Looks like one of those "what doesn't belong" puzzles, doesn't it?  Unfortunately, it's not.

This story comes from Gentry, Arkansas, home to the Wild Wilderness Drive Through Safari.  AEP's engineer drew a transmission line through a portion of the safari on his power line routing etch-a-sketch.  Perhaps the engineer didn't understand that a drive through safari means that there are wild animals roaming loose through the area?  Or maybe he just doesn't care.  After all, he's not the one who may be eaten by a lion while constructing this project.
The people of Gentry have taken up the fight to save or replace the portion of the safari that will be made useless by the new 345kV power line running through it.  See their website here.

AEP says they can't move the power line out of the park because the route has already been approved by the PSC.  Instead, they are dragging the safari owner (a former AEP employee who didn't initially object to the route for fear of retaliation) through expensive and contentious eminent domain proceedings that will exceed the cost to AEP of simply filing a revised route at the Arkansas Public Service Commission.  It's pure and classic utility behemoth stupidity, where the tail regularly wags the dog.

Instead, AEP is trying to fix things through intimidation and censorship.  Local media has been avoiding this story because they also fear retaliation from AEP.  Hey... AEP... censor this...  :-)

In addition to efforts to effect a media blackout, AEP has been cyber stalking the community members leading the movement to save Safari 4.  One of them recently found this notification when logging into her Linked In account.
There's no reason a "Manager of Public Relations and Communications" at AEP would be looking at this woman's profile, except for the fact that she started a petition to save the Safari.  Why, AEP, WHY?  Why are you cyber-creeping on this woman?  Planning to use her professional information for future intimidation?  Or is AEP's manager just some kind of random cyber-creep doing his dirty deeds on company time and with company equipment?

Can't you just see the inter-office memo that may have gone out last week?

To:            All AEP Transmission Employees
From:        Nick Akins, CEO
Subject:    Cyber-stalking Opponents of Our Projects

It has come to my attention that some of you have been gathering information for our AEP transmission project opponent dossiers while signed in to your personal Linked In accounts that bear your job title and AEP's logo.  Please be aware that your profile views show up on the opponents Linked In pages!  In the future, please make up a fake Linked In profile to use for AEP-authorized cyber-stalking.  I suggest using the name Neil Peart, drummer for the band Rush.  He's way, way cool and I want to be just like him when I grow up!

Remember:  Safety and Transparency First!

Embarrassed yet, AEP?

You should be.  What do you think the jury hearing the safari eminent domain case next week is going to think of your heavy-handed tactics?
Dear Jerry,

I understand that your show helps people who are denying their problems by allowing others to confront them

I would like to propose that you invite Clean Line Energy Partners to be a guest on your show.  This could be really big, maybe even bigger than your "I Married A Horse" episode.

Clean Line Energy Partners, owners of the Grain Belt Express, Rock Island Clean Line, Plains & Eastern Clean Line and other HVDC transmission projects totaling thousands of line miles, have stated that:

"Successful project development requires substantial and widespread participation from a diverse group of entities and stakeholders.  Clean Line strives to establish and maintain close relationships with landowners, communities, local and state officials, customers and suppliers and deeply values stakeholder input and involvement."

However, when the rubber meets the road, Clean Line has recently resorted to having landowners physically dragged out of public meetings in their own communities.  They have had legal tantrums insisting that affected landowners be banned from participating in permitting cases.  They have been caught offering money and other consideration in exchange for supportive public testimony.  In short, Clean Line has been behaving like an immature bully.


Thousands of Landowners and Ratepayers All Over the U.S.A.

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know how much we like to help our friends at the power companies with the puzzling task of getting landowners and ratepayers to agree with their outrageous schemes to overbuild unneeded transmission at our expense and/or pull the wool over our eyes while jacking up rates.

That's why we'd like to offer some landowner-created and approved suggestions to Clean Line that are guaranteed to turn that frown upside down!  After all, you're not a real transmission developer until StopPATH WV blog starts making fun of you!  Wear it as a badge of honor, Clean Line!

