A "media tour" is a public relations tactic used to control the way the media frames a certain story so that only one point of view is presented, and differing viewpoints are not mentioned.  A media tour can take many forms, but one involves schlepping an executive or "expert" around to different reporters in a city or region for face-to-face meetings with news reporters/editors.  The idea is that a reporter will connect with the executive, and more sympathetic press will be created.

Media tours rely on the card stacking propaganda technique whereby only one side of an issue is presented to the audience.  Opposing viewpoints, or facts that don't support the proponent's argument, are omitted from the discussion.  Because the media tour provides a one-sided rendition of fact, the stories produced can often take the form of "puff pieces."  A puff piece is a distorted story that only presents a glowing review of the proponent's product.  In contrast, a balanced article examines both sides of an issue and the reporter talks with leaders on both sides to present their views.

Because it was getting absolutely pummeled in the Missouri media by a fresh-faced amateur, Clean Line's Grain Belt Express project has concocted a new media plan.  The first item appears to be a media tour starring Clean Line president Michael Skelly.  This guy rarely shows up in the localities affected by his planned projects, and when he does he's always described as incredibly arrogant and out-of-touch with local sentiment, priorities and values.  Therefore, to drag him through a media tour in Mayberry, Missouri, informs that Clean Line is in real trouble in the all-so-important court of public opinion.

So, how did it go?  I think this reporter was wise to him.
Mr. Skelly’s visit comes amid an upsurge in opposition to the project.
And the true nature of that opposition is reported:
Opponents recently have banded together in a bid to thwart Grain Belt Express, with some sessions held in Buchanan and Clinton counties. They contend landowners are being coerced into signing easement agreements.
So Skelly starts telling some unbelievable whoppers:
However, Clean Line believes it is gaining more supporters rather than detractors and say the process in Kansas already has erased doubts.

“We’re having those conversations in Missouri,” Mr. Skelly said. “We’re out there having negotiations with landowners ... We find out that people get more comfortable with it.”
Check out the comment from an actual Kansas landowner at the bottom of the article:
I can tell you how negotiations with landowners in eastern Kansas is going. They're telling Skelly where he can put his power line, to put it mildly. The vast majority of landowners in eastern Kansas have resolved to not even negotiate with Clean Line until they get regulatory approval in Missouri and Illinois. The routing approval handed down by the KCC last fall was contingent upon them gaining regulatory approval in these two states. Why would anyone want to sign an easement agreement with a company that will more than likely sell the easement pre-construction to a foreign interest like National Grid, and not even be around when and if construction ever begins.
Erasing doubts.  Right, Mikey. 

But Mikey's media tour to "defend his project" got completely upstaged by the opposition when the Missouri Farm Bureau put out a release about its intention to intervene in the Grain Belt Express case at the Missouri PSC at the same time.  The Farm Bureau opposes the use of eminent domain for this project.

In addition, the university that Clean Line schmoozed with promises of pizza parties in exchange for signatures on a petition supporting the project has taken the initiative to exercise their journalistic muscles with some balanced reporting.

And another opposition op-ed got published.

What was that you said, Mikey?  I can't hear youuuuuuu... and neither can anyone else you were trying to convince with that lame media tour.

I guess he will just have to concentrate on the other tactic Clean Line has recently re-deployed, the "community roundtable" and "governmental and environmental organization" private meetings that attempt to inspire advocacy in unaffected and uninterested populations.

But, don't worry, citizens of Missouri, there are some public meetings where your participation and opinion are valued.


Meanwhile, another Grain Belt Express spokesman recently buggered things up further by cluelessly insulting Missouri lawmakers by stating that they are merely "dabbling
in legislation" that affects his project and he's "paying attention" to their interference with his plans in their state. What an idiot!!!

It's not going to work.  Give up, Clean Line.  You've been bested in Missouri and there is no recovery from public knowledge of your true intentions.

 
 
After two years of Dominion refusing to do any publicity on its Mt. Storm - Doubs transmission line rebuild, rival FirstEnergy has swooped in to take all the credit for the project.

Cue the irony.
While Dominion has been doing a great job with directly affected landowners, the company has completely failed to disseminate any information about its project to the greater community.  As if folks don't notice the access roads, the helicopters, the construction traffic, the road closures, the implosive splicing...  I've gotten mighty tired of having to reassure people that this is not the PATH project, that this is a permitted activity, and that the world is not exploding.  But I do it, not for Dominion, but for the people who are the victims of Dominion's "secret" rebuild project.

Mt. Storm - Doubs (MSD) is a smarter, better solution than building the PATH project ever was.  So, let's get 'er done, fellas,  so that I can stop having this distraction sitting on the edge of a rather full plate
.

The MSD transmission line begins in Mt. Storm, West Virginia
and ends at the Doubs substation in Frederick County, Maryland.  The 96 miles of the line located in West Virginia and Virginia are owned by Dominion.  The last 3 miles of the line in Maryland are owned by FirstEnergy.  Each company is responsible for permitting and constructing its own segment of this project.  Dominion has been working on its portion of the project for more than 4 years.  FirstEnergy only recently got off it's corporate ass to do its part on the last three miles.

Well, yay, FirstEnergy!  You da man!  Fourteen transmission towers and 3 miles of line? 
Awesome!  Put Toad Meyers in a hardhat and push the "on" button.  That should ameliorate your billing and meter reading fiasco, right?

