Lots of big, interesting Sunday news stories this week!

First, the front page Washington Post story about utilities' campaign against rooftop solar.  This issue has been swirling about since 2012.  In June of that year, several consumer groups got together to file comments on FERC's transmission incentives docket in reply to Edison Electric Institute's holier-than-thou bullying to get its own way to continue, and even increase, incentive (subsidies) for new transmission builds.
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.
Nothing like a wake-up slap across the face, eh, EEI?

In September of 2012, EEI held a pow-wow to talk about how they were going to manage this strange, new world where their control of the electricity-consuming public was going to erode with alarming alacrity.  Instead of approaching the problem honestly, EEI preferred to use its power, money and influence to try to find ways to kill distributed generation, instead of getting on the wagon and finding a way to turn it into a profitable business model.

In early 2013, EEI produced a white paper addressing what it termed "disruptive challenges" heralding doom and gloom for their stable of investor owned utilities.


And the battle lines were drawn.

Solar advocates have created their own issues, with polarized insistence that their use of the distribution system to sell their excess back to the utilities should be free, and that they provide so many benefits to the system that they should actually be paid more for avoided costs.

Because utilities are so bloated and focused on building more infrastructure from which they derive their profits, a shrinking pool of ratepayers increases the costs to the ones who don't install solar.  Utilities crying about the burden placed on "the poor" is
ludicrous and hard to stomach.

There has been no middle ground, and messaging on both sides is pretty ridiculous.  Too much rhetoric causes increased polarization that stymies progress and the eventual realization of our energy future.  Can't we get it together here, and effect a reasonable compromise?

Otherwise, the utilities can continue their self-destructive initiative to have it all, while solar advocates can disconnect from the public utility grid and build their own system to share their excess.  Seems kinda silly, doesn't it?  Where's King Solomon when you need him?
 
 
Clean Line President Michael Skelly recently told a Tulsa World reporter that his company is going through a federal permitting process for its Plains & Eastern Clean Line because the project wants to cross three states.  (watch the video)

There's no such thing as a "federal permitting process" for high-voltage electric transmission lines!

Skelly calls the U.S. Department of Energy the "permitting agency."  However, what he's referring to is Clean Line's application to have the U.S. DOE "participate" in its for-profit transmission venture undertaken outside the normal regional transmission planning process.

Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Third Party Finance, allows federal power marketing agencies to "participate" in transmission projects that are built within their territories.  As noted in the title of the statute, Sec. 1222 projects must be financed by third parties (in this case, Clean Line's private venture capitalists).  Section 1222 does not give U.S. DOE authority to PERMIT or site transmission projects.  It simply allows "participation."  In Clean Line's case, the company is only interested in DOE's "participation" in order to anoint itself with the power marketing agency's federal eminent domain authority to condemn and take right of way from private landowners.
DOE and Southwestern understand and agree that their ability to acquire through condemnation proceedings property necessary for the development,  construction and operation of the Project is one of the primary reasons for Clean Line’s interest in developing the Project with DOE and Southwestern and through the use of EPAct 2005 section 1222.
DOE and Southwestern agree that, if the Secretary of Energy ultimately decides upon the conclusion of such evaluation as DOE and Southwestern deem appropriate that (i) the Project complies with section 1222, and (ii) to participate in the Project’s development pursuant to section 1222, then, DOE and Southwestern will use their condemnation authority as may be necessary and appropriate for the timely, cost-effective and commercially reasonable development, construction and operation of the Project.
Section 1222 is not purposed to "permit" transmission lines when a state has denied a permit.
d) Relationship to other laws
Nothing in this section affects any requirement of--
(1) any Federal environmental law, including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.);
(2) any Federal or State law relating to the siting of energy facilities; or
(3) any existing authorizing statutes.
It simply allows DOE to "participate" in designing, developing, constructing, operating, maintaining or owning transmission.  It permits DOE to assume liability for the actions of a third party in order to utilize federal power marketing authority for benefit of transmission that is not part of or necessary to their systems.
The Secretary, acting through WAPA or SWPA, or both, may design, develop, construct, operate, maintain, or own, or participate with other entities in designing, developing, constructing, operating, maintaining, or owning, a new electric power transmission facility and related facilities (“Project”) located within any State in which WAPA or SWPA operates if the Secretary, in consultation with the applicable Administrator, determines that the proposed Project--
(1)(A) is located in an area designated under section 216(a) of the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 824p(a)] and will reduce congestion of electric transmission in interstate commerce; or
(B) is necessary to accommodate an actual or projected increase in demand for electric transmission capacity;
(2) is consistent with--
(A) transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.]) if any, or approved regional reliability organization; and
(B) efficient and reliable operation of the transmission grid;
(3) will be operated in conformance with prudent utility practice;
(4) will be operated by, or in conformance with the rules of, the appropriate (A) Transmission Organization, if any, or (B) if such an organization does not exist, regional reliability organization; and
(5) will not duplicate the functions of existing transmission facilities or proposed facilities which are the subject of ongoing or approved siting and related permitting proceedings.
There's simply nothing in Section 1222 that authorizes DOE to issue a "permit" for new transmission lines that have been denied by a state.  If a state created laws requiring merchant transmission projects to receive a permit from the state before beginning construction, Section 1222 is a worthless exercise in federal usurpation of state authority.  Transmission siting and permitting is state-jurisdictional.  The federal government has no authority to override state laws.