Reader Nance has come up with an ingenious new way to use orange t-shirts in advertising:
Clean Line could even hand out little promotional chotchkes of tiny transmission towers dressed in orange Clean Line shirts to serve as reminders to politicians, business groups, colleges, and local governments that their support has already been purchased.  Landowners will also want to take these home from open houses and public comment hearings, because water and granola bars (while very effective in setting a hairy-legged tree hugger image) are not very filling, when you spend all day working hard for a living.

And don't forget that all important indoctrination instant!  It's all about shaping the thought processes of the next generation to accept this abuse of due process as routine, right? 

Therefore, we'd like to add another word search puzzle to Clean Line's collection of ultra-exciting school activities!
Students and landowners alike will enjoy hours of fun learning all about Clean Line's projects and how they will shape their lives for many years to come!

Go ahead, Clean Line, use at will, we're giving you these great suggestions free of charge (unlike HDR, who is charging you an arm & a leg)!  Why are we doing this?  Because we love you!  Honest!
Clean Line Energy Partners has been trying to quietly get its four HVDC transmission line projects criss-crossing the midwest approved without the notice of the landowners who will be asked to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of "clean" energy.

Trying to get approvals before the landowners noticed or organized to fight back was a very short-sighted and mistaken practice.  When the landowners eventually find out (and they will), they're twice as angry and determined to fight.

Clean Line's arrogant team of urban simpletons simply cannot grasp a living connection to the land and a farmer's sense of place identity.

This is the continuation of Amy's story.  We previously featured Amy's story documenting how she was dragged out of one of Clean Line's Grain Belt Express meetings for daring to pass out information about the health effects of living in close proximity to high-voltage electric transmission lines.  This time, we're going to hear why Amy was willing to stand up to Clean Line's propaganda, no matter the personal costs to herself.

Amy is just getting started on her opposition, and here's why:
My husband, Robin, and I bought land (8 acres) with a barn in Polo, MO a few years ago with the idea we would build a small home that would be energy efficient, and retire there one day. We did all the studies about solar power, small personal windmills, earth contact homes, wood stoves for heating, etc... When my husband lost his job in 2010, due to outsourcing to Singapore, we sold our suburban home in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Our house sold in a miraculous 33 days. We didn't have anywhere to live, so we took Robin's severance money and the equity from our home sale and in late April of 2011 we moved into our barn with our youngest son who was 12 at the time. Our future dream of an energy efficient home became a necessity.

The barn had limited everything. NO indoor plumbing, we had a water spicket about 30 feet from our barn with which we filled 3 five-gallon jugs each morning for cooking and personal use. And we had a camping port-a-potty. Bath time was interesting and we would set a water filled tub in the sun each morning so that we could have warm water for a bath that evening.We had one electrical plug on the safety light pole outside of our barn. This had been used by the previous owners for their RV hook-up. We used extension cords for our minimal electrical use. We have many funny memories, like trying to boil water on a hot-plate, and my husband trying to use a power tool at the same time during our building construction. If too much power was being used then the power would go off.  

We lived in this barn from late April until the end of November. When it got really cold, we had enough of our cabin built in order to move in. I learned many lessons in that barn on how to live very well WITHOUT a lot of electrical power. People can live off-grid, or at least, they can certainly minimize their energy needs by doing really simple things. This is one of the reasons that Grain Belt Express and Clean Line Energy Partners are so despicable to me. They assume that the only way people can have a quality standard of living is if they, and leaches like them, provide the energy for them.

Since the Open House, I have been researching Grain Belt Express, and Clean Line Energy Partners and have become more and more disgusted by what I have learned. I went on-line and found the BlockRICL folks. They have been a wonderful resource for how to fight this monster. Farmers and landowners from my area have been stunned by the response we have received from our county commissioners who seem to think that Grain Belt Express is a lovely idea, and whose lips have been already whetted by the promises of money and perks from those cheaters who waltz in, make promises that are not even investigated; who plan to take control of land, devalue property and land useability through eminent domain if they don't get what they want, and reduce the quality of life for everyone in the community who are subjected to these lines.

