Amen, brother!  Tell it like it is!

Pssst... Hey, AEP, they're talking about Y-O-U!

Grist Article:  Once more, from the top: Shutting down dirty coal plants won’t cause blackouts
State and local approval processes for new electric transmission line projects are supposed to impartially determine whether a project is needed and provides an acceptable balance between the larger public good and the local detriments caused by the project.  While participating in this legal process is an expensive and time-consuming necessity, it isn't the only area where project opposition should focus their efforts.  When you participate in the public process at the state PSC and/or other agencies, you are an intruder in the utility's play pen and no matter how good your lawyer or how compelling your evidence, you are playing by the utility's rules.  When you play respectably in their venue and by their rules, you're almost certainly destined to failure.  The system is designed for them to succeed and they have been doing it a lot longer than you have.  They also have tremendous financial resources to hire any number of "experts" and/or create any number of "studies" that are designed to produce the desired result.  The utility's financial resources are coming out of your pocket because electric ratepayers reimburse the utility for all costs of the approval process, plus a generous return on equity, over the life of the transmission line.   Transmission line approvals are a very dirty business and you're going to have to roll up your pant legs and jump into the mud if you're going to succeed.

There's another huge effort by the utility going on behind the scenes that you may not notice until it's too late.  While the public approval process is going on, the utility is carrying out a very expensive influencing campaign, intended to hand them the approvals they need, even if your state/local entity is on the verge of denying their application.  It's not about the public legal process going on at all, it's about the schmoozing and inducements going on in private back room meetings with your elected representatives, local Chambers of Commerce, business groups, the press, influential community members and government agencies.  While you're putting your cash and effort toward a lawyer and experts, believing that you can win a respectable victory, the utility is working behind your back ensuring their ultimate victory by any means necessary.  While the decision to approve the project is purportedly made by a PSC or other entity, ultimately it will come down to a political decision and your elected officials will be twisting the arms of the PSC to decide as they are told to decide.

The utility employs the seven common propaganda devices to develop champions for their project, both by applying direct pressure on the individuals and groups mentioned previously, and through a public relations and advertising campaign intended to drum up widespread public support.  The support of "the public," whether real or manufactured, warms the vote-scrounging hearts of your elected officials.  Utilities will create and support third party propaganda front groups pretending to represent "grassroots" support for their project; hold "educational" events in closed groups who have no prior knowledge about the project so that the utility's version of "the facts" is the only one presented; spread donations and "corporate stewardship" funds liberally to Chambers of Commerce and business groups; lobby elected representatives relentlessly (although they call this "education"); hold expensive "media events" where the press is presented with only the utility's cherry-picked version of "the facts"; hire influential, respected community leaders to be a part of their "team" at inflated "salaries" for the amount of make-work produced; and persuade government agencies to drop any opposition to the project by providing them with land, donations, economic development projects or other "inducements."

All of this influence-buying is quite expensive, but unlike any other corporate entity who would be required to cover the cost of approvals in the ultimate cost of their proposed product, the utility will be reimbursed for ALL expenses of their public relations campaign by electric customers through their electric bills.  The total cost of utility influencing initiatives is often reimbursed as it's spent, long before a project is built, thanks to FERC-administered formula rates.  There is no cap on the amount the utility can spend on this effort and PR totals are not considered as a part of project cost estimates, so they are free to spend whatever it takes to win approval.

So, how do you beat them at this game?  No reason you can't run your own influencing campaign -- just be sure you get there first and keep everything out in the sunshine where everyone can see it.  If you need more detail than that, you'll have to email me.  I don't give away all the secrets here ;-)

As if FirstEnergy doesn't have enough trouble already (see recent posts below) they are also managing to screw up rather liberally all around.  I guess this is one of those "merger synergy" benefits whereby we can now share in the multiple liabilities created by two greedy, depraved, investor owned utilities all rolled into one great, pocket-picking package.

First, read how FirstEnergy whines about a "high" property tax assessment "lack[ing] uniformity and is discriminatory, unjust and inequitable."

Oh, the double standards!  Whatever happened to being a good corporate steward in the communities FE serves?  Oh, that's right, it's all smoke and mirrors!  Heaven forbid -- paying property taxes in a local community might cut into FE's profit margin!  That would never happen anyhow... FirstEnergy and other utilities have their properties taxed at a different, lower "utility" rate and they pass any taxes paid along to electric ratepayers in their cost of service.  They don't pay taxes, WE pay their taxes for them!