Clean Line is currently trying to get the DOE to agree to accept liability for its actions and "participate" in its project.  Before making a decision whether or not to "participate," DOE is undertaking an Environmental Impact Statement, which is required for any federal actions that affect the environment.  In the video, Skelly encourages people to "weigh in" during the Draft EIS comment window (ends March 19).  Skelly tells people to comment whether or not they like the project and where it should be routed.  This is wrong.  Comments should be directed around aspects of the draft EIS, which examines the environmental and social factors of the project.  There will be a separate 45-day comment period for the public to "weigh in" on the DOE's decision whether or not to "participate" in the project, which will begin AFTER the EIS is completed.  Skelly wants you to think that the EIS is your only avenue to comment on Section 1222.  It's not, but you should comment on it nonetheless by going to this link.

Skelly also goes on about state and local property taxes, claiming that localities will benefit to the tune of $20K per mile, or half a million bucks a year.  How did he do that math, considering each county has a different amount of proposed line mileage?  He also forgets to mention that Clean Line has pursued and received tax abatement in a number of states and localities for periods of up to ten years.   That will be 10 years of Clean Line using your local roads, infrastructure and services to construct and operate its project before you receive a dime of reimbursement for what it costs you to support it.

Skelly also tells the reporter that "the grid is maxed out" and Clean Line is "a vital piece of the puzzle to get wind online."  Not so.  The grid is not "maxed out."  It is a carefully planned machine that is operated by regional transmission organizations and balancing authorities.  These authorities undertake long-term planning that allows for needed expansion of our grid.  If wind farms, or other generators, submit requests to interconnect to the grid, they get placed in a queue that allows the authority to consider new generation and how transmission may be needed and planned to move the generation to where it is needed in within the region.

Clean Line has bypassed this process and is proposing its project without any recognized need for the transmission or generation it proposes to bring online.  Section 1222 requires that any project in which the DOE "participates" be consistent with, and not duplicative of, any regional plan.
IS CONSISTENT WITH:  transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.]) if any, or approved regional reliability organization; and (5) will not duplicate the functions of existing transmission facilities or proposed facilities which are the subject of ongoing or approved siting and related permitting proceedings.
Clean Line fails this very important stipulation in Sec. 1222.  Needed transmission is already being undertaken by our regional authorities.  Clean Line is unnecessary duplication intended to stimulate construction of generation purposed only to export power between regions.  It also fails to present any evidence that there are buyers for this power in other regions.  It's just not true that new generation cannot be built without Clean Line providing a way to get it to "market," considering there is no identified market.  Clean Line is in a chicken/egg scenario, supposing if it builds its project that generation and customers will develop, however, Clean Line cannot build without generators and customers developing FIRST.  So, which came first?  Clean Line, or generators and customers?  We'll probably never find out because I don't think Clean Line is ever going to happen.

Skelly says that in order to utilize Clean Line's maximum capacity of 4,000 MW, 3,000 new wind turbines will have to be constructed near the project's Oklahoma converter station.  Each turbine requires 1/2 a square mile of land, so we're talking about covering 1,500 square miles of land with wind turbines.  That's roughly an area comparable to the entire State of Rhode Island.  Skelly also points out that his project will simply waste 5% of the energy it carries through line loss.  By comparison, a renewable generator sited near or at the electric load wastes little to none of the energy generated.  Taking huge tracts of land out of production to generate energy that is transported long distance to load is simply wasteful.

Skelly shares that he believes "energy is a big deal" and his long journey from idea to reality will be "worth it."  Classic words from a guy using someone else's money to dream the impossible dream.

 
 
So, Grain Belt Express announced the opening of its solicitation of bidders for its proposed transmission capacity yesterday.

Big deal.

Remember these three words:  Utilities Hate Risk.
The solicitation for commitments, expected to last about seven weeks, will be a gauge in determining the interest in using the line.
GBE is soliciting customers in accordance with the plan it filed with FERC last year to negotiate rates in a fair and non-discriminatory manner that results in just and reasonable rates.

