Looks like FERC has its Grinch hat on this Christmas. On Wednesday, the Commission issued an Order to Show Cause and Notice of Proposed Penalty
to Kevin Gates, his companies, and trader Alan Chen and his companies.
FERC proposes that Gates and his companies cough up $22,358,208.00, while Chen is supposed to come up with $12,160,576 in penalties and disgorgement. That's nearly $35M. I'm wondering if Gates and Chen even HAVE $35m?
I've read some of the OE FERC staff report, and I gotta say I'm not feeling the outrage in the same way everyone was outraged at the Enron schemes. It reads like a witch hunt, and I kinda feel sorry for Gates and Chen. So, FERC staff is all up on its high horse about protecting consumers, but I'm left wondering where that $4.7M in marginal loss surplus allocations would have ended up if Chen had not made these trades. It would have ended up in the pockets of other traders. It would not have ended up in the pockets of electric ratepayers.
What is FERC going to do with the money, if it manages to prevail in this matter? $4.7M will be re-distributed to other traders, Robin Hood style. That leaves $30M in penalties. What is FERC going to spend that on? Maybe they could spend it hiring some smarter guys to design and monitor their markets... like Gates and Chen?
The purchase of these lands by The Conservation Fund from willing and interested sellers without the use of any taxpayer dollars, and their subsequent transfer to the NPS, ensures that they remain in the public trust for future generations to learn from and enjoy and that they will continue to provide both ecological and economic benefits to the region.
Get out your hip-waders, folks, it's going to get pretty deep!
According to this article, in 2011 former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu appointed Lauren Azar to a position at the DOE in order to carry out the administration's political agenda.
Chu's selection of Azar was largely seen as a sign of the Obama administration's intense interest in expanding the grid to support renewables and tackle climate change, sources said.
Azar got the finger pointed at her as the impetus for a controversial memo that urged federal power marketing agencies (PMAs) to use their authority to help get privately funded transmission projects built.
As laid out in the memo, she also championed Texas-based Clean Line Energy's application to partner with DOE through its never-before-used authority under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act, which would allow a PMA with federal authority to site the line and overcome state opposition.
It's not about reliability or economics of the grid, it's about federal support for certain companies with personal ties to the DOE:
Jimmy Glotfelty, founder of Clean Line Energy Partners and a former senior electricity adviser for President George W. Bush, said Azar should be remembered for trying to build infrastructure and integrate renewables in a thoughtful and cooperative manner.
"The customers of PMAs are pretty protective, and if you ask a lot of people who have been in her shoes -- including myself -- it's not uncommon to get into debates with customers of PMAs," he said. "They're tough negotiators."
Clean Line, with its DOE-connected "vice president," became the only transmission company to take advantage of Sec. 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 during a very convenient RFP process run by the DOE in 2010. But the pre-Azar DOE just wasn't aggressive enough:
Azar brought that same spirit to DOE. She helped bring together the "federal family" in 2011 -- nine agencies key to streamlining federal permitting of major new power lines that could have taken up to 15 years to garner approval (Greenwire, Oct. 5, 2011). DOE already had existing authority to do so under 216(h) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, language that allows the agency to coordinate federal and environmental reviews.
"DOE, until I got there, implemented [the rule] in somewhat of a tepid manner," she said. "I came in like gangbusters as I always do and not only helped to lead the rapid respond team for transmission but helped DOE draft some rules for 216(h), negotiate with the nine agencies."
Shortly after Azar was appointed, Clean Line submitted an "updated" application
under Sec. 1222 in order to use the federal power marketing agencies to take land for its private gain and override state denials.