Building transmission is a dirty business.  Grain Belt Express "Clean" Line has become a leader in dirty practices by physically manhandling its opposition and dragging them out of public meetings.

Grain Belt Express claims it is "committed to engaging with local communities throughout the project area. We believe that our outreach process must be methodical, responsible and transparent. We will continue to engage interested parties and seek feedback throughout the routing process."

Except when the local communities actually produce feedback... then it's time for armed guards, physical violence and verbal abuse.  That's what happened when Amy attended a Grain Belt Express Open House in her community recently.
I looked up some European studies and copied them off in order to take them with me to the Grain Belt Express Open House the evening of July 17, 2013 in Cameron, Missouri, at the Cameron Community Center.

When my husband and I entered the meeting it was immediately apparent that this was NOT an "open" house. My training as an ad designer had taught me a few lessons in different styles of propaganda and Grain Belt Express was clearly exercising the manipulation tactic called "The Delphi Technique." I had spent the night before with little sleep because of my concern over these lines and seeing this farce being perpetrated on my fellow townspeople didn't put me in a very good mood. I only wanted to know where I could protest. Since these slick Grain Belt con artists are trained to detect dissonance, my husband and I were immediately pulled aside to have our feathers unruffled.

I handed one of my sheets of articles about the health and safety hazards of HVDC power lines to our "helper" and with only a cursory glance at my papers, he immediately began to start telling us the wonders of this line and that there are no risks, blah, blah, blah...  Understanding that I would get NOWHERE with this talking mannequin, I left his little group in his mid-sentence and began handing out my printed literature to the other small groups in the room, and asking them to ask their facilitators about the information within the studies.

When I got to the back of the room, an armed man, wearing Grain Belt clothes, identified himself to my husband as a Cameron police officer. He grabbed my arm HARD and asked me what I was doing. I told him that he was holding me too hard and that he was hurting me. He released his grip slightly and asked me again what I was doing, to which I responded that I was sharing information with others about HVDC lines and their health effects. He told me that I was to stop doing that, to which I told him that I would not and that I was exercising my right to free speech. He then explained to me that that was not allowed here and I needed to leave immediately. When I argued with him he began dragging me out of the meeting. As he was doing this I shouted, "My free speech rights are being violated and if you want to know about the hazards of HVDC towers then READ THIS!" and I threw the papers across the room and onto the floor. (You should have seen the people scramble to read them.)

When this Grain Belt rent-a-cop got me outside he began verbally abusing me and telling me that I had NO FREE SPEECH RIGHTS HERE, and that if I did not leave by the time he counted to 5, then he would take me to the station for disorderly conduct. I left on his count of 4, but several people in the group came out of the meeting to argue with the cop. Free speech is supposed to be protected by our Constitution, according to folks here in the Midwest. Besides, I thought this was an informational meeting between landowners and Grain Belt Express. Not a Grain Belt infomercial.
Is this the kind of company that should be welcomed to local communities?  One that physically and verbally abuses local citizens that resist its propaganda tactics and eminent domain taking of their private property? 

Is this really about "clean" energy, or is it about financial profit?  Only money could cause a company to stoop to this kind of bullying of a community that refuses to cheerfully accept its own demise.

Clean Line is spinning out of control in its desperation to regain control over a project that's not going as planned.  These arrogant Clean Line fools actually thought they were so much smarter than "a bunch of farmers" that community acceptance would be a snap.  Reality has been a cruel master and now the company is resorting to physical violence and threats of jail to get its way.  Give up, Clean Line, you've already lost.

Check back soon to read more of Amy's story (or as she's more commonly known in "Clean" circles by her mark of the beast, "Number 95735.")