Despite GBE's media push that FERC has "approved" its project, FERC has no jurisdiction to approve the siting and permitting of the project.  What FERC does have an interest in is ensuring that the rates GBE charges to its customers are just and reasonable.  FERC simply approved GBE's plan to undertake this process fairly.  Once GBE completes the negotiation process and assigns capacity, it must make a compliance filing with FERC demonstrating that it complied with the plan as approved.  That may be be the tricky part!

Who wants to make a contractual commitment to purchase capacity on a transmission line that may or may not be permitted, and may or may not be built?  It could be generators, that Clean Line admits have not yet been built.  It could also be utilities, who commit to purchase the capacity.  Or it could be no one at all.

In the case of generators, the generators would need to have customers (utilities) that want to purchase their generation delivered to Indiana (and incur additional transmission costs on other systems to get the power to load).  Since these generators have yet to be built, and the transmission to Indiana has yet to be built, committing to a purchase price for delivered power could be risky.  Utilities hate risk.  A utility seeking to add renewable generation to its portfolio has many options, including existing generators and transmission.  Utilities plan their resources many years in advance as part of their obligation to provide a public service.  They are obligated to seek the cheapest price.  They want to know the resources they commit to purchase will actually be there when needed, not possibly unavailable at some later date, which would leave the utility scrambling to fill some hole in its plan at whatever price they can find.  Utilities hate risk.  Risk is costly.

In the case of utilities purchasing capacity directly... more risk!  Purchase of capacity on a transmission line that may or may not be there when needed, connected to unnamed generators that may or may not be there when needed, is risky.  Utilities hate risk.

I read an article long ago regarding Clean Line's business plan.  Some panned the plan, saying there is no market for this kind of risk.  So, I thought about it.  If Clean Line's plan is such a sure thing, why aren't there hundreds of transmission companies building merchant  lines outside the regional planning process?  Utilities have transmission affiliates, and they like to make money, too.  Maybe it's because experienced transmission developers know that there truly is no market for Clean Line's business plan?

Last year, Clean Line opened a different FERC-jurisdictional solicitation process for another of its projects, the Plains and Eastern Clean Line.  Regarding that process, Clean Line recently claimed:
It was encouraged by the strong response to a solicitation of customers for another power line it plans to build to deliver wind energy from Oklahoma to Southern states.
Encouraged?  Strong response?  If the response was strong and encouraging, Clean Line should have negotiated contracts with the respondents and made its compliance filing at FERC and announced to the world that it had committed customers for that project, right?  What happened?
From May through July of 2014, Clean Line conducted an open solicitation for transmission capacity on the Plains & Eastern Clean Line. 15 potential customers submitted more than 17,000 MW of requests for transmission service.
Clean Line's negotiated rate authority for Plains & Eastern requires the company to:
... make a compliance filing disclosing the results of the capacity allocation process within 30 days after the close of the open solicitation process, as discussed in the body of this order.
*crickets*

It's been 6 months.  No compliance filing.  No contracts.  No customers.  What happened?  Is Clean Line still negotiating?  Doesn't sound very strong and encouraging to me.  What if the bids Clean Line received were unacceptably conditioned to manage risk, or not satisfactory to economically support the project?  Remember, the bidding window has closed.  Would Clean Line have to award capacity to the top bidders, no matter the conditions?  If so, then perhaps it is busy evaluating the economic reality of its project.

Or is Clean Line planning to reject the first round of bidders and open a second solicitation window, hoping for better bids?  Would that be fair in FERC's eyes?

Don't forget to get your bids in. ;-)

Utilities hate risk.

 
 
Isn't that amazing?  FirstEnergy has learned to work faster for shale clients.  Remember that next time you want some service... pretend you're a shale gas company.

And here's another amazing fact:
Their promise and rapid pace of development happen to coincide with the Akron-based electricity company’s recent focus on making its transmission segment the lead revenue growth generator for FirstEnergy, where Mr. Bridenbaugh serves as vice president of transmission.
Serendipity, right?

So, who pays to supply electricity to new shale gas companies?  You do.
Most of the time, when the company upgrades a transmission line or builds a substation to service a new gas processing plant, the investment is recovered from the utilities that benefit from the upgrade.
Utilities.  Got that?  Not shale gas companies.

How much will you pay?
...the company has said it wants to retrench in its utility and transmission businesses, both of which provide a guaranteed rate of return. For transmission projects, the return is often in the double digits.
Lots.