The story says FE's legal genius showed up without any appraisal of the property to attempt to back up their whining that the assessment is too high.  FE, your legal prowess cracks me up!!  :-)

Next, here's a rather heart-breaking letter from one of the victims of FirstEnergy's Little Blue Run Poison Pond.  As if this woman doesn't have enough problems already, FE's coal ash disposal pond is leaking onto her property, washing out her driveway, undermining the foundation of her home and causing mold problems.  Considering what they're dumping in Little Blue Run, I think the mold might be the least of her worries.  But, she's just more collateral damage in FE's eyes.  I hope she sues the bastards!

Last, but certainly not least, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich has asked the NRC to hold public hearings before FirstEnergy powers up their beleaguered Davis-Besse nuke facility.  Read some of the comments on the article -- looks like the locals aren't appreciating FE's "corporate stewardship."  Read Kucinich's letter to the NRC.  He says that , "FirstEnergy has a long history at Davis-Besse of placing profit ahead of safety."  And that's not the worst thing he says -- read the entire letter about how unsafe this facility really is, despite  "statements made by FirstEnergy [which] have been misleading at best."

Gosh, FE, thanks for the synergies...

Alison Haverty and Keryn Newman filed a Preliminary Challenge amounting to around $2.3M of PATH's recovered 2010 Revenue Requirement with PATH Counsel today.

You can view the Challenge here.

PATH now has 21 days from the expiration of the review period (which is sometime next week) to work with the parties to resolve the issues raised.  If issues are not resolved in within that time frame, Interested Parties will have an additional 21 days to file a Formal Challenge with the Commission.

The Illinois Commerce Commission filed comments this morning in Docket No. ER12-269-000.  This is the docket for PATH's Section 205 filing to change the definition of "interested party" to exclude retail ratepayers.
Just go read it.  I promise you'll enjoy it (unless you're one of those power company lookie-loos, in which case DON'T look, because it might make you lose your appetite).
Bravo to the National Park Service for advocating the "no build" option in the draft EIS for the Susquehanna Roseland Project.  Susquehanna Roseland is another unneeded Project Mountaineer scheme to increase transfer of coal-fired electricity in the Ohio Valley to the East Coast population centers.  Bill has the good news over on The Power Line.

It took a lot of guts to buck politically appointed management and do the right thing, but personally, I'm not surprised.  The NPS/NFS personnel I met during PATH's EIS scoping meetings impressed me with their honesty, dedication, fairness and steadfast determination to do the right thing without undue influence from either the applicants or the public.  Their impartiality made PATH's antics during the public meetings even more incongruous.  PATH's desperate attempts to curry favor with the NPS and intimidate the citizens attendees did not escape the notice of the Park Service personnel.

However, as Bill points out, this is only the DRAFT EIS for the S-R Project.  The final recommendation won't be made until the end of next year.  Comments from S-R parent companies indicate that the political arm-twisting has hardly just begun and these arrogant corporate thieves think they have approval of their preferred alternative (which is also the most damaging to the environment of the parks) all sewn up. However, the NJ BPU approval of the project is currently being appealed, and the BPU has had a recent change of heart regarding viable solutions to NJ's high electricity prices.  Anything can happen in a year.  Someone needs to start watchdogging PPL & PSEG's project spending through their FERC Formula Rate Annual Updates to prevent power company "inducements" (aka bribery) from influencing the final EIS at ratepayer expense.

Meanwhile, show your thanks to the brave NPS employees who did the right thing with the draft EIS, despite pressure from upper management, by submitting your comments in support of the "No Build" alternative.  You can submit your comments online here (click on "Comment on Document").

Thank you, NPS!

What is it about "no" that industry lobbyists don't understand?  HR 3280, the Powering America for Tomorrow Act, was introduced by electric utility pet Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) last month.

I finally got around to reading this legislative Charlie Foxtrot.  Here's what it intends to do for you!

It establishes "Regional Transmission Planners" as approved by FERC.  In our region, that would be our biased friends at PJM Interconnection, who lied about the "need" for the PATH project for years.

These "Regional Transmission Planners" would apply to FERC for a federal Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the projects they "approve," and "substantial deference" by FERC would be given "to any proposed finding of public convenience and necessity by a regional transmission planner in a regional transmission plan" during a FERC "notice and opportunity for hearing."  This completely cuts out any role for your state public service commission for any lines 230KV or higher.  The bill says your state PSC still has "siting authority," unless they "den[y] a complete application seeking approval for the siting of the transmission facility."  In other words, if your state PSC says "no," then FERC can overrule them and issue a permit.  What kind of a role is that for the states?