Here's why contract meter readers without uniforms or company vehicles are a bad idea:




(this one is especially fun because the imposter offered to alter the electric meter to reduce the customer's bill)


So, how do you know when a meter reader is the real thing?

This story says a real meter reader will be sporting a:

Shirt and vest with company logo
ID badge

And they come once a month.

Or maybe imposters just work for FirstEnergy, who is too cheap to buy uniforms or company vehicles for its meter readers.  In fact, FirstEnergy is too cheap to even hire enough meter readers to come as required every other month.

For this, you each pay $5.00 per month.

FirstEnergy's continued cuts to operating expenses (more were announced just the other day) have now opened the door for scammers to take advantage of the company's customers.

Read this report by Potomac Edison Customer Danny Lutz:
At about 0840 hours this morning, I observed a white SUV with a Virginia Vanity plate OHAPY DZ in my front yard. The vehicle had a portable orange flashing light affixed to the right front rain gutter.
       Upon checking, the individual, clad in a black pullover shirt, and black knee top Speedo type shorts, waived an electronic device at me. He stated he was from the power company and was there to read the meters. (This is the "uniform" of street thugs, burglars, muggers, MS 13.... keep picking them.)
       The gentleman showed nothing to confirm his position with Potomac Edison, nor did he identify himself.
        I allowed him to complete his errand. Then I asked him if Potomac Edison is requiring meter readers to use their personal vehicles when making their rounds.
        He stated that "Since the merger, everything is all screwed up, and I have to use my vehicle."
        Imagine the scams that could be perpetrated upon the unknowing of all ages by people posing as meter readers. I do not know if my premises were cased for a later visit for less than legal purposes.
        I very much should like to know what explanation Potomac Edison has for this modus operandi. Could not Potomac Edison hire someone from West Virginia to read West Virginia meters?
        I politely suggest that in addition to being more vigilant over your own properties, you should watch for and warn your neighbors, especially those living alone, elderly, or incapacitated.
Danny later reports:
After an interminable number of attempts, I finally breached FORTRESS FIRST ENERGY and reached TODD MEYERS, in house apologist.
       I gave him the same description of the events of 0840 hours yesterday morning.
       He offered the explanation that some meter reading personnel hired since 1 April 2013 may not have Potomac Edison Vehicles.
       Meyers stated that those using personal vehicles "should" have a magnetic door sign identifying the vehicle as representing Potomac Edison. (This vehicle had no such signage.) He further asked if any ID BADGE was displayed. (None was) Meyers stated that the reader should have been wearing a lime green safety vest.(He was not.)
       He kept repeating "You've given me good enough information. I can investigate this. I will call the meter reader and find out what is going on."
      It took me eight calls plus a boat load of web searches to finally get to Meyers.
      The last two individuals who came here to read the meter, months ago, drove pick ups and wore white helmets and lime green safety vests.
    I will be curious to see what comes from this belated effort.
       If Potomac Edison would use local people from the areas to be served, some of these issues might need never arise. Though local people cannot know everyone, they are able to be more easily identified.
And finally, Danny got tired of waiting for a reply from Meyers:
    Just had an enlightening conversation with Todd Meyers "Public Relations Specialist with FIRST ENERGY." (That is how Mr. Meyers described his capacity with FIRST ENERGY in our conversation a few minutes ago.)
        I was able to contact the gentleman on the first call, and he doubtless saw who I am from the caller ID. He clearly did not want to talk to me.
        I had to give him another synopsis of the issues of 7 August 2013.
        In a stumbling, hesitating voice, Mr. Meyer stated that he had checked with the Supervisor of the meter reading and found that, indeed, the vehicle and the person are engaged in reading meters for Potomac Edison. He stated that this was determined by conversing with that supervisor from "the information which you supplied, that is the white vehicle with the O HAPPY DAYS (sic) Virginia plate." (Actual plate is OHAPY DZ.).
        Meyers further stated that he had learned that the individual in question had displayed an ID, was wearing a green vest, and had  magnetic signs on the door of the vehicle.
        I asked who was the source of his information, and he was reluctant to tell me, giving a rambling and convoluted answer which I shall not try to duplicate here.
       Meyers went on "That's what I was told happened."
       I asked "Might I ask who is the supervisor of the meter reading for this area?"
       Meyers replied "That is Charity Emmert in the Williamsport office."
       I said "Could you provide me with an email for you and Ms. Emmert that I may inform you, Ms. Emmert, and Potomac Edison that that person is not welcome on my property again for any reason? It appears that person has been less than truthful in this matter."
       MEYERS "You can send the email to me at tmeyer1energy.com, I will see that she gets it. I will forward it to where it needs to go,"
       I suspect that TOADIE MEYERS did not do anything with my complaint, and was surprised to have his bluff called in this manner.
Nice going, Todd!  The fake email address adds just the right touch to your bumbling attempts to satisfy this customer.

