Carol Overland, transmission slayer of the great north, brings us the story of an apparent transmission line routing goof that has transmission opponents all over wiping away tears of laughter.  It seems that American Transmission Company's Badger Coulee 345kV transmission project got routed through the "back yard" of the CEO of Alliant Energy.  The spouse of the CEO has intervened in the Wisconsin Public Service Commission case to try to save his million dollar property from having transmission nasties constructed on it.

No, really.

Read more about it on Carol's blog here.
 
 
When will the utilities learn that springing a transmission fait accompli on a community dooms their project to failure?

Xcel has decided that it wants to build a new 345kV transmission line adjacent to an old 230kV line on existing right of way.  Xcel purports that this new line is necessary to transport wind (and other) power from northern Colorado to the southeast Denver metro area.

The problem?  The project snakes through numerous dense housing and commercial developments that have been built right up to the edge of the existing right of way in the towns of Parker and Aurora.  Watch Xcel's route flyover video to understand the full madness of the plan.  What were you thinking, Xcel?  How did you expect the people who live in all those houses would react?

Introducing Halt the Powerlines.  The affected residents have attempted to work with Xcel to find acceptable alternatives, but they have been met with stubborn resistance to change and spurious claims about property values and health issues in an attempt to convince them to accept the project as proposed and that there is no problem.

Apparently Xcel believes that getting into an entrenched public relations battle with the citizens' group is going to be less costly than working with the community to alter the design to be more acceptable, or bury sections of the line.  I think they're wrong.

So does this guy, who has developed the concept of social ecology to get infrastructure sited and approved without costly community battles.  Gary Severson proposes that a company actually get to know the community before dumping a project on it.  I would take that one farther and suggest that a company get to know the communities BEFORE designing the project in the first place!  Trying to get a community to accept a project that was not designed to be acceptable is like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.

If Xcel truly knew the towns affected by its Pawnee-Daniels Park project, it would realize that its project is never going to happen as designed.  It's too close to too many people.  Educated opposition has developed that cannot be ameliorated by tossing defensive studies at the crowd.  Xcel has already become the self-interested entity that is not to be trusted.  The only way this project will ever get built is for Xcel to go back to the drawing board with the community members and an open mind to find an acceptable alternative.

As Severson concludes:
Project managers and regulators are well
aware of the effects of community issues on
project schedules, costs, and eventual success
or failure. Traditional public relations efforts
employed by project proponents and citizen
participation requirements of regulatory
agencies are often interpreted by communities
as what the proponent is planning to “do to
us.”
There is a better way. Social ecology
includes the impacted communities into the
project so that citizens interpret proposed
actions as what the proponent is trying to “do
with us”
to improve our quality of life.
When will the utilities learn?
 
 
Just saw the following message on facebook with the request to share it.  So, I shall:
URGENT!!!!!!!!
We have just been told by an elderly landowner that they had been contacted by Clean Line and were told that the project was a done deal and that he has to come in and sign an easement. This could not be farther from the TRUTH!!!! If they ever get Public Utility Status, and they are a LONG way from getting that, then it would be crucial to consult with an attorney! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE share this with elderly landowners especially those in nursing homes. Please share, if we had not talked with this landowner, he would have signed with Clean Line!!!!!
Remember Grain Belt Express Clean Line's "Code of Conduct?"  We were discussing it just the other day.  Serendipity!

The "Code of Conduct" was plagiarized from the former Allegheny Energy (now multi-state energy holding company FirstEnergy), who used it for their TrAIL and PATH projects as a placebo to deny responsibility for shady land agent conduct.

The company hides behind its "Code," pretending that its contract land agents are supposed to follow it.  When a land agent is caught in a violation, the company acts all shocked and "fires" the land agent.  Responsibility for the violation is pinned on the land agent, not the company.  Therefore, the company is free to continue to violate its own "Code" as many times as necessary.