Why are you paying?  Because the new shale gas companies make the existing grid unreliable, and you need reliability!  (which came first?  the chicken or the egg?)
Because the new, shale-related loads are springing up in rural areas with older or nonexistent infrastructure, the new pull on the lines often presents a reliability risk for other customers drawing electricity in the area. Therefore, many such projects end up going before PJM Interconnection, a Valley Forge-based organization that manages the nation’s largest grid, servicing 13 states in the northeast including Pennsylvania.

PJM has a formula to determine who’s responsible for the cost of upgrades.

Typically, for projects like those on FirstEnergy’s shale plate, it’s shared between the direct beneficiary — a compressor station or processing plant — and the regional utilities whose customers also see a benefit from improved service and reliability.
Hmm... I wonder if regional utilities want to pay half my electric bill this month?  Because, you know, I could jump up from my chair and turn on every electric appliance and light in the house right now.  And that might hurt regional reliability... right?
 
 
The National Park Service and grant-money-grubber The Conservation Fund are misleading the public about land being "donated" to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

In recently-generated press, the entities claim that additional park land was purchased by The Conservation Fund and "donated" to the park.
The purchase of these lands by The Conservation Fund from willing and interested sellers without the use of any taxpayer dollars, and their subsequent transfer to the NPS, ensures that they remain in the public trust for future generations to learn from and enjoy and that they will continue to provide both ecological and economic benefits to the region.
The Conservation Fund used YOUR money to purchase these lands, and skimmed a nice "administrative fee" for themselves off the top.  How nice of them to "donate" the land to you. 

The land was purchased with a $66M mitigation fund that the Department of the Interior extorted from utilities PSE&G and PPL, who were allowed to build a gigantic electric transmission project through the heart of the park in exchange for the payoff.  In turn, PSE&G is recovering the $66M from all electric ratepayers in the 13-state PJM Interconnection region.  Under federal rate schemes, PSE&G is even allowed to earn a 12.9% return on the bribe as it slowly depreciates over the life of the transmission line.  In exchange for acting as the middleman and giving your crooked government cover for its outrageous abuse of the public trust, The Conservation Fund is allowed to skim generous "administrative fees" off the fund every year.  The Conservation Fund didn't "donate" anything, they just served as the nonprofit "purchaser" to so that these shady transactions may not shoulder their fair tax burden.

It's a lie and a scam of the highest order.  Addition of border properties to the park does not make the transmission line disappear out of the middle of the park.  Mitigation means your park assets are for sale to the highest bidder.  In this case, the highest bidder was YOU.  Why are the citizens paying to buy additional park property at the Delaware Water Gap NRA, and why is The Conservation Fund being allowed to claim it as a "donation" on its taxes?

The National Park Service ought to be ashamed of itself for lying to the public this way.
 
 
Finally got around to reviewing the Illinois Commerce Commission's 200+ page final Order on Clean Line's RICL project.  Imagine my shock and horror to find that the actual Order bore no resemblance to the posturing Clean Line did for the media immediately following the Commission's vote.

Clean Line is nothing if not optimistic about its business plan to construct nearly 2000 miles of new "merchant" transmission lines across eight Midwestern states.  However, Clean Line's claims rarely comport with reality.  Isn't it odd that Clean Line had a press release ready to go the second the Commission voted?  It's all about pretending the Commission's decision "marks a critical milestone needed to deliver low-cost wind energy to Illinois and [those mysterious, unnamed] states farther east," no matter what the actual Order said.

And the press ate it up.  Shame on them!  The rest of us have been snickering at how much egg ended up on Clean Line's face for running with a media fantasy, and now the REAL story shall be told.

The ICC's Order issued a CPCN for the proposed business plan, finding it would be "needful and useful to promote competitive electricity markets in Illinois" if it ever gets built.  However, the Commission also found that RICL is not necessary to provide adequate service to customers, and that is is not necessary.  In addition, the Order requires Clean Line to jump some pretty high hurdles to make its business plan actually happen before it can build anything.
  A couple of conditions the ICC attached to the CPCN require that the company make a compliance filing demonstrating that it has funds available to construct the entire project before beginning any construction.  The ICC also attached a stipulation making the CPCN null and void if Clean Line attempts to allocate costs of its project to Illinois ratepayers through regional cost allocation administered by regional transmission organizations and FERC.  And, all this must happen within 2 years from the date of issue.  Tick-tock, Clean Line!

Oh... where to begin?  Let's talk about that financing stipulation.  In order to convince lenders to pony up the money to build the project, Clean Line must demonstrate an income stream.  It needs to have signed contracts with shippers or end users.  It has no end users.  The proposed shippers have not even been constructed yet.  In order to construct these mythical shippers (wind farms), the wind farms also have to borrow money to construct their projects.  In order to receive financing to build, these shippers must also demonstrate an income stream via signed contracts with purchasers.  It's a headache-inducing string of dominoes fraught with risk.  Utilities hate risk.  If utilities need to purchase renewables, there's plenty of EXISTING renewables available at concrete prices.  Since none of Clean Line's shippers exist, none of their proposed prices can be negotiated into signed contracts.  Remember... only two years to get this done!  And if you think it's going to happen, I'm a fairy princess.