Why aren't Potomac Edison's meter readers wearing uniforms and driving company trucks?  Because those things cost money!  FirstEnergy's cost cutting now allows any person to pretend to be a meter reader, even those with ulterior motives.  How easy would it be to buy a lime green vest, a blinking light and a fake magnetic sign in order to go door-to-door to see who's home... or not?

Danny is not a liar.  FirstEnergy needs to provide a staff of professional meter readers, not unidentified people driving anonymous vehicles and waving electronic devices.  If you have a question about an unidentified person trespassing on your property that you suspect may be a Potomac Edison meter reader (or someone posing as one), do not approach.  Call Todd and ask him to identify the person 724 838 6650.
Don't you just love that headline?  Hopefully the first of many well-deserved slaps upside the head for this crooked company.

Yesterday, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) ordered that FirstEnergy refund $43.3M to its Ohio distribution affiliates' customers within 60 days.  The PUCO found that Ohio Edison Company, The    Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, and The    Toledo Edison Company had grossly overpaid for renewable energy credits purchased from their own FirstEnergy Solutions affiliate and then recovered these exorbitant costs from consumers.  In other words, FirstEnergy bought something from itself that was overpriced.

That's the good news.  Now for the bad news.

FirstEnergy has vowed to appeal the decision.  Any refunds due to customers will thus be held until the appeals process has exhausted itself.  FirstEnergy intends to continue to pour millions into avoiding refunds due to struggling electric consumers, and if they are successful, consumers will end up footing the bill for the cost of that too, adding insult to injury.  How long will FirstEnergy deny the consumers their refund?  Maybe forever.

This whole thing smacks of a badly executed bit of play acting by PUCO and FirstEnergy executives.  Everyone knows that FirstEnergy has stacked PUCO with its bought and paid for "yes" men.

This investigation has been going on for years.  A decision was expected last week, but PUCO delayed it a week "to allow time to fine tune an order addressing whether the Akron-based utility overpaid for renewable energy credits and passed those excess costs on to customers."  Fine tuning my eye, the decision was delayed until AFTER FirstEnergy's 2Q Earnings Call on Tuesday so that FirstEnergy's executives wouldn't have to suffer through questions about it, and so it wouldn't drag down FirstEnergy's already disappointing financial results for the quarter.  So, FirstEnergy, where are you going to get the money to pay back this $43.3M that you stole from your customers?  Inquiring minds want to know...

PUCO ruled that all the financial information related to its decision must be kept secret.  This prevents the public from doing its own independent calculation of just how much they were ripped off.  Other parties in the case contend that the theft from consumers actually amounted to more like $130M.

So, if FirstEnergy profited by selling RECs to itself in the amount of $130M, a refund of $43M is a small price to pay.  FirstEnergy still comes out ahead by $87M.  The company has actually been rewarded for stealing from its customers.  What PUCO should really be looking into is FirstEnergy's corporate separation issues.  The company is selling things to itself at outrageous prices because ratepayers are paying the bill.   "Arm's length negotiation" means nothing when Tony's left arm is shaking hands with Tony's right arm, just before plunging both arms into YOUR pocket.