The Honorable Lauren Azar
Senior Advisor to the Secretary
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20585
August 17, 2011
With development efforts well under way, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line is positioned to
help meet President Obama's call for 80% clean energy by 2035. The Plains & Eastern Clean Line will provide affordable, renewable power to millions of customers in the southeastern United States. Regulatory and permitting approvals at the state and federal levels are the critical path items. Since submitting a proposal in July 2010, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line has made substantial development progress, strengthening the case for a partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) and Southwestern under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The attached document provides an update on our efforts, including the widespread support the project has received from a diverse group of stakeholders. It also supplements the original application with respect to how the project is necessary to accommodate the increase in demand for transmission capacity and how the project is consistent with needs identified in transmission plans or otherwise by the appropriate transmission organization.
Projects like the Plains & Eastern Clean Line have the potential to return the United States to a global leadership position in clean energy. The private sector has the resources and the desire to invest in our aging infrastructure and we respectfully ask that the DOE exercise its authority to make it possible. We appreciate the attention you are giving the Plains & Eastern Clean Line. We will be in Washington, DC regularly in the coming months and would like the opportunity to sit down with you and your team to review the project materials and respond to any questions.
2) is consistent with--
(A) transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.]) if any, or approved regional reliability organization
Clean Line's projects are not a part of any transmission expansion plan, therefore they cannot be "consistent with" a plan that does not include them.
Instead, the DOE relied on:
DOE has emphasized the need for additional high voltage transmission capacity to deliver renewable resources from transmission-constrained areas, stating in its "20% Wind Energy by 2030" Report that "If the considerable wind resources of the United States are to be utilized, a significant amount of new transmission will be required."
is probably the highlight of Clean Line "vice president" Glotfelty's career at the DOE. And then Glotfelty leaves the DOE after setting the stage, and personally invests in Clean Line Energy Partners?
Clean Line brags:
Jimmy worked for George W. Bush, for almost eight years, at both the gubernatorial and presidential levels. He led the Bush Administration’s efforts on electricity issues with Congress and the electric utility industry. In this capacity, he founded Office of Electric Delivery and Energy Reliability at the Department of Energy (DOE) and served as its first Director.
Let's see... which office is undertaking DOE's consideration of Clean Line's application under Sec. 1222?
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Section 1222 Program is administered by the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE).
Whether the department will take the same approach under Chu's successor, MIT nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, remains unclear.
I don't think that Moniz has a clue what his underlings are up to, but that's no excuse to let this federal land-taking scheme continue.
Clean Line's plans are a for-profit initiative masquerading as a political agenda. And DOE's political agenda is favoring corporate interests over the interests of the citizens and consumers it is supposed to serve. Let's clean the stink out of our federal Department of Energy!
City spokeswoman Stephanie York said Akron officials are aware that the electric utility might be interested in moving from 76 S. Main St.
“What we know is that FirstEnergy is coming to the end of their lease, and that their desire is to stay downtown,” York said Thursday in an email. “We are excited that they are looking to stay downtown (whether in the same building or not), just as we are energized about the increased vitality and development of downtown over the past dozen years.”
Well, I hope all you ratepayers are just as "excited" about your electric bill going up to pay for FirstEnergy's contemplated move. Let's see... 19 floors, 900 employees, what do you think that's going to cost? Millions, that's how much!
When I get bored with my surroundings, I simply re-arrange the furniture. How about you?
Like a persistent nightmare...
Richard and Kevin Gates say that they received this Notice of Release of Materials Obtained in Investigation
late last week, and that it may suggest that Powhatan may receive an Order to Show Cause from the FERC later this week.
Tit for tat...
FERCLitigation.com is now back online after a month-long truce, and the Gates brothers are ready to talk to the media. Looks like it's game on again. Merry flippin' Christmas!
It really is all about that number on a piece of paper, apparently.
FERC issues an annual report of its enforcement activities each November, to let the public know how FERC is protecting them. A big number on the report justifies FERC's activities.
Is it about doing the job, or is it about the number?
In 2014, FERC says its investigations produced $25M in civil penalties against energy market violators, and $4M in disgorgement of unjust profits. Just $4M? What percentage of annual energy market profits is that? How much money was actually made by manipulating markets?