Wrong.

Back in 2010, while the PATH was still madly attempting to get it's 300 mile, 765kV transmission line sited and permitted
on new right of way, Dominion dropped a bombshell on transmission planner PJM Interconnection.  Dominion proposed several alternatives to the PATH project (which was never actually "needed").  One of the alternatives involved rebuilding MSD because of deteriorating towers.  A rebuilt and modernized MSD would increase the thermal capacity of the existing line 66% and make the addition of PATH's capacity unnecessary.  Both PJM and PATH partners FirstEnergy and AEP tried to deny the proposal and insist that PATH was still necessary.   That was the beginning of the end for PATH.  The Virginia SCC got mighty suspicious and ordered PJM to re-run some data on the necessity for PATH if MSD was rebuilt.  Low and behold, the data showed that there really wasn't a need for PATH after all and PJM suspended (and later cancelled) the PATH project.  PATH withdrew all its project applications and went into hiding, after wasting a quarter billion dollars of consumer funding on the project.

Ahhh... good times!  :-)

Now FirstEnergy says "look at me!" and give me credit for modernizing the electric grid.

Kind of makes you wish that someone would drop a load of insulators on Toad's hard hat, doesn't it?


Oh, what would I do if I didn't have this little outlet...

 
 
FirstEnergy's frequent financial fiascos aren't Tony's fault! 

Poor management pointed the finger at everyone else yesterday during some silly Chamber of Gladhanders event.

The quotes in the news article were bad enough, but check out the full text of the fairy tale here.

If Tony actually believes any of this stuff, he needs to exit stage left:

"All of us have been challenged by the economy over the last few years."

Well, except for you and your 1% pals, right?  After all, how much of a struggle is it to survive on $23M a year?  Almost as hard as it is to survive locked out of your job for months because your employer is a union buster, I'm sure.

"For example, in FirstEnergy’s six-state service area, our 2013 utility sales were below 2007 levels – and, during that period, wholesale energy prices dropped by more than 40 percent.  While this isn’t the first time we’ve faced tough economic conditions, this is the longest period of economic stagnation I’ve seen in my 40 years in the industry.  We will ultimately work through this… and as the economy grows, so will the use of electricity."

It's called energy efficiency, Tony.  It's permanent.

"But quite frankly, the challenges we now face from government interference in the electric business are far more intrusive and disruptive, and I believe far more significant to our industry’s future, and to your future.  That’s because whether it impacts our traditional regulated business or our competitive operations, government policy is now aimed at stifling the growth and use of electricity – and picking winners and losers in the competitive marketplace."

Oh, puh-leeze.  FirstEnergy was singing a different tune when the West Virginia government puppets at the PSC "interfered" in FirstEnergy's scheme to sell a dirty, old coal plant to itself and charge West Virginia ratepayers over a billion dollars for it.  Not only was having FirstEnergy's dirty trash dumped on ratepayers intrusive and disruptive to the amount we pay for electricity, it's effect is going to last well into the future.  The mistakes of FirstEnergy's competitive operations got dumped into its regulated business, and that stifles economic growth and use of electricity in West Virginia.  Worst of all, the PSC allowed FirstEnergy to pick winners and losers in the competitive marketplace.  Yeah.  FirstEnergy wins, we lose.

"Or, would you think it is fair to face competition from a supplier who can be indifferent to price… since all of its costs, including a return on investment, are guaranteed?"

What?  Every stinking penny of FirstEnergy's $121M dollar investment in its unneeded PATH project was earning a 14.3% return on investment, and recovery of its sunk costs are guaranteed in the event of abandonment.  FirstEnergy spent generously because it was indifferent to the ultimate quarter billion dollar abandoned price to ratepayers.

In addition, FirstEnergy is well on its way to plunking its "transmission spend" into a whole bunch of dubious projects, just to earn a big return on the investment.  That's not "fair."  Right.

"The industry has invested more than $840 billion… employs more than 500,000 workers… and pays billions of dollars in taxes."

But FirstEnergy earns a return on its investment, treats its workers like garbage, and doesn't pay any taxes!

"Thomas Sowell, a noted economist and commentator at Stanford, summarized a broader trend, now playing out in our nation’s energy policy, when he said, quote: “Much of the social history of the western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.”

In the electric utility industry, energy efficiency, renewable power, distributed generation, micro grids, roof-top solar and demand reduction are examples of what “sounds good” – and while they may all play some role in meeting the energy needs of customers, they are not substitutes for what has worked to sustain a reliable, affordable and environmentally responsible electric system.  And, the mandates and subsidies needed to force their use have far-reaching consequences for our customers and our economy."


Energy efficiency, renewable power, distributed generation, micro grids, roof-top solar and demand reduction sounds like a workable, and inevitable, future to me.  Tony can either get in the backseat or get left behind.  His choice. 

Thomas Sowell quote?  Really?

 
"Consider the fact that you can no longer buy a 100-watt incandescent light bulb in the United States, but you can purchase a 500-horsepower vehicle."

Oh, the horrors!  Wanna bet that Tony is an incandescent bulb hoarder?  He probably sits in his underground bunker with huge stack of them, crying quietly.

"Or that electric customers are being forced to pay additional costs for subsidized, unneeded generation."

Is he talking about Harrison?

"Or that these policies and others – designed to achieve a social agenda that has little, if anything, to do with maintaining electric service – are shifting the fixed costs of the system to customers who can least afford it… and are undermining our nation’s competitive position."