Because the ICC did not find the project necessary under Sec. 8-503 of the PUA, Clean Line's CPCN only authorizes the company to build on voluntarily-negotiated easements.  The easements Clean Line has managed to sign with landowners are few and far between.  The rest of the landowners have rejected Clean Line's efforts and may continue to do so.  Clean Line was so certain that it would be granted eminent domain authority to take property that it has disrespected landowners with fantastical claims that bear no resemblance to reality
, along with underhanded tactics and empty promises.  You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to fool a farmer.  Nobody's buying it.  And since Clean Line has already ruined any possible cordial relationship with landowners, it is unlikely to regain what has already been tossed away.

And that brings us to the match tossed into the powder keg...  the CPCN issued by the ICC:


The Commission also observes that the approval of a line route as part of this Certificate Order should facilitate negotiations with landowners, and that the issuance of the Certificate will enable Rock Island to gain access to the property to conduct surveys and related activities, which are steps characterized by Rock Island as important ones in which to engage in the near future.
That's funny.  The Commission was so uncertain about this company's financial resources that it required it to have financing in place before beginning construction, but yet this same company can now enter upon and damage private property to conduct its surveys, without the demonstrated financial resources to guarantee that landowners will be compensated for damages.  What happens when Clean Line's surveys damage private property and the company refuses to make landowners whole?  Where's the remedy for landowners?  Will the ICC be policing Clean Line's survey activities?  Will landowners be left swinging in the wind with only a civil remedy?  And, I don't think Clean Line barging onto private property and leaving a mess behind will "facilitate negotiations with landowners."  Call me jaded...

So, Illinois landowner groups now have been handed the task of figuring out how to protect their interests all on their own.  And they will.

Two years, remember that.

And, in addition, RICL has just barely begun the permitting process in Iowa, where thousands of landowners have joined forces as the Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance, and hired counsel and witnesses to participate in the Iowa Utility Board's review of RICL.

Two years.

I'm thinking that this thing is NEVER going to happen.  The ICC Order requires Clean Line to perform in accordance with its fantastical business plan to get all this accomplished in two years.

So, despite sweeping bluster like
“The ICC approval is a great step forward for the Rock Island Clean Line project and brings Illinois one step closer to creating a cleaner energy future,” said Michael Skelly, President of Clean Line Energy. “We are grateful to the Commission for their careful consideration of our application and proposed route. By approving game-changing projects like the Rock Island Clean Line, Illinois will benefit from access to low-cost clean energy and job creation in the construction and manufacturing sectors.”
the Order doesn't actually move RICL closer to reality.  It simply starts the clock.  Tick-tock.

Todd Maisch, President of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce should be eating the words Clean Line put in his mouth:

Companies like Clean Line that propose electric transmission projects are forced to meet a high threshold to prove that their energy project serves the public need and benefits consumers.
...because Clean Line didn't actually meet the ICC's high threshold to be found necessary, and therefore has to make its plan a reality before it could be granted the authority to build the project and take land from unwilling owners.

Michael Cornicelli, Executive Vice President of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago, or BOMA/Chicago also had some inapt words:
This project should demonstrate that independent, investor-driven transmission infrastructure can become a viable business solution in a traditionally utility-driven arena.
...but only if it can make its fantastical business plan into reality.   I think the ICC's Order demonstrates that merchant transmission projects undertaken outside the traditional regional planning process cannot succeed, but time will tell.  Two years.

Clean Line also makes fantasy claims about its ability to reduce carbon emissions:
The wind energy delivered by the Rock Island Clean Line will allow other generators to run less and burn less fuel by eliminating the need for the equivalent amount of energy to come from fossil fuels, thereby reducing pollution. More than 1.4 million homes will be powered by the renewable energy generated as a result of this project.
Because it is an intermittent resource, baseload fossil fuel generators will be required to run constantly to back up Clean Line.  The ramping up and down of baseload plants actually produces MORE emissions than running at a constant rate.  Clean Line's insistence that its transmission line will reduce fossil fuel generation on a basis equal to its production is unrealistic fantasy. 

And, we'll end with this:

Developing a project of this scale is a long-term undertaking...
Yes, indeed.  Two years.  Tick-tock!
 