FERC says it saved ratepayers nearly $11.7M by directing refunds and recoveries as a result of its audit activities. What percentage of the total amount of rates is $11.7M?
Audit activities included formula rate audits. FERC found much the same kinds of violations it found last year.
Formula Rate Matters. DAA continues to examine accounting that populates formula rate recovery mechanisms used in determining billings to wholesale customers. In recent formula rate audits, DAA observed certain patterns of noncompliance in the following areas:
• Merger Goodwill – including goodwill in the equity component of the capital structure absent Commission approval;
• Depreciation Rates – using state-approved or a blended depreciation rate consisting of Commission and state-approved depreciation rates without Commission approval;
• Merger Costs – including any merger-related costs in rates (e.g., third-party advisory fees, internal labor, severance, and other general and administrative costs) without Commission approval;
• Tax Prepayments – incorrectly recording tax overpayments not applied to a future tax year’s obligation as a prepayment leading to excess recovery through working capital;
• Unused Inventory and Equipment – including the cost of materials, supplies, and equipment purchased for a construction project without removing the cost of items unused in whole or in part from the cost of a project;
• Allocated Labor – using labor cost allocators not based on a representative time study to determine the amount of indirect labor costs to distribute to construction projects;
• Asset Retirement Obligation (ARO) – including ARO amounts in formula rates, without explicit Commission approval;
• Below-the-Line Costs – including below-the-line costs in formula rates (e.g., lobbying, charitable contributions, fines and penalties, and compromise settlements arising from discriminatory employment practices) without Commission approval; and
• Improper Capitalization – seeking to include in rate base (and earn a return on) costs that should be expensed.
So, when are utilities going to stop making the same "mistakes" over and over? Maybe when they are sure to be caught, or when "mistakes" come with penalties? Otherwise, it's like playing roulette for utilities. Over time, they can rake in more than they'll ever have to refund if they are caught. Why are there no penalties for continued violations?
During the year, FERC performed 19 audits. What percentage of the total number of formula rates overseen by FERC is this?
Do FERC's investigations promote transparency and encourage entities subject to Commission requirements to develop strong internal compliance programs? If they did, would FERC soon find itself out of a job? Or would utilities continue to play FERC-roulette because it's just so gosh-darn profitable?
Friday marked the first time the public has been able to take a look at what's shaken out of PATH's consolidated FERC case (ER09-1256-002 & ER12-2708-003).
Docket No. ER09-1256 deals with the three Formal Challenges to PATH's formula rate filings for rate years 2009, 2010 and 2011 that were made by West Virginia ratepayers Keryn Newman and Alison Haverty. The Challenges alleged that PATH recovered millions of dollars that it was not entitled to.
Docket No. ER12-2708 deals with PATH's recovery of $121M of stranded capital investment in the PATH project. In 2008, FERC granted PATH the right to recover all prudently-incurred expenses for the project in the event it was abandoned for reasons beyond PATH's control.
These two very different PATH cases were consolidated by FERC in 2012, forever joined at the hip for settlement and hearing purposes.
Earlier this year, the settlement phase ended and a procedural schedule for hearing was set. Under the procedural schedule, PATH filed its Initial Direct Testimony in May of this year, supplemented in July. Intervenors filed their Direct and Answering Testimony on Friday. The public, trial-type evidentiary hearing is scheduled to begin on March 24, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Here's what was filed Friday:
Direct and Answering Testimony of Keryn Newman and Alison Haverty, along with testimony from their witness Doug Kaplan. Files are labeled, and the narratives are files number 2 of 20, 16 of 20, and 17 or 20. The other files are supporting exhibits as mentioned in the testimony. This testimony deals exclusively with the Formal Challenges in Docket No. ER09-1256.
Testimony and Exhibits of FERC Trial Staff. Witnesses Miller and Deters deal with the Formal Challenges, while witness Keyton testifies on PATH's return on equity percentage that is part of the abandonment docket.