It's well known that PUCO is stacked with bought and paid for FirstEnergy puppets.  This decision and its timing evokes imagination of the negotiations that must have occurred between FirstEnergy and PUCO to set it up to look like FirstEnergy was punished, when it was actually rewarded for stealing from the customers PUCO is sworn to protect.

Read about it here.

Meanwhile, FirstEnergy has attacked Ohio's Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency standards as "too expensive for consumers."  Maybe someone needs to look into all FirstEnergy's programs to find out why they are "too expensive."  Is FirstEnergy cheating on EE recovery too?

And the bad juju continues to build...

FirstEnergy got their quarterly grilling this afternoon, after releasing second quarter financial results that were less than impressive.

FirstEnergy's net profits were a minus 39 cents per share. 

FirstEnergy has been slashing operating costs, such as the cost of reading customer meters in West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, but now even that's not enough.  Won't it be interesting to see Potomac Edison try to pull its corporate keister out of the fire while cutting spending on meter services even further?  Maybe they ought to leave one of those open positions available... the one titled "Regulatory Magician."

In order to make up for his own poor management, useless figurehead Tony the Trickster has decided to cut employee benefits like health insurance and pensions, in addition to laying off hundreds of employees.  I didn't hear him making any personal sacrifices though.  Our pal Tony will still rake in $23M in compensation in 2013, to include company-paid financial planning and tax preparation services; personal use of the corporate jet; annual compensation and performance awards.  So while you're struggling to make ends meet or pay your badly estimated electric bill, just remember that the Alexander household feels your pain (in a vague, annoying sort of way kind of like the pain you might feel when getting a fish pedicure).

Despite earlier regulatory puffery where FirstEnergy threatened to back out of the Harrison plant sale unless it got everything it wanted at full price, apparently the company is now involved in settlement talks.

"Briefs and reply briefs were filed by the parties in July and with the conclusion of the regulatory proceeding, the commission may issue an order at any time. We are however, currently in active settlement discussions with all parties in this case, and we are very hopeful that we can reach an resolution through this process."

Going back on your word so soon, FirstEnergy?  I was really looking forward to watching you struggle with that "great asset" after your proposal was denied by the WV PSC.  A settlement would just ruin my fun.  :-( 

More later...

The media's favorite, new energy story centers on how traditional utilities are panicking over the ever-shrinking pool of customers created by on-site renewable generation and energy efficiency.  Now the New York Times has also jumped on the bandwagon.  This is it utility friends, change or die!

The smart companies are finding new niche markets that will secure their longevity.  The stupid companies are wasting a whole bunch of money trying to lobby solar out of existence.  Do I have to start handing out  my own series of Utility Darwin Awards?

I'm so happy that the media has now picked up on something we wrote in June 2012.  In comments to the FERC, consumer groups put utilities on notice:

"Because transmission is such a long-term asset, we must be extremely mindful of how new projects relate to each other to achieve comprehensive energy policy goals. If we continue to approach transmission as a hodgepodge, knee-jerk reaction to serve short-term goals and provide sustainable revenue streams to investor-owned utilities, we risk setting ourselves up for a possible future where a huge investment in transmission becomes the financial responsibility of a shrinking pool of ratepayers. Technological advances and affordability are making it possible for an increasing number of consumers to produce their own power and feed it into the local distribution grid by making their own smart, fuel-free, power producing investments. Energy efficiency and demand management gains continue to shatter future demand projections, further decreasing the need for billions of dollars of investment in new transmission infrastructure."

It only took just over a year to get this observation mainstreamed into the pages of the New York Times.    Perhaps NYT isn't getting timely information while worshipping at the alter of for-profit utilities?