"So why are we engaged in this effort to experiment with the electric system by taking away customer choice… increasing prices… and jeopardizing reliability?"

Why are you doing that to West Virginia, Tony, WHY?

"Quite frankly, I believe state and federal policymakers are manipulating the supply and demand, and distorting markets for electricity, to further advance the “war on coal.”

Well, quite frankly, I believe FirstEnergy is manipulating the supply and demand and distorting the markets for electricity, to further advance corporate profits.

"Some generating units were off-line as natural gas was used to meet higher priorities – and the entire market was affected by a substantial increase in the price of natural gas.  To put this price increase in perspective, it was the equivalent of paying about $85 per gallon of gasoline!"

And one of FirstEnergy's nuke plants was also off-line, right?  And then prices went up, and FirstEnergy charged more than 2 million customers a "polar vortex fee" that's now under investigation by more than one state regulatory commission.

"As President Ronald Reagan stated in a letter to Congress on July 17, 1981, “Our national energy plan should not be a rigid set of production and conservation goals dictated by government… When the free market is permitted to work the way it should, millions of individual choices and judgments will produce the proper balance of supply and demand our economy needs."

Because the only thing more trite than a Ronald Reagan quote is comparing your issue to the Holocaust, right?
 
 
Remember that ambiguous "energy agreement" that New England states signed back in December?  Its meaning is now beginning to take shape, not as a true energy plan, but as a ratepayer-funded transmission developer feeding frenzy.

Instead of "making investments in local renewable generation, combined heat and power, and renewable and competitively-priced heating for buildings that will support local markets and result in additional cost savings, new jobs and economic opportunities, and
environmental gains,"
it looks like some of the states are depending on this "agreement" to satisfy their energy appetites at the expense of the other states.

Here's how the states plan to implement their agreement:
In the next few months, the governors are expected to issue requests for proposals for 1,200 to 3,600 megawatts of transmission capacity that could carry wind and  hydroelectric power from the northern reaches and Canada.
Massachusetts is plowing ahead with legislation ordering utilities to solicit bids for up to 2400 MW of "clean" energy.

Instead of fostering the development of renewable energy within their own borders, or tapping the incredible resource right off their own shores, the energy hog southern New England states plan to import renewables from another country and run transmission lines through the northern New England states to deliver it.

What's in it for the northern states?  Part of the bill!
Massachusetts and Connecticut are driving the push to bring clean hydropower from Canada to help the states meet their clean-energy goals. But the other four states — Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine — agreed through the New England States Committee on Electricity, made up of state utility officials from the six states. They have agreed to share the costs because they would benefit from the overall reduction in energy costs, although the details of how that would be done remain to be worked out.
Northern state landowners will also be required to sacrifice privately owned land or be subject to eminent domain condemnation and takings.  They will also have to live with these 200-foot tall extension cords zig-zagging through their communities and unspoiled vistas.

Because Massachusetts and Connecticut don't want any of that nastiness mucking up their views.


This "agreement" was never about true diversification of generation.  It's about increasing centralized generation and reliance on imported energy.  And it's about corporate schemes to make money by smoothing the way to build more long distance transmission. 

"Many of the proposals have been talked about in utility circles for some time..."

Of course they have, but the transmission developers needed cover to spring their plans on a wary public, and a way to broadly socialize the costs so that the burden on any one customer would be overlooked as minor.

The transmission developers and their pet Governors are even rewriting history, putting the egg before the chicken by pretending that the past winter's delivery issues were the impetus for the "agreement" that was signed before the problems occurred.
Adding to the charlie foxtrot are Big Green, who sanctimoniously oppose this new transmission plan, worrying that it "could crash the regional power market and kill off other needed energy-generating resources."  Funny... these are the same green hypocrites who are cheering Clean Line Energy's plan to cover the Midwest with wind turbines and HVDC transmission lines.  No worries about that crashing the regional power market and killing off other needed energy-generating resources.  Right.

So, a whole stable of eager transmission developers are chomping at the bit to have their project selected as the winner of the ratepayer-guaranteed profits.  Several proposals have been made.  In addition to stupid overhead projects like the parasitic Northern Pass, Anbaric has proposed a project that it says will be buried, both on land and offshore.
A 300-mile power cable would be buried on land in Maine and then run across the Atlantic Ocean floor to greater Boston under a proposal to tap Canada’s plentiful hydropower to meet the needs of power-hungry southern New England.
Maybe Anbaric thinks that battling the opposition that is sure to develop against an overhead project isn't worth the time, money and headaches, preferring to spend a little more to bury its project for fast approval, while the competition languishes for years on the regulatory battlefield.  Anbaric could teach some other "clean" energy developers a lesson.  But then again, Anbaric is counting on ratepayers to finance its project, including the extra cost to bury the cable. 