 
Another article about the security risks posed by our reliance on centralized generation and long-distance transmission by Rebecca Smith at the Wall Street Journal.  Rebecca just hasn't been the same since she had a little talk with former FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff about the attack on a California substation back in 2013.  Wellinghoff has been doing the Paul Revere about the stunning insecurity of our electrical grid since the incident, and it looks like he's now recruited Rebecca to carry the torch.
Fear that utility companies remain vulnerable to hackers, terrorists and natural disasters has the Pentagon pushing construction of independent power grids at military bases across the U.S. ...
We should all be pushing for construction of independent power grids in our own neighborhoods, instead of more centralized generation (whether renewable or otherwise) and long-distance transmission.  Gigantic, interconnected infrastructure is incredibly vulnerable simply because so many people rely on it.  While independent power grids and local generation could also be subject to the same mischief that makes an interconnected grid vulnerable, if there are enough micro grids operating independently, there would simply be too many of them to effect large scale blackouts, whether purposefully or accidentally.
Increasingly, the Pentagon wants power from its own sources.

“The endgame is to be able to survive if the grid goes down,” said Paul Orzeske, who recently retired as president of Honeywell Building Solutions, the company helping build Fort Bragg’s microgrid.

For years, experts have recommended the U.S. military seek independence from commercial utilities. “Our grid is old and it’s reliant on technology that’s outdated,” said Michael Wu, energy program director for the Truman National Security Project & Center for National Policy, a Washington think tank.
But regional grid planners. regulators, and utilities all insist that we need more -- more generators and more transmission -- in order to make the system "reliable."

Someone's lying here.

Is a small, independent, diverse system more reliable?

Or is a large, interconnected and redundant system more reliable?

Can't have it both ways.  Personally, my vote is with the military when it comes to reliability and safety. 
 
 
If I had a buck for every journalistic comparison between the high voltage electric transmission grid and the interstate highway system, I'd be rich.  Uncreative and incurious journalists love to make this comparison, usually accompanied by a nighttime time-lapse traffic photo.  Ooooooh!

Stupid.

Back in 2006, AEP used comparison between the grid and the interstate system as a marketing gimmick so it could turn electricity into an interstate commodity and transmission into a profit center.

AEP's interstate transmission highway gimmick was even better using an Eisenhower, so it hired one.  And it pretended that a new "interstate highway" of transmission lines would provide reliable, efficient, affordable, and secure sources of power for everyone.

Oh, poppycock!

But it just never ends.

Here's why the electric grid is unlike an interstate highway:

  • The highway system was built using public money, for the benefit of the public.  The highways are operated by governments, and tolls for use are poured back into the highway system for the benefit of the public.  However, the electric transmission system is built using private money, for the benefit of investors.  The grid is operated by utilities, and tolls for use go into the utility's pockets for the benefit of stockholders.  Highways are not-for-profit enterprises.  Electric transmission is a for-profit enterprise.
  • The highway system "binds the massive country together into a single, integrated network" so that we may travel anywhere.  However, it is inefficient, costly and wasteful to "bind the massive country together into a single, integrated electric market."  Electricity is unlike other commodities because it must be used the instant it is made.  It cannot be stored for later sale or use.  Transporting it long distances is like transporting water through a leaky pipe -- much is lost along the way, simply wasted.  The longer the distance, the more electricity wasted.  While it may be useful to travel long distances via highways, it is not useful to transmit electricity long distances.  The most cost effective, efficient, safe and reliable electrical system is one where electricity is generated at or close to its point of use.
  • People were willing to make way for highways on their land because they could use these highways, and the government wasn't making a profit by operating the highway.  How come the media never compares transmission lines to highways with no on or off ramps for local use?  People are NOT willing to make way for long-distance electric transmission lines because they may not directly use the transmission line, and the transmission line is a profit center for its owner.  If a profit is to be made, the landowner should be paid appropriately in line with the continued profits, not tossed a one-time "market value" pittance for the use of his land in perpetuity.
  • Eminent domain was used to build the interstate highway system because it was for "public use."  Eminent domain was also used to build the transmission and distribution system that electrified our country because it was for "public use."  The key here is that both were for "public use."  But now transmission is proposed for other reasons such as economics, public policy, or simply as a way to make money shipping electricity to new markets.  Is this really a "public use," or is it a slide down a slippery slope?  Where does "public use" stop and "private profit" begin?
Renewables are ready for harvest near population centers.  We don't need a series of vulnerable "toll roads" to transport them coast-to-coast.  This is simply the utility industry's latest attempt to dig in a toe-hold that will keep you captive for many years to come. 

Just say "no" to electric "highways" and uninspired journalism.
 
 
I've been away for the past week.  No emails, no blog posts, no piles of electronic files, no transmission whatsoever.  So, what has transmission being doing while I wasn't paying attention?  Same old, same old.