Land Agents are trained in psy ops.  Landowners usually resist utility overtures to purchase land or right of way.  It's all a psychological game by the land agent to trick the unwilling or unwitting into signing on the dotted line.  Land Agents attend continuing education sessions where they learn:
Understanding Behavioral and Personality Styles for Negotiation Success

Using practical and personal exercises, this session will provide attendees with a framework for understanding the behavioral and personality styles used for negotiation. Attendees will develop a better understanding of behavioral styles and how they can recognize and relate to the diverse styles of people they deal with.
The conference sessions have instructors like Dr. Mazie Leftwich, Psy.D.
With 20 years of experience in the right of way and land management consulting business, Dr. Mazie Leftwich is a nationally known presenter and corporate trainer in the energy industry. Dr. Leftwich serves as Director of the CLS Professional Development Institute and has been the catalyst behind CLS's extensive employee training, project training, and team-excellence programs for supervisors and managers. In addition to her work at CLS, Mazie maintained a limited private counseling practice for over 30 years, specializing in organizational and personal relationships and executive coaching. Her education includes a Bachelor in Psychology, a Master's in Administrative and Clinical Social Work and a Doctorate in Applied Psychology.
Dr. Mazie works for Contract Land Staff, the company Clean Line has been using for right of way acquisition.

Land agents will say or do anything necessary to get their job done.  The story from Missouri tells us that perhaps they will even lie and violate the "Code" of the company that contracts them.  Perhaps the land agents even troll nursing homes, preying on the elderly.  Nothing more despicable than that.

Remember, the "Code" was developed as part of a legal settlement between Allegheny Energy's TrAIL transmission company and the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate.  The settlement was the end result of a vicious court battle over the reprehensible way landowners in Pennsylvania were lied to and manipulated by land agents.

The "Code" is not enforceable by any authority.  It's a worthless piece of paper designed to give a false sense of security to landowners and regulators.  However, please do document and report any violations to your state consumer protection authorities, such as your Attorney General, because any despicable tactics perpetrated will most likely be a violation of your state's consumer protection laws.


Just don't talk to land agents.  There's no rush to enter agreements before a project has all its permits.  If you sign early, the company will still have a right to your property, even if the transmission line is never approved or built.  Do you really want that encumbering your property forever and making future sales or use difficult for you and your heirs?

There's plenty of time to negotiate a deal, with the recommended help of your own attorney, AFTER a project has all permits to begin construction.  In fact, if you wait to negotiate, chances are that the price you will receive may be greater than folding early in the process.  The longer you hold out, the more powerful your bargaining position becomes.

Don't be victimized by any possible Clean Line Grain Belt Express strong arm tactics that may be used.  Get educated, and more importantly, educate your friends and neighbors!
 
 
Well, duh.

Big article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Assault on California Power Station Raises Alarm on Potential for Terrorism, that reports on a coordinated attack at a California substation that sounds like a scene from an action film.

According to the article, the information came from former FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff, who has taken up lurking around substations in his dotage.  Apparently Wellinghoff was horrified at the substation attack last April and
the subsequent realization that our grid is astonishingly vulnerable and there's not much FERC can do about it.

I know what FERC can do about it...  Stop promoting centralized generation and an increasing network of high voltage transmission lines to trade electricity like a commodity from coast to coast!


If you think substations are vulnerable, spend a few minutes pondering the thousands of miles of high voltage transmission lines strung everywhere.  True, an attack on one remote tower may not have much effect and could be easily fixed, but what about a coordinated attack on hundreds of towers that supply our cities at the same time?


Our military isn't dumb enough to rely on a power supply this vulnerable, so why should we?  As far back as 2007, the U.S. military was studying electric grid vulnerability and concluded that "distributed generation" (yes, they used quotes, like Dr. Evil with his "laser") was our best defense.

And so it is - our military is practicing distributed generation.


So, when is Congress going to put a stop to the transmission feeding frenzy and start protecting the rest of us?