Other "clean" energy companies operating under a merchant model are caught in a desperate cost control game in order to keep their projects cost competitive.  Merchant transmission projects depend on energy markets for their existence.  If a merchant transmission owner can cover its own expenses to ship energy long distance and make a profit, then it is economic to build.  However, if a merchant transmission company's cost of service increases because it has to spend more to bury cable to make landowners happy, then it is no longer economic and will not be built.  Sounds fair, right?  But, what if the merchant developer wanted the power of eminent domain to take land cheaply for an overhead route, instead of having to please landowners during a fair, open market right of way negotiation process that could include the requirement to spend more money burying the line?  That would be the best of both worlds for the transmission developer -- depending on the artificial influence of eminent domain to keep its project costs in check to ensure market competitiveness.  This is perhaps the single biggest flaw in Clean Line Energy's plan.  Merchant projects should NEVER be granted a utility's eminent domain authority because they are not needed for reliability or economic purposes and depend completely on the economics of the market for existence, therefore they should also be forced to compete in unfettered real estate markets to bring their projects to reality.  If it costs too much to obtain right of way in a free market, then the project is not economic.

But, I digress.

New England has a lot of work to do to craft a real, sustainable energy plan that does not depend on inflicting social and environmental injustice on people in other states or other countries.

the states will hold public meetings to present the region's plan in preparation for bidding process. The meetings will include stakeholders, including environmental groups and developers.
It is unclear whether these "meetings" will include citizens, landowners and ratepayers, the most important "stakeholders" of all.
 
 
That's what former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu had to say about claims that distributed solar was making the grid unstable.
“That’s another bullshit argument,” said Chu, a Nobel Prize winning physicist who served as energy secretary from 2009 to April, 2013. Solar installations don’t threaten grid stability until they approach 20 percent of the customer base, Chu said.
Finally released from officialdom, Chu is no longer telling utilities what they want to hear, but what they need to hear.  Feels, good, doesn't it, Dr. Chu?

Chu has some sage advice for utilities:  To ward off the inevitable "death spiral," they need to get into the rooftop solar business.

Chu said his advice has been met by utilities one of three ways:
“Tell us what to do.”
“Deer in the headlights.”
“We’re going to fight this.”
What was your utility's response?

Isn't it refreshing that former high ranking energy officials are loosening up and telling the truth now that they can?  Former FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff is also under fire for giving away energy industry "secrets" about the vulnerability of our centralized electric generation and transmission system.

This isn't just some random crackpot who overdosed on the Metamucil, but two guys who had their finger on the pulse of our electric system for years.  It's rather telling that the industry and governmental officials are screaming foul when two of their own finally break rank and spill.  The regulated and the regulator are way too cozy in this country.  Denying the advice of those who know the system best, when they are finally free to give it, is a head in the sand approach to disaster. 
 
 
Customers in the deregulated states of Illinois and Ohio are up in arms about FirstEnergy's plan to stick it to them with a $5 - $15 one-time charge to pay for what it says are "unexpected costs incurred during the polar vortex."

"FirstEnergy Solutions is preparing to bill about 2 million of its 2.7 million retail customers a surcharge for expenses the company will soon have to pay for reserve power it needed when temperatures plummeted below zero."  2,000,000 x $15 = $30M

That's $30M being transferred from consumers pockets into the pockets of FirstEnergy.  A company spokeswoman opined, “We consider that pretty nominal.”

I wonder if she also considers CEO Tony Alexander's annual $23M compensation "nominal."  If the big guy took a pay cut, it would almost cover the cost of the "polar vortex," wouldn't it?


Crain's described the reason for the charge like this:

"The company confirmed that it will impose a one-time charge of between $5 and $15 on customer bills in June to recover a portion of its power-purchasing costs made through PJM Interconnection LLC's regional grid, which serves 61 million people in all or part of 13 states from northern Illinois to the Mid-Atlantic, as well as Washington. In January, PJM — which acts as a market referee for power generators — lifted caps on the price natural gas-fired power plant operators could charge as the cost of gas soared due to record demand, and electricity consumption likewise spiked.
"

The Plain Dealer described the reason for the charge like this:

"When the arctic blast hit the region in early January, demand for electricity spiked - and simultaneously dozens of power plants failed because of the weather, mechanical problems or because of fuel problems.

About 20 percent of the PJM region's power plant capacity went down, he said, threatening the stability of grid. And because the cold was widespread and lasted many days, PJM grid operators found that they could not import power from other areas.

Wholesale power prices then skyrocketed. PJM reduced voltages by 5 percent, asked for voluntary conservation and even briefly considered rolling brownouts to avoid a grid collapse and blackout.

But PJM also ordered more expensive power plants to begin generating, just to keep the system stable, he said
." 

But here's another reason:

FERC compounded the problem by lifting a $1000 price cap and allowing these greedy corporate entities to further game PJM's malfunctioning markets.  FERC has allowed generators to charge whatever they want, and is in denial about any "harm" that may result: 

"FERC said PJM's proposal met the commission's criteria for approving waivers, as doing so would remedy a 'concrete problem,' would not harm third parties and would be limited in scope."


It's really not sounding very "limited in scope," is it?


In addition, FirstEnergy ended up purchasing so much expensive power because many of its generation plants were out of service.  Where does FirstEnergy's fault in that end and the consumer's responsibility for the charges begin?


Not all electric companies are passing these "polar vortex" charges on to their customers, however.  But, FirstEnergy is shuckin' and jivin' like a champ
on a "special website" the company has set up to serve you some koolaid, as well as in the media:

"
Francis of FirstEnergy Solutions declined to say how much her company has been billed by PJM, except to describe the amount as unprecedented. She said the company is passing on only a portion of the charge to customers."

FirstEnergy also said the company has no idea how much it will have to pay
.