State Agencies and Joint Consumer Advocates filed testimony. The testimony of witness Lanzalotta is with regards to the amount PATH should recover in the abandonment docket, while witness Woolridge deals with PATH's return on equity in the same docket. The third JCA witness questions the prudence of PATH's legal expenses.
Spending the better part of my week playing lawyer, paralegal, and legal secretary, all at the same time, wasn't much fun. However, I was thoroughly cheered to observe from time-to-time when I came up for a sanity break, that Clean Line Energy Partners was having a MUCH WORSE week than me! :-)
All three of Clean Line's active projects took it in the shorts last week, in one form or another. This is the direct result of overwhelming, forthright and committed opposition in every state through which it intends to build its Rock Island Clean Line, Grain Belt Express and Plains & Eastern Clean Line projects. And to get there, it's taken an enormous amount of dedication, organization and hard work on the part of some savvy opposition leaders
, and the help of everyone involved to raise this issue in the public dialogue. So, pat yourselves on the back, everyone!
First, let's look at the Rock Island Clean Line project. It STILL has not been approved in Illinois, despite Clean Line's project leader telling newspapers it had been. It was on the Illinois Commerce Commission's agenda on Thursday, but, once again, the Commission kicked the decision down the roadfor another day
. Clean Line had been telling folks that once it got approval in Illinois, it would file for its franchise in Iowa. Even though approval is still up in the air (and the proposed order of the ALJ did not recommend eminent domain authority at this time, along with a whole bunch of other hurdles that make the project much less viable
) Clean Line went ahead and filed its applications in Iowa.
The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance says that despite having land agents active in the community for the past year, the company still has only secured easements for 15% of the property it needs to build its line.
Clean Line said the company will need to cross approximately 1,500 separate land parcels in Iowa to reach Illinois. So far, about 200 owners have signed agreements. That’s about 15 percent of the total needed.
Eric Andersen, another Clean Line opponent from Grundy County, said the small number of willing sellers so far will be one of the arguments opponents use against the plan.
“This is a private investment firm that’s building a private transmission line and they want to use eminent domain on 85 percent through some of the best farm land in the world. That’s a huge deal,” Andersen said.
RICL is asking the Iowa Utilities Board to grant it eminent domain authority to condemn and take 85% of its route? Never going to happen. Usually, holdouts that require the use of eminent domain are few and far between. Never 85% of the landowners targeted! If these landowners continue to dig in their heels (and I expect they will) this project will be political poison.
Turning now to Clean Line's Grain Belt Express project, evidentiary hearings got underway before the Missouri Public Service Commission this week. In addition to the various landowner groups and others opposing the project, the staff of the MO PSC has also adopted a position opposing the project:
“As staff has set out in the position statements it filed last Friday, it is staff’s view that the evidence in this case will not show that the transmission line and converter stations are needed, economically feasible, or will promote the public interest in Missouri,” Williams tells the Commission.
But Clean Line has an ace up its sleeve that it thinks will "turn a no into a yes."
Clean Line turned to the Department of Energy and Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The little-known provision would enable DOE to work through a federal power marketing administration and, in certain instances, condemn property required for easements.
Clean Line filed a similar application with DOE for the Grain Belt Express project in 2010.
In a testy exchange during Monday’s hearing in Missouri, Agathen, the landowners’ attorney, repeatedly asked whether Clean Line would pursue federal approval of the Grain Belt Express project if denied by the Missouri PSC.
Skelly said Clean Line’s application for Section 1222 authority for Grain Belt Express is still pending at DOE but inactive. And the company would exhaust efforts to persuade state regulators to approve the project before turning back to the federal government.
“We would look at the no and figure out a way to turn it into a yes,” he said.