 
 
Iowa legislators have had enough Rock Island Clean Line.  In January, legislation to limit the use of eminent domain was introduced, spurred by RICL's proposal to take nearly 400 miles of right-of-way in the state.
The target of their legislation is the Rock Island Clean Line, a $2 billion, 500-mile overhead direct current transmission line.

Rogers called private property rights “critically important to our way of life.”

“Many farmers in my district live and work on land that has been in their family for generations, and they want to allow their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to continue to farm that land and feed the world,” Rogers said. “Our laws must adequately protect their property rights.”
One bill requires that any power line project requesting eminent domain authority must deliver at least 25% of its power to consumers in Iowa.  RICL intends to export power from northwest Iowa direct to eastern Illinois, where it will be interconnected with PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator for mid-Atlantic eastern states.

The second bill requires legislative approval of any request to bifurcate an application for a transmission project in order to separate the determination of need from the request for eminent domain authority.  RICL tried to use bifurcation to force landowners into a weak negotiating position for rights-of-way, but was rejected by the Iowa Utilities Board.

Be sure to check the lobbyist declarations on both these bills.  Clean Line doesn't appear to be happy about them.  I suppose fair is fair though... Iowans don't seem to be very happy about RICL, either.

I wonder if our Clean Line heroes envisioned this kind of opposition when planning their get-rich-quick power line scheme back in 2011?  I've heard it said that they gleefully dismissed any possibility of trouble, expecting nothing more than "a couple of ticked off farmers."  Personally, I'd never want to tick off any farmers.  They have pitchforks.  And I like the food they grow.

And speaking of eminent domain, legislators in Missouri are livid over the Arkansas Public Service Commission's approval of a SWEPCO transmission route through 25 miles of Missouri.  Within 10 days of the APSC decision, legislators had proposed:
The bill states that “the Missouri Public Service commission shall lack jurisdiction to approve the construction of any electric facilities to be built in accordance with Arkansas Public Service Commission Order 33, Docket Number 13-041-U, authorizing Route 109 as a ‘reasonable route’ for the construction of new three hundred forty-five kilovolt electric transmission lines.”
The overbuilding of new transmission of questionable necessity as a utility or investor profit center has finally gone too far.  The people have had enough of this nonsense and their elected representatives are taking action.  This transmission craze is now making it difficult to build ANY transmission, even that which may actually be needed.  Their cash cow is down and slowly bleeding to death, and it's their own fault.  Ooops.
 
 
Here's one for the "what not to do" transmission developer files.

AEP subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Company ("SWEPCO") has been trying to get approval from the Arkansas PSC to construct a 345kv high voltage transmission line through the scenic Arkansas Ozarks region.

SWEPCO has met stiff opposition in the form of Save the Ozarks, a grassroots opposition group that produced thousands of public comments and presented a formidable opposition during evidentiary hearings before the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

Earlier this month, the judge issued her ruling recommending that the Commission issue a CPCN (permit), and selecting one of six routes submitted with the application by SWEPCO.  Save the Ozarks has vowed to continue the fight through appeals.

However, the route selected by Judge Griffin, dubbed Route 109, was not SWEPCO's recommended route. SWEPCO's recommended route was a direct Point A to Point B route that remained wholly within the state of Arkansas, but marched through local scenic treasures like Godzilla on the way to Tokyo. However, the judge-selected route also begins in Northwest Arkansas, but makes a quick beeline for the state border, where it meanders through 25 miles of Missouri before dipping back into Arkansas to connect with SWEPCO's new substation.  Judge Griffin's selected route avoided some of the damage to Arkansas by pushing it over the border into Missouri.

And here's where the fun starts... SWEPCO is not a public utility in Missouri and has not filed an application for its project in that state.  But now it will have to...
Should the Arkansas Public Service Commission approve Griffin’s order, Route 109 presents an unusual challenge, according to Brian Johnson, an employee of American Electric Power who testified on behalf of SWEPCO last fall. Johnson said the choice introduces an additional, unprecedented regulatory process because it crosses a state line.