"Ms. Francis declined to say how much in unanticipated vortex-related costs FirstEnergy Solutions must pay, saying that figure was confidential. FirstEnergy will know next month precisely how much the surcharge will be, she said."

Yes, it seems that the real cost to FirstEnergy is going
to remain a deep, dark secret, not even revealed to the company's investors.

That's because:


"We thought it was necessary to pass through these costs to customers where contracts allow,” FirstEnergy spokeswoman Diane Francis said."

Necessary?  FirstEnergy thought using the fine print in its contracts to stick it to customers in deregulated states was so very funny during its last earnings call.

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
Yeah. Hi, good afternoon.

Tony Alexander - President & CEO
Hi, Steve.

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
Hi, Tony. I guess this question might be for Leila. I think you mention the PJM ancillary cost that some of those get pass through the customers?

Leila Vespoli - EVP, Markets, and Chief Legal Officer
Yes.

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
Is that just in certain states or how does that work? How do we know which areas get pass through or not?

Leila Vespoli - EVP, Markets, and Chief Legal Officer
It is pursuant to contract in a specific language within the contract so it is not a state by state kind of thing, Steve.

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
Okay. So it is certain types of your customer classes?

Leila Vespoli - EVP, Markets, and Chief Legal Officer
In?

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
In a retail business?

Leila Vespoli - EVP, Markets, and Chief Legal Officer
It is not even the same throughout particular classes.

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
Okay.

Leila Vespoli - EVP, Markets, and Chief Legal Officer
It is as that contract language was developed for that particular customer or grouping of customer. So there is no way I can even give it to you by segment.

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
Okay. So some of the cause when you get this data come up will be cause that you absorb but some of those would be available to essentially pass through your contracts to the customers?

Leila Vespoli - EVP, Markets, and Chief Legal Officer
Correct.

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
And in the future, do most of your contracts have that clause, so new ones do or not older ones or vice versa?

Leila Vespoli - EVP, Markets, and Chief Legal Officer
I think it would be safe to say that we are going to be adding that language where we can in the future.

Steve Fleishman - Wolfe
Got it. Okay. Thank you. Just want to clarify that.

Leila Vespoli - EVP, Markets, and Chief Legal Officer
Okay.
So, if you don't want to get stuck with these kind of charges in your deregulated electric bill again, do like the City of Rockford and look for a new supplier ASAP.
 
 
The Missouri Landowners Alliance has retained excellent counsel to defend its interests against the intrusion of Texas-based Grain Belt Express.

After a long career with a big utility, attorney Paul Agathen brings a wealth of experience to the Alliance's legal team.  Paul has gone on the offensive with a Protest of the Grain Belt Express Application for Negotiated Rate Authority at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a Formal Complaint before the Missouri Public Service Commission alleging that Grain Belt Express has violated and continues to violate the Commission's rules regarding ex parte communications.

First, let's take a look at the FERC Protest.  As a merchant (self-funded) transmission project, Grain Belt Express must concoct its own rate scheme to recover its cost of building and operating its proposed transmission line from customers.  GBE's rate scheme is under the jurisdiction of the FERC and must adhere to FERC's rules, including its non-discriminatory open access transmission rules.  GBE's rate scheme proposes that the company be allowed to negotiate rates with willing transmission customers in a open and non-discriminatory bidding process.  FERC's job is to review and approve GBE's proposed negotiation process BEFORE it occurs.

And, according to the protest, that's just the problem.  Although GBE hasn't "officially" initiated its "open season" for potential customers, GBE has already started soliciting interest from its preferred customers via a "Request for Information" directed solely toward wind project developers in Kansas.  Directing its solicitation to only wind developers discriminates against other forms of electric generation, such as solar or gas, that could potentially bid for capacity on GBE's transmission line.  This discrimination violates FERC's open access transmission rules.

GBE has been doing an elaborate fan dance with FERC, promising to provide access to all forms of generation, while touting its project as a "wind only" transmission line and soliciting interest from wind developers.

The Alliance's Protest asks that the Commission determine that GBE's proposed solicitation of customers is unduly discriminatory and dismiss GBE's application for negotiated rates.

Without negotiated rate authority from FERC, GBE will have no way to collect its cost of service.  No money, no GBE.

Moving on to the Missouri PSC Complaint, the Alliance alleges that GBE has been violating the Commission's ex parte rules.  Ex parte means "one side only" and refers to communication between the decisional authority and only one of two (or more) parties in a case.  It's like one person getting to have a private conversation with the judge in order to sway his opinion against the other person.

But that's not exactly the way the Alliance alleges GBE has violated this rule.  The ex parte rules state:
It is improper for any person interested in a case before the commission to attempt to sway the judgment of the commission by undertaking, directly or indirectly, outside the hearing process to bring pressure or influence to bear upon the commission, its employees, or the presiding officer assigned to the proceedings.
The Complaint alleges that GBE violated this rule through its extensive public relations campaign intended to influence public opinion through statements on its websites, the gathering of boiler plate letters of support for its project, public statements and media interviews, and meetings with local government officials.