And this brings us to the third Clean Line project, its Plains & Eastern, that got thoroughly pummeled last week during a joint State Agencies and Governmental Affairs committees and joint Agriculture, Forestry, and Economic Development committees of the Arkansas legislature
. Arkansas Rep. John Hutchinson's interim study presented a parade of experts, state agencies, and concerned citizens who spoke against the project for several hours. The Clean Line representative in attendance never spoke, but did manage to smirk at opportune moments. Because, you know, that arrogant little frat boy behavior just makes people want to love you, right Clean Line? The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
"Game & Fish Commission Director Mike Knoedl said that bird deaths in the area would be 'astronomical' because of the high lines and towers, some as tall as 200 feet."
Clean Line probably doesn't care who opposes their project in Arkansas though, since the company is planning to have the U.S. Dept. of Energy step in to take land from Arkansans under the federal Energy Policy Act, Sec. 1222. Unless Arkansas fights back
... stay tuned!
A settlement proposal
was made public today by parties to the West Virginia Mon Power/Potomac Edison base rate case.
The settlement must be approved by the WV PSC before it becomes final. The PSC has scheduled a hearing on the settlement for Nov. 7 at 9:30. You can watch the webcast here.
The settlement was crafted during negotiations between the company, the staff of the PSC, the Consumer Advocate Division, WalMart and the WV Energy Users Group (a group of energy hog industrials). The PSC Commissioners (what few we have left) did not have a hand in crafting this settlement. They will have a hand (or a rubber stamp) in approving it.
So, what happened? They agreed to a rate increase effective Feb. 25, 2015. The press release yammers on about how much this will cost the "average" customer (23 cents per day, $6.90 per month, $84.40 per year). Mr. & Mrs. Average Customer use exactly 1,000 kwh of electricity every month. Your usage isn't so neat, so therefore your increase will vary.
But, it's not the rate increase the company asked for. It's less. The original proposal was going to increase Mr. & Mrs. Average Customer's bill something like $15/month, so consider the proposed settlement to be slightly less than half the amount requested.
The company had asked for a total of $151M annual increase. The settlement amount is $62.5M annually. This amount includes a $15M (1.45%) increase in base rates and a new $47.5M surcharge for vegetation management.
The vegetation management surcharge bears further examination considering the company asked for a $48.4M surcharge for increased vegetation management. The company has been receiving a separate amount for vegetation management that has been included in the base rate for years ($28M). What this settlement does is remove that amount from the rate base and combine it with an additional amount for increased vegetation management to create the new vegetation management surcharge. This new surcharge is subject to filings in the first, third and fifth year in which the company must true up actual expenditures to the amount collected. Gone are the days of FirstEnergy collecting millions for "vegetation management" that it never performs (and contributes to more severe and prolonged storm outages). Now you'll actually get the vegetation management you pay for!
Back to the base rate increase: Included is $46M of 2012 storm costs, amortized over a 5-year period, without earning a return (about $9M/year). Once the 5 years is up, this is gone forever (unless we have another storm disaster in the meantime).
The stipulation regarding the $60M FirstEnergy wanted to collect for closed power plants Albright, Rivesville and Willow Island sounds like Yoda wrote it.
For the unrecovered the companies may account, undepreciated investment.
Balances in the 2012 deactivated power plants (albright, rivesville, and willow.
Island) in any manner the companies deem appropriate, with gaap in accordance.
And regulatory accounting. Not, the parties agree that such accounting does.
To recover these costs or amortization expenses in future rate establish a right.
Proceedings, and this joint stipulation shall prevent the parties from nothing in.
To recovery of these taking whatever position they deem appropriate in relation.
Amounts in future proceedings. Herh herh herh.
I'm not sure what it means. Probably nobody else knows either. Except maybe Yoda.
The companies must increase the amount they contribute to the Dollar Energy Fund that assists low income folks with their outrageous FirstEnergy electric bills. FirstEnergy's increase is $150,000/year. In addition, the company must continue to "contribute" an additional $250,000/year that they recover from ratepayers. So, essentially, YOU are paying this extra and FirstEnergy is getting the credit for the "donation." Isn't that special? Betcha' didn't know that FirstEnergy provided charitable giving coordination services like that! Of course, how much of any of this is "giving," when all the money ends up right back in FirstEnergy's pocket?