“The permitting process for Missouri anticipates that any petitioning entity will already be a Missouri Public Utility — which SWEPCO and (American Electric Power) are not. It is unprecedented for a non-public utility to construct a line through Missouri, particularly without directly serving any Missouri customers. The likely regulatory delays and complications that arise from the line route in Missouri are of substantial concern,” Johnson testified.
What's that you say?  "Substantial concern?"  I think that's the understatement of the year.  Missouri isn't looking fondly on the prospect of hosting a transmission line that doesn't benefit its citizens.
Sen. David Sater, who is from Cassville and represents Barry, Lawrence, McDonald, Stone and Taney counties, said he is angered by the chosen route. He, Lant and Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, of Shell Knob, met with commissioners last week.

“We encouraged MPSC members to act on behalf of Missourians and not on behalf of people from Arkansas. I think we made our presence felt there, and hopefully they’ll reject this,” Sater said.
Why, AEP, why?  Why did you toss in a route that crossed into a state where you don't do business?  That was pretty stupid, wasn't it?

Rock/SWEPCO/hard place.


Lesson for transmission developers:  Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
 
 
Remember Jonathan Fahey?  He wrote an article in 2011 headlined Shocker: Power demand from US homes is falling that pioneered the idea that even though we're using more electric "gadgets" than ever, power use is dropping.  Well, now he's back with a similar article, Home electricity use in US falling to 2001 levels.
The trend Fahey first reported in 2011 continues, more than 2 years later.

Have utilities gotten any smarter since then?  Partially.  It took them forever to admit that dropping demand wasn't tied to the economy and that a rebound of electric use wasn't just over the horizon.  However, some utilities have simply moved on to other unsound business plans that continue to bank on the same old ideas that are no longer sustainable. 

Now utilities have moved on to transmission investments as their savior.  This is pretty puzzling, considering that long-distance transmission champion AEP concluded a year ago that enormous projects built across multiple states were an impossible dream.
Mr. Akins said he wants to avoid the bruising battles that delayed or doomed big projects in the past, like the 275-mile Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline project from West Virginia to Maryland. AEP and partner FirstEnergy Corp. dropped development plans for the complex project in 2011.

"Sometimes, we were just dreaming" that the companies could get enormous power lines built across multiple states, Mr. Akins said. He said AEP now is focusing on shorter projects blessed by federal regulators that eliminate grid bottlenecks. "It's where you want to put your money," he said.
The transmission investment gravy train has also left the station.  The sheer number of new transmission projects proposed combined with today's ease of online information sharing and social media tools has led to an explosion of knowledgeable, interconnected transmission opposition groups who are combining resources across the country to delay or stop unneeded projects altogether.

Instead of embracing innovation and new technology to make the existing grid smarter, some utilities are intent on merely building more of the same old dumb grid, or actively attempting to stifle innovation by forcing us all into an historic "consumer" position where we must funnel money to incumbent utilities in order to survive.  Ultimately, this plan will also fail, because technology marches relentlessly on

How we produce and use electricity is also changing.  Not only is producing our own electricity locally better for our economy, it's also much more reliable.  Hurricane Sandy was one of the biggest wake-up calls we've had recently, and the inevitable Monday morning quarterbacking of that disaster reveals that increasing long distance, aerial transmission from remote generation is simply dangerous.
  Making our grid more reliable isn't about building more transmission.  It's about change:
This includes traditional tactics, such as upgrading power poles and trimming trees near power lines. But it also encompasses newer approaches, such as microgrids and energy storage, which allow operators to quickly reconfigure the system when portions of the grid go down. Implicit to such plans is the need to ensure uninterrupted power to critical sites such as oil and gas refineries, water-treatment plants, and telecommunication networks, as well as gasoline stations, hospitals, and pharmacies.

Some of the nation’s leaders seem receptive to such approaches.
Elected officials, progressive regulators, energy producers, energy consumers, and innovative companies embracing new technology are also increasingly joining forces to move our energy economy forward and away from the dated centralized generation and transmission business plan of the past.  Companies who continue to deny the inevitable will ultimately be the ones left behind in irrelevance.
 