The Alliance is not objecting to GBE providing legitimate information to the public:
The Alliance is not objecting here to  everything on the two Grain Belt websites.
It recognizes, for example, that it is perfectly acceptable for Grain Belt to provide  nonargumentative factual descriptions of the Line and its supporting towers; to include maps of the alternative routes of the Line; to provide information for potential suppliers of
component parts for the line; and to address any other matter which is not likely to be a
contested issue at the forthcoming  Commission hearings.
The Alliance is objecting to GBE's elaborate public relations campaign:
As is apparent from all of the above, Grain Belt has engaged and continues to engage in an elaborate PR campaign designed to sway public opinion on matters which it will litigate in the forthcoming Commission proceedings. Their campaign is extensive, it is expensive, and it is professionally managed in all of its various aspects. They have even incorporated Facebook and Twitter into their PR arsenal, and added links in their website to a number of video presentations.

For example, it its Application to the FERC for approvals regarding the proposed Line, Grain Belt refers to their video "that describes the need for the Project and how Grain Belt Express will bring significant economic benefit to states through much-needed transmission expansion for new wind energy projects .... " (Exh. 23, p. 8).

This description of the Grain Belt PR efforts is not intended in the pejorative sense at all. The Grain Belt publicity campaign is undoubtedly effective, and will no doubt accomplishing two of its principal goals: to sway public opinion on the Line in Grain Belt's favor, and to thereby convince members of the public to sign on to the computer-generated letters of support which Grain Belt will file with the Commission.

The letters may have no effect at all with the Commission. However, the ultimate impact of Grain Belt's efforts should not be the deciding question here. If Grain Belt has violated the Commission's ex parte rules, their conduct should not be excused by some sort of "no harm, no foul" escape clause.

We may never know how many people in Missouri were exposed to and influenced by Grain Belt's one-sided presentation on issues which they themselves will raise later at the Commission. Nor could the Alliance ever hope to present its own position to all of the people reached by Grain Belt. Grain Belt has been waging an extensive PR campaign for about four years, and will likely win that battle.

Just how Grain Belt has gone about doing so is illustrated in materials presented at a recent conference in Houston, where participants spent two days learning various techniques for "selling" a transmission project to the public.
A copy of the initial brochure for that  conference is attached here as Exhibit 18.
As noted on the first page, the conference was held this past January, and was to be
hosted by Grain Belt's parent company- Clean Line. As noted at page 3 of that brochure, the keynote speaker at the conference was to be the Executive Vice-President of Clean Line.

According to the brochure, this is a sample of what those involved with building and siting transmission lines were to learn in Houston:

• How best to utilize social media to "engage the public", including who you can expect to reach, and how to go about doing it. (Exh. 18, p. 4) Not surprisingly, an expert in social media from Clean Line was to be one of the two speakers on this subject.
• How to deal with people disparagingly referred to as "NIMBYs" and "BANANAs". Ironically, the audience at that session was also told that a driving force behind the emergence of community-based opposition groups has been the push to build more infrastructure to support more renewable energy. (Exh. 18, p. 4).
• In "Marketing to Mayberry" the attendees would learn, among other things, how to talk down to people in small town, rural America, by communicating with them "in a conversational tone rather than corporate tone ... "  Presumably, these techniques were designed with the citizens of rural northern Missouri in mind.
• "How to frame and 'sell' infrastructure projects ... ", and how to use "effective
strategies and tactics, and share in critique of on-camera training ... "
• How to deal with the media, including:  "Getting into a reporter's head"; "How to answer questions you don't want to be asked"; and how to "position" your message to the media. (Exh. 18, p. 6)
• Finally, the Executive Vice President from Clean Line was to explain "how to ensure that our stakeholders feel they are informed and part of the process". (
emphasis added). Apparently, it is not important to Clean Line that stakeholders actually be informed, or actually be involved in the process, so long as they are somehow made to feel that they are.

The Complaint asks the Commission to find that GBE violated the ex parte rules, order it to revise its websites to conform to the rules, "that the letters of support included by Grain Belt with its Application for
Commission approval of the Line constitute the fruit of a poisonous website, and be therefore stricken from the record in that case,"
and other just and reasonable relief.

Everyone needs to read this Complaint.  The uneven playing field on which transmission owners and the public who oppose them do battle has been clearly defined as unfair.  This is the new normal of transmission opposition, so transmission developers may as well get used to it and turn over a new leaf to play fair.
 
 
There's been lots of discussion in the news over the past year about the "disruptive challenges" increased deployment of distributed generation resources, such as onsite solar, pose to traditional utility business models.  Even the Edison Electric Institute publicized a report urging utilities to devise a way to continue to collect monthly payments from you, even when you disconnect from the grid.

ITC Holdings Corp. builds, owns and operates transmission.  Unlike other utilities that also own generation or distribution (your "local" electric company), transmission is all ITC does.

More distributed generation means less transmission.  ITC must have found that pretty terrifying, because the company recently "...conducted research, including an online survey of national audits and in-depth interviews with business leaders on grid and transmission development, to measure whether businesses and the general public understand the complex and significant economic benefits that stem from a fully functioning electric transmission grid."
And wouldn't you know it, "[t]he research found that 99 percent of Americans polled think the grid is important to the United States, the national economy and their local economy. Ninety-one percent of Americans agree that investing in transmission will help local, regional, and national businesses grow and succeed. Further, 89 percent of Americans included in the ITC Holdings research believe that investing in the electric grid will benefit consumers by increasing competition and lowering electricity prices."

Oh, poppycock, ITC!  It's all in how you ask the questions, right?  A "hired gun," or advocacy survey is carefully constructed to lead the participants to the desired responses through carefully worded questions, false choices, or limiting possible answers.