SNAFU

A browse of news I missed:

The Sierra Club is still trying to plan the transmission grid and getting it wrong.

PJM despot Steven Herling sent a nasty-gram to NJ Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel, claiming that he was spreading misinformation.

The chief planning official for PJM Interconnection Inc., the grid operator, said in a letter to New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel that continued operations of the B.L. England power station in Cape May County would not create reliability problems, but that the plant's shutdown would.

"Recent media statements attributed to you about reliability and cost impacts associated with the B.L. England generating units' remaining in service are based on a misunderstanding of PJM Interconnection's planning process," Steven R. Herling, PJM's vice president of planning, wrote Thursday to Tittel.

"Our transmission-planning process is very complex, dynamic, and - as a consequence - can be misunderstood," Herling said in his letter to Tittel. "I would have been very happy to explain the process and underlying facts to help you avoid confusion, and would be willing to clarify PJM's study results at any time."

Transmission developers held their "public input" open house dog & pony shows on lines they want to build.  The "public" showed up en masse to participate, but the real decisions have already been made.  Here's one example from Wisconsin, where ATC plays coy about its preferred route, hoping to foment discord among community groups that wish to foist the transmission line on someone else.  The media helps out by framing its story as a NIMBY issue, and failing to examine the need issue.
“I have no doubt, in the long run, we need power and we need power transmission lines, and they’re going to go somewhere,” said Don McKay, general manager of Tyrol Basin Ski and Snowboard Area.

“Nothing here is very negotiable,” said McKay, who also is a Vermont town supervisor.

Robert and Danuta Pyzalski said it was too preliminary to get answers about their town of Middleton home, in the study area.

“My concern is how close the lines would be to residential areas,” Robert Pyzalski said. “To say there would be no danger would be naive.”
Dominion has begun blowing smoke up the behinds of communities in Virginia, pretending to pioneer new ways to work with communities to site transmission lines.
Members of a new resident-led work group created to grapple with Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to run a transmission line through Alexandria did not mince words following the utility’s first presentation on the project.

“I’m just looking at statements here with nothing to back them up.”

Both officials and work group members are growing more suspicious as Dominion’s application date creeps closer.

“There’s some healthy skepticism,” Smedberg said. “While Dominion says they don’t know what a final route would be, many people in the community find that a little hard to believe. They know exactly what they want to do and have known for a while.”
Use of the Delphi technique really isn't new, Dominion! 
Energy companies fight over building new transmission to import power to a big city vs. building new centralized generation in or near the city itself.  How about you folks in Houston cutting back on your conspicuous consumption and slapping some solar panels on a roof or two?  That would certainly be cheaper for the poor ratepayers these companies pretend to care about.  Energy efficiency and local renewables are within reach.

Same stuff, different day.  Energy company greed to invest capital for big returns never changes.  The only thing that has changed in this scenario is the opposition of the people to big energy projects.  It's getting more organized, more knowledgeable and more successful.  Try building big energy anything anywhere and there's guaranteed opposition that increases costs and delays projects.  Finding new ways to neutralize the NIMBYs is a losing game.

But, what if there were no NIMBYs?  Underwater and underground transmission lines are sailing through approvals with little to no opposition.  The Champlain Hudson Power Express project is a go, and the New England Clean Power Link isn't far behind.  If you're going to build new transmission, this is the way to do it.
With permits to build an underwater and underground power line from the Canadian border to New York City all but fully in hand, the developer is turning its attention to a similar proposal for a 1,000-megawatt power line that would run down Lake Champlain and then across Vermont to feed the New England electric grid.

Once out of the water all the cable will be laid in public rights of way and the company TDI New England has been working with the state of Vermont and local communities along the route on the minutiae: Everything from how to be sure the under-road conduits don’t worsen spring frost heaves to how the cables cross beneath bridges or how to ensure that once the cables are buried they aren’t disturbed.

Benson Selectboard member Sue Janssen said TDI New England has worked hard to meet the concerns of her community of just over 1,000. They are even paying a lawyer of the town’s choosing to represent the community in the detailed discussions that are coming.

“I have the impression if we’d said we wanted our dirt roads painted pink they’d have done it,” she said.

So far there has been no significant opposition to TDI New England’s major electrical infrastructure project such as has faced plans to build ridge-top industrial wind projects, extend a natural gas power line from the Burlington area to Rutland or build a 180-mile above-ground power line between the Canadian border and northern New Hampshire.

“I think that one of the key differentiators of other proposed projects is that we are all buried,” said TDI New England CEO Donald Jessome.
That's right... people can support transmission projects proposed by companies willing to work with communities to lessen a project's impact.

Opposition has a cost.


