Last Monday, Illinois Commerce Commission ALJ Larry Jones issued his proposal for an Order of the Commission
regarding RICL's request for authority to build its project in Illinois. Note that this is just a proposal, it is NOT an official Order of the Commission and has no authority unless adopted by the five member Commission
Meanwhile, the legal debate will continue. Under Section 200.830 of the Rules, exceptions to the Proposed Order and replies thereto may be filed by the parties.
Let's just start out by stating that the Proposed Order (P.O., for short) is a beast -- 216 pages of repetitive back and forth, and lots of legal prose. If you've actually