This one is kinda confusing. Even Yoda can't help.
The proposed increase to the customer charge for residential and small commercial
customers shall remain at $5.00 per month.
The increase shall remain at $5.00 per month? We're already paying $5.00 per month. Does this mean that we're now going to pay $10.00 per month, or does this mean that there will be no increase in this fee? Clarity needed.
The company is allowed to establish a regulatory asset for its expected EPA compliance plans at Harrison and Ft. Martin. This amount will be deferred (sit on the balance sheet uncollected and earning interest) until a future rate case
The company will earn a 9.9% ROE, down from the requested 11%. When combined with the return on debt of 5.15%, and adjusted by the company's capital/debt ratio, the total return will be 7.36%
The company will receive an additional $1,074,174
per year to read every meter every month going forward. This is down from FirstEnergy's requested $7.5M yearly cost to read meters monthly. Now the trick is going to be making sure the company actually DOES the required readings! No skimping now, we'll be watching!
So, what do you think? Did your advocate cut you a good deal in this rate case? You can submit comments to the PSC here.
It's been a long time since I last got a google news alert for "Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline." So long, in fact, I'd forgotten I even had those search terms set to notify. But, just in time for Halloween, the PATH zombie reared its ugly head and I got a notice last week that some right-wing think tank had published a paper where those terms were mentioned, America’s Electricity Grid: Outdated or Underrated?
And what did the author have to say about PATH, more than three years after its death? How has history treated this stunningly costly failure of "independent" planning?
Despite identification of areas in which transmission capacity is limited, a “not in my backyard” (or anyone else’s, in some cases) attitude toward new transmission line siting has resulted in cancellation or delay of some new transmission lines.
For example, in 2011, PJM cancelled the proposed Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) project, a 275-mile transmission line that would have run through West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland to deliver electricity into Northern Virginia. Although the line was designed to improve reliability in eastern PJM, changing forecasts of electricity demand growth and intense opposition to siting the line led to the project’s cancellation.
It's the opposition that will be remembered, not individual analyses and the fine line that supposedly determined this white elephant was needed.
Hey, remember this? PATH's talking heads insisted that opposition had nothing to do with PATH's cancellation.
But, history says it did.
While the article's conclusions are pretty screwed up, it does a nice job explaining the bulk power system and federal regulation thereof. It's a good "backgrounder" for folks new to the transmission world. Think about how much more reliable our system would be though, if we brought back the "islands" of the past and operated them as smaller parts of the bigger system (aka "microgrids").
Beginning in the late 1920s, electric utilities began to integrate their operations to improve reliability and reduce costs. Previously, utilities had operated as “islands,” meeting the demand for electricity solely from their own generating plants. To ensure reliable service, this meant building extra generating capacity to keep in reserve, in case unexpected problems caused their plants to shut down. By integrating their operations, utilities could provide more reliable service without building as much backup generating capacity. In essence, if a generating plant at Utility A suffered a forced outage, one of Utility B’s generators would be available to ensure the lights stayed on. The concept is similar to diversifying a financial portfolio. Instead of investing everything into just one company’s stock, buying multiple stocks, bonds, and other investments reduces the risk of a sudden financial loss.
Microgrids that can be islanded from the larger system at times when the larger system fails (remember Superstorm Sandy?) can continue to provide power for necessary services. And if microgrid "A" suffers a forced outage, it can borrow from microgrid "B", or "C," or "D," or any other nearby microgrid. Relying on just a handful of generators and long-distance transmission lines creates parasitic load pockets with no native generation. Those folks have nowhere to turn in case of emergency.
Building more transmission lines isn't the answer. The answer is a more democratic electric grid system that benefits consumers and local communities, not gigantic, investor-owned utility holding companies.