Once FERC issues their permit, "A proposed finding by a regional transmission planner of public convenience and necessity regarding a regional transmission project is excluded from review under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.), provided an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement is required to be prepared by the Commission under such Act."  That's right, FERC is going to do away with any environmental reviews and allow transmission projects to plow right through your backyard, or wherever else they please.

Well, isn't that special?  This bill allows FERC, Regional Transmission Planners and Electric Utilities to operate outside the law, usurp existing state authority, and make sure you don't have a voice in what happens to your property.  You also get to pay for these transmission projects as well, with delightful double-digit rates of return for the electric utilities.

According to this article, "Rob Thormeyer, a spokesman for the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, said his group opposes the legislation. “It takes the local element out of siting, shutting out consumers and landowners,” he said in an email. “It would create a larger federal bureaucracy likely resulting in the unnecessary and inefficient building of transmission.”

The bill is currently in the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power (second committee listed on the page).  Entertain yourself by calling up the members of this Committee and letting them know that you think this bill is a very bad idea.  These representatives and the electric utilities must think we're morons.  What a hoot!

PATH (and PJM, as administrator of the Tariff) made a Section 205 Filing at FERC on Oct. 31 to change the definition of "Interested Party."  PATH says:

"While the existing phrase “other affected party” is not intended to cover individuals who do not have standing under Section 206 of the FPA, the PATH Companies are concerned that the phrase may be more broadly  interpreted by some persons to apply to themselves as retail ratepayers or as individuals opposed to the PATH Project.5 The Commission’s exercise of its jurisdiction over the PATH Project does not directly affect these interests, and the PATH Companies therefore propose to revise the definition to more precisely reflect the scope of the Commission’s jurisdiction over the PATH Project."

And they footnote that statement with:

"See PATH LLC’s Motion to Dismiss the Formal Challenge and Motions to Compel filed by Keryn Newman and
Alison Haverty filed on October 20, 2011 in Docket No. ER08-386-000, et al."

Several parties have made motions to intervene in this docket:  PJM (obligatory intervention); American Municipal Power, Inc.; llinois Commerce Commission; Old Dominion Electric Cooperative; Maryland's Office of People's Counsel; Alison Haverty and Keryn Newman.  Deadline to intervene is today.  Parties have 15 days to object to any Motion to Intervene.

And on and on we go...

Wondering why your AEP subsidiary electric bills keep going up?  Wonder no more!  This article regarding a  chat Morningstar had with AEP's Little Drummer Boy and other "senior management" at a recent financial conference reveals, again, what comes out of the other side of AEP's corporate mouth.  It's all about the money, boys!

New EPA rules won't be a problem, according to what AEP management told Morningstar.  In fact, "AEP already has said it could close up to 6 GW of its coal plants, but its highest-margin plants are well-positioned to capture profits for shareholders that it previously had to return to ratepayers."

Compare this to what The Little Drummer Boy said when he testified before Congress on October 13, 2011 (EPA whining starts on Page 8, past the Mountaineer CCS and Turk Plant doublespeak).  LDB is very concerned about how rising electric rates caused by new EPA rules will affect AEP's poor customers!  Well, cry me a river, Nick.

Looks like the Little Drummer Boy is getting off to a bang-up start in the doublespeak category.  Maybe Mikey should give him lessons in perfecting technique while he's breathing down his neck in the future.  Or maybe it was really LDB's evil twin testifying before Congress or talking to Morningstar?  Could one person really contradict themselves that much and still expect to be taken seriously?

FERC has this funny little rule prohibiting an answer to an answer to a pleading.  Just like your Mom, they don't want to sit and listen to you bicker with your siblings and repeat your same old argument ad nauseam.  State your case and then shut up.  You'll get a decision eventually.  The only exception to the rule would be if your answer adds something new or helpful for the Commission, in their opinion, not yours.

For those who have been following the recent FERC festivities, here's the latest:

PATH's Answer to the Answers of Newman and Haverty to PATH's Motion to Dismiss the Formal Challenge and the Motions to Compel and Answer to Sierra Club, et al.

Newman & Haverty's Response to PATH's Answer to their Answer to PATH's Motion to Dismiss the Formal Challenge.

Starting to sound like an old vaudeville joke yet?