 
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,  committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. --
Margaret Mead
US social anthropologist (1901 - 1978)
It appears that EUCI has knuckled under from citizen pressure and kicked Clean Line's executives off the speakers line up for its 8th Annual Public Participation for Transmission Siting Conference scheduled for January 23-24, 2014 in Houston.  Clean Line is also no longer sponsoring the conference.

The original agenda put together by Clean Line included offensive sessions entitled "Going BANANAS with NIMBYs - Best Practices in Dealing with Community Based Opposition Groups" and "Marketing to Mayberry: Communicating with Rural America."

The new agenda has been "cleansed" of Clean Line influence and the offensive sessions have been renamed "Best Practices in dealing with community based opposition groups" and "Communicating with rural America," dispensing with the offensive and cutsey-poo insults of transmission opposition groups.

But, does this make EUCI's continuing education conference any more useful?  Probably not.  It still more closely resembles a transmission industry echo chamber, where industry blowhards make crap up and feed it to the attendees as a successful example to follow.  The truth is that "the public" continues to laugh at these idiots' attempts to "participate" with us to successfully site their projects.  It's not about "participating" with the public at all... it's about sharing ideas for ways to lie and cheat the public in order to win project approval.

The only way to successfully "participate" with the public is to actually dirty your hands consorting with them, and EUCI isn't about to let THAT happen.  Offhand, I can't think of a more useless conference for the industry.  For the opposition, however, it's a fun opportunity, as protestors at a Missouri EUCI conference found out a couple months ago.  See you there!
 
 
Well, isn't this cozy?

FirstEnergy is "sponsoring" a 2014 Legislative Outlook luncheon, and charging the people $15 a head to come talk to their elected officials.

Sort of lets you know who's in charge, doesn't it?  FirstEnergy pulls the strings and the legislators line up like trick ponies at the circus... a circus that you must pay to attend.
 
 
What happens when you combine clueless billionaires, former government officials and environmental warriors?

The Energy Future Coalition.

Whatever may once have been good about this organization has been thoroughly exterminated by greedy transmission speculators and arrogant clean energy maniacs (cleaniacs) on an unmindful mission to "save the world" in a big ol' hurry. 

To put it quite bluntly, the "big green" NGO "clean energy now" militancy is beginning to backfire and disenchant a growing section of middle America.  At a meeting last week, I mentioned that I was not going to renew my Sierra Club membership this year because I disagree with the direction the club's leadership has taken recently.  To my surprise, the sentiment went around the table, with several others volunteering that they had also cancelled their memberships, or were planning to do so.  In addition, many farmers (the original environmentalists!) have become repulsed at the "big green" push to accomplish hostile takeovers of their factories to re-purpose them to produce "clean energy," instead of food.  The environmental NGOs have gone too far and are actually fomenting a middle-America rebellion against clean energy.

In 2010, the EFC launched "Americans for a Clean Energy Grid" (ACEG) to ostensibly support their work on smart grid initiatives.  However, instead of encouraging "a modernized electrical grid that uses information and communications technology to gather and act on information, such as information about the behaviors of suppliers and consumers, in an automated fashion to improve the efficiency, reliability, economics, and sustainability of the production and distribution of electricity," ACEG has turned into an organization that attempts to smother due process to enrich its "members."  And, along the way, no actual "Americans" were engaged.  ACEG is nothing but a front group for entities who stand to make enormous profits building unneeded high voltage transmission lines.

This article in Smart Grid News foreshadows the kind of jack-booted "clean energy" future in store for us if we don't rein in these avaricious fakes before they cause any more damage.

Cleaniacs are all about building new "dumb" transmission, and they are chafing at existing laws and due process afforded to citizens holding rights to land "clean energy" transmission developers covet for new rights-of-way.