Meanwhile, as more buried projects are proposed, traditional overhead transmission builders are whining about the cost of buried lines.  Funny position for companies that make money on transmission investments -- the more they spend, the more they make.  Why not bury the projects?  Oh, right, they don't know how.  They're still living in the horse and buggy days, telling the same lies about how the technology doesn't exist to bury lines, or that the cost will be 10 or 20 times an overhead line.  That just isn't true.
Matt Valle’s solution to energy shortages in Eastern Massachusetts eschews the usual approach of running miles of new transmission lines on unsightly towers. Instead, Valle proposes to bury 50 miles of high-power cable in the ocean floor, using an underwater robot that resembles a lunar rover.

The robot would dig a trench 4 to 6 feet deep in an arc from Salisbury to Lynn for a power line that would bring 520 megawatts of electricity from the Seabrook generating station into Greater Boston.

If approved, the so-called SeaLink line would be the first underwater transmission line in Massachusetts, and Valle argued that it would be more reliable than high-voltage lines that are exposed to New England weather.

“It’s a buried system. It is protected against extreme weather — high winds, flooding, icing,” said Valle, president of New Hampshire Transmission, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, one of the country’s largest power companies.

But there is one major drawback: With a price tag of more than $1 billion, SeaLink looks on paper to cost about $350 million more than a competing project, which includes a new 25-mile transmission line running from Londonderry, N.H., to Tewksbury, as well as upgrades to the existing high-voltage power network.

“Ours is the most cost-effective solution. That’s a fact,” said Rudy Wynter, president of the transmission business at National Grid, which is partnering with Northeast Utilities on the project. It would feature a combination of high-voltage 115 kV lines and extra-high-voltage 345 kV lines constructed on rights of way that are already held by the two companies.
SNAFU.

Is it really all about the cost to ratepayers?  Anyone thought of asking ratepayers if it's worth a few extra cents in their power bill to bury high-tech transmission projects in order to make them more reliable?  I think the people would overwhelmingly support buried lines from a reliability standpoint alone.  A majority would also probably support more expensive buried lines in order to get lines built quicker and with less burden on host landowners, viewsheds and the environment. 
 
 
Hint:  It's not the Sierra Club or their inexpert volunteer leadership.  It's not merchant transmission developers operating outside the regional planning process, either.

It wasn't too long ago that I suggested that Sierra Club should stick to hugging trees and quit trying to engineer the power grid.
  Although they were soundly rebuffed by the TVA in that instance, it appears that the Sierra Club isn't done trying to engineer the power grid yet.

A member of the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club has decided that he can proclaim a transmission line "needed" if, in his opinion, it's in the public interest.

That's not the way it works.  Need for transmission lines is determined by regional transmission organizations in most parts of the country.  This is done through a pretty extensive and technical process.  It's not done by a gaggle of arrogant know-nothings sitting around a campfire getting high and dreaming about creating a green utopia.  It's not done by Sierra Club volunteers, either.
 

Sometimes, even real grid planners get a determination of "need" wrong.


The Clean Line projects have not been determined to be "needed" by any regional transmission organization.

  Instead, the RTOs have selected other projects "as a way to reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce the risk of the damaging effects of global warming."  But they have not selected Clean Line, therefore, Clean Line is not needed.

Because Clean Line is not needed, it is a venture in "capitalism."  Capitalism is a "free market" system, where trade and industry are controlled by private owners.  In a capitalistic society, no one may be forced to sacrifice his or her private property solely for the profit of another.  Capitalism would mean that Clean Line would be required to negotiate to purchase the private property it needs for its unneeded project.  It is in a communist state that private property rights do not exist.

When an infrastructure project is determined to be "needed" and in the public interest by a qualified entity with the knowledge and authority to approve it
, private property may be taken for the public use.  Clean Line has not been determined needed, nor granted authority to condemn private property, in Iowa, Missouri, or Arkansas.  Eminent domain, need and public interest is not determined by the Sierra Club.  None of the Clean Line projects has been fully permitted and are not "in progress" anywhere.

Clean Line has no customers, either generators or load serving entities.  It is not needed.  It will not shut down any coal plants.  Not one.  It also won't do anything to meet EPA regulations in importing states.  The credits for wind generation may only be taken once, not multiple times by exporting states, and every other state on the way from generator to load.  Clean Line will NOT speed up any carbon reductions.  It's simply a plan for a transmission line that could carry energy produced by any type of generator.

Clean Line is greed masquerading
as green.  Because the Sierra Club knows little about electric transmission, some clubs have made the short-sighted decision to endorse it.  An arrogant, confrontational, scorched earth path to a "cleaner" society will never succeed.

Sierra Club should be doing its transmission homework, instead of jumping on the first "clean" trojan horse that rolls by.