Let's take a look at ITC's "survey:"
  • The survey included an upfront, conclusive statement before any questions were asked of the 800 sample "Americans":
After reading the following short description about the electricity transmission grid, nearly all Americans (99%) think that the grid is important to the United States, the national economy and their local economy.

"As you may know, an important part of our nation’s infrastructure is the electricity transmission grid. The grid is made up of transmission towers and power lines that deliver electricity from power generating sources to the distribution network and the millions of businesses and consumers across the country. It’s often useful to view the transmission grid as the “backbone” to the country’s electricity infrastructure. The pieces that make up the transmission grid are very old and outdated. More than 70% of the nation’s transmission lines are at least 25 years old."
  • Questions consisted of asking participants if they agreed or disagreed with the following statements:
Investing in the electricity transmission grid will ensure reliable access to power, especially during severe storms, for consumers and businesses.
Investing in the electricity transmission grid will help America’s economy by promoting job creation and economic growth.
Investing in the electricity transmission grid will help regional local, regional and national businesses grow and succeed.
Investing in the electricity transmission grid will increase competition by facilitating
access to more efficient forms of energy and thereby reducing costs.
Investing in the electricity transmission grid is important to national security.
Everyone benefits from investments in the electricity transmission grid.
Investing in the electricity transmission grid will accelerate access to all types of power.
  • Participants were asked "Why do you think the United States should invest in the electricity transmission grid? Select all that apply."  Why is it assumed that all participants think the U.S. should invest in the grid?  And why isn't one of those choices "To make my electric rates go up while providing corporate welfare for transmission companies?"  Instead choices were limited (and surprisingly sappy):
To lower electricity prices, helping to save consumers like me money
To reduce the number of power outages, especially during severe storms, making electricity more reliable
To make a difference for future generations, including my children and grandchildren
To give businesses more reliable power and make our economy stronger
To minimize the impact of cyber security risks
Here's what ITC concluded from the above question:
• The majority of Americans (61%) prefer investing in the electricity transmission grid rather than building power-generating facilities to increase energy efficiency.
The majority of Americans would rather give their money to ITC every month than invest it in their own power producing equipment or energy efficiency improvements that lower their bills overall?  That is a plainly ridiculous conclusion.  What was in the koolaid they handed out?
  • For some reason, a majority of ITC's "Americans" think that the government invests in the grid from some magic pool of money that doesn't cost the "Americans" anything:
Despite agreement around the benefits of investing in the grid, Americans are divided over who is primarily responsible for actually investing in it.
• More than half (56%) say either federal (Congress) or local/state government is responsible for investing in the grid, while a quarter say electric utility companies are. Small percentages think that President Obama, consumers, or private investors are responsible.
Only a small percentage of these "Americans" know the truth -- that consumers pay for grid expansion in their monthly electric bills.  Oh, if only we really did have a magic grid expansion investment fairy, then there would have been no need for this "survey!"
Now you know how ITC reached its desired conclusion that "Americans" want ITC to build even more transmission to increase corporate dependence and profits!  Then ITC turned this into a white paper for use in trying to convince the federal government to create laws mandating more transmission.  We don't need more transmission!  We need more generation near point of use and less unreliable and expensive transmission!

Since ITC's "survey" was scientifically carried out online, let's undertake our own online survey to see if we can arrive at the same results as ITC's pollster.

    Americans Online Transmission Survey

 
 
Do you suppose our friend Mark Lawlor is humming the Cheers theme song this morning?

He should be, after a national news story about his transmission line project got the name of the project wrong.
Sometimes you wanna go...
Where everybody knows your naaaaaaaame
And they're always glad you caaaaaaaame...

Ain't that right, Waldo?
Check out one of the hundreds of identical AP stories that have been distributed coast-to-coast:  Wind Power Line Proposal Irks Some Midwest Farmers.

The story pits "Green Belt Express Clean Line" against "some farmers" that don't want the transmission line on their land.  But, it's more than that... the farmers hold title to the land "Green Belt" desperately wants, and they're not giving in.  This situation has resulted in an epic battle over a private company's use of eminent domain for its speculative, privately-owned, for profit project.  This isn't just "some farmers," but thousands of landowners all over the Midwest who are opposing all of the Clean Line projects.
Many along the route worry that a private company could simply take over land that in some cases has been in families for generations.

"We have sacrificed everything for this land," said Jennifer Gatrel, 33, who, along with her husband, Jeff, farms a 430-acre cattle ranch in western Missouri. "We don't go on vacation. We don't go out to eat. Everything we have is tied up in this land. The idea that somebody can come in and take it from us is appalling and it goes against what it is to be an American."

Lawlor said the company prefers not to use eminent domain and wants to reach agreements with landowners. He also cited studies showing that power lines and towers have no effect on property values.

"When they sit down and talk to us and get the information about the reality of the project, I think we're succeeding in clearing the air," he said.

Not as far as Gatrel is concerned.

"There are already significant barriers to farming," Gatrel said. "This would be another major barrier."
Lawlor is only kidding himself about succeeding in clearing the air.  Opposition to his project is growing by leaps and bounds and nobody seems willing to sit down with him in the first place.  Maybe he needs to offer some free ham?  Pulled pork?  The truth?

"Negotiating" with landowners while threatening them with eminent domain condemnation is not negotiation.  As the Illinois Farm Bureau stated in their ICC brief:
In addition, if granted § 8-503 relief, what Rock Island characterizes as “voluntary” easement negotiations with farmers will actually sound something like “Rock Island has been directed by the Commission to construct a transmission line on an approve[d] route, which crosses your land.” Characterizing the easement negotiations as voluntary under these facts is kind of like giving someone the option of jumping off of a cliff before you push them.
The AP reporter did about as good a job fact checking the snowstorm Lawlor dumped on him as he did listening to the name of the project.

But, all press is good press, and this story moves the struggle for landowner rights to the national stage, where the truth is revealed:
The biggest hurdle for these projects is their intent to use eminent domain for pecuniary gain. Traditionally, utilities have been bestowed with eminent domain to build transmission for reliability reasons. But these "renewable" projects are not necessary for reliability or economic reasons -- they are solely an attempt to increase the percentage of "renewable" energy consumed in far-flung areas remote from the generator. And further, these particular "Clean" Line projects are an attempt to corner the market on "renewable" energy so that urban communities are precluded from developing local renewables. Instead of investing in our own communities, "Clean" Line proposes that we send all our energy dollars to midwestern states and into "Clean" Line's pockets. "Clean" Line has publicly stated that its transmission line will add considerable cost to the energy delivered and has provided no proof that the energy it proposes to transport will be economic or competitive with local renewables in the east. Stating that "Clean" Line will "drive down electricity costs" is disingenuous when "Clean" Line has no idea how much its delivered product will cost. It is just as likely that "Clean" Line will drive up electricity costs. "Clean" Line calls itself a merchant transmission company. A merchant transmission company depends on the free market to make itself competitive. "Clean" Line is depending on eminent domain to keep its cost of building the project down (cost of project shows up in the cost of delivered energy) and on renewable portfolio standards in other states to force utilities to purchase its product at any cost. In addition, this company has made noises about passing the cost of its project on to captive ratepayers, or using federal eminent domain authority to override state authority to site and permit its projects. Not the actions of a company depending on fair market competition for its success or failure! Right now, there is no market for "Clean" Line. There are no generators, and no purchase agreements. Opposition to "Clean" Line by affected communities and elected officials is increasing, and with each new opponent, the chance of success decreases just a little bit more.
When is "Green Belt Express Clean Line" going to quit dumping its investors' money down this rat hole?
 
 
Much to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's chagrin, Wall Street Journal's Rebecca Smith continues exposing our dangerously centralized grid's foibles.

WSJ published another article yesterday that said "[t]he U.S. could suffer a coast-to-coast blackout if saboteurs knocked out just nine of the country's 55,000 electric-transmission substations on a scorching summer day, according to a previously unreported federal analysis."

To read the article, plug this phrase into Google: "U.S. Risks National Blackout From Small-Scale Attack" If the WSJ really wanted the public to be aware of their investigative journalism coup and foment an army of misguided public outrage, it shouldn't stick all its articles behind an easily avoided pay wall.  Just a suggestion.

The article seems to have drawn its information from "sensitive" FERC documents:
A memo prepared at FERC in late June for Mr. Wellinghoff before he briefed senior officials made several urgent points. "Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer," said the memo, which was reviewed by the Journal. That lengthy outage is possible for several reasons, including that only a handful of U.S. factories build transformers.
Acting Chairman (woman?) Cheryl LaFleur was quick to reach out and slap WSJ for its impudence by issuing a statement that read, in part:
"Today’s publication by The Wall Street Journal of sensitive information about the grid undermines the careful work done by professionals who dedicate their careers to providing the American people with a reliable and secure grid. The Wall Street Journal has appropriately declined to identify by name particularly critical substations throughout the country. Nonetheless, the publication of other sensitive information is highly irresponsible. While there may be value in a general discussion of the steps we take to keep the grid safe, the publication of sensitive material about the grid crosses the line from transparency to irresponsibility, and gives those who would do us harm a roadmap to achieve malicious designs. The American people deserve better."

In response to the WSJ's last grid vulnerability expose, FERC Commissioners issued statements on February 20 designed to quell panic and a rush to throw money -- your money -- at the security risk posed by our interconnected grid that is currently being designed to support Enron-style energy trading.  Only one of the Commissioners showed an understanding of the real underlying problem.  Commissioner Norris noted that efforts to decentralize the grid would address resiliency:
“To address physical vulnerability, it is also important to focus our efforts on modernizing our electric grid. Building the grid of the future will play a key role in addressing multiple security and reliability threats or situations. We should look to further deployment of phasor measurement units, wide-area management systems and enhanced situational awareness. Furthering efforts in the development and deployment of microgrids and smart grid technology will also greatly assist in addressing grid resiliency. These efforts, along with system-wide planning, are just a few examples of how we can increase our ability to make the grid more reliable and efficient.
Last week, FERC directed NERC to "address physical security risks and vulnerabilities related to the reliable operation of the bulk-power system."
But the WSJ plowed right on ahead with their next article, which fails to even mention decentralization.  Instead, the WSJ focused on more centralized "solutions."
Because it is difficult to build new transmission routes, existing big substations are becoming more crucial to handling electricity.
This isn't about building new transmission and "safer" substations to further centralize our energy production and delivery system, but about decentralizing by building more small-scale, fuel-free generation at point of use.

But that doesn't sell newspapers, fill days and days of Faux News programming, or plump up corporate balance sheets.  When are these people going to start telling YOU the truth?