Here are several lies these cleaniacs are spreading:

1.  "The grid was built first to connect power plants to cities, then to connect cities to each other, and more recently to join regions together."  While the first two connections are correct, the last one is false.  The more recent "connection" has been made to trade energy as a commodity over long distances.  It all started with Enron, and although Enron collapsed under the weight of its own treachery, energy trading still provides a fertile breeding ground for market manipulation that fills the coffers of energy traders who gleefully "lift the piss out of" energy prices consumers pay.

2.  "While part of this expansion is intended to reach out to remote areas with wind and solar resources, it is also necessary to connect everything to everything, to allow for the free flow of electrons, to minimize the variability of wind and solar power."  Connect everything to everything... so that when one small component fails the entire country pitches into darkness?  This isn't safe or reliable.

3.  "High-voltage transmission lines make the grid more efficient and reliable by alleviating congestion, promoting bulk-power competition, reducing generation costs, and allowing grid operators to balance supply and demand over larger regions."  Makes the grid more reliable by "allowing" grid operators to balance supply and demand over larger regions?  That's a complicated recipe for disaster!

The rise of distributed generation is treated like a mere speed bump. 

"The rapid advance of distributed generation is one wild card.  FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff has noted that the rapid progress with rooftop solar could reduce the need for transmission to connect big renewables from remote regions.  'We need to build only the transmission that we need,' he told Public Utilities Fortnightly."

It gets a brief mention as only a "wild card," before the authors jump right back into the "benefits" of more transmission.

The cleaniacs claim the grid has been stymied by:

Boundaries: regions have to share the costs of new lines that cross their borders;
Benefits: regulators have to make sure payments for new transmission are “roughly commensurate” with the benefits, and paid by the beneficiary;
Siting: new lines must minimize environmental and cultural impacts, and provide fair compensation to landowners, yet the siting process is often inconsistent and uncoordinated;
Policy:  not all states plan their transmission around pro-renewable policies, though renewables are starting to be economic without policy.

But what they really mean is that transmission developer and supplier profits have been stymied by just and reasonable cost allocation, due process for affected landowners, and state authority.  These are things that should not and cannot be improved upon.  However, that doesn't stop the cleaniacs from making recommendations for the phantom "policy makers."  Who are these people?  Do they even exist at the level referred to in this article?  Or are they just more empty cleaniac platitudes?

  • Policy makers must accurately assess the costs and benefits of transmission expansion, incorporating public policy goals, operational benefits, lower overall power sector costs, and economic development.  Why are there no "costs" on this list if we're assessing the costs and benefits?  Could it be that costs are not being accurately assessed?
  • Planners should prioritize transmission lines that link balancing areas, so that we can connect strong renewable resources to loads, reduce the impacts of their variability, and integrate them seamlessly into the grid.  What if "planners" prioritized distributed generation, demand management and energy efficiency?  Aren't these cleaniac goals as well as building new transmission?
  • Regions should harmonize grid operations and increase competition in electricity markets, to reduce costs and increase efficiency.  And keep those JP Morgan and Barclay's guys out of the food stamp line.
  • Regulators should slash the timeline for planning, building, and siting transmission through better coordination, clear rules and expectations, and best practices in siting.  What's wrong with this timeline?  1)Plan a project; 2)build a project; 3)site a project.  Where does due process for affected citizens fit in that expedited timeline?  And here's another useless business buzzword "best practices in siting."  You mean these?
  • We must make the most of existing lines and new ones once they are built, through energy efficiency, distributed generation, and technical fixes like dynamic line rating. This is probably the most ridiculous recommendation -- someone just had to insert "and new ones once they are built" into a sentence that only made sense without the addition.  Rebuilding existing lines should be the FIRST priority, not "building new ones."  How stupid would it be to build a new transmission line and then "make the most of it" by applying technical fixes?  These cleaniacs really aren't too smart, are they?
So, what do you get when you combine thousands of concerned landowners and ratepayers that oppose the out-of-control building of new transmission of dubious worth and motive?  Perhaps we'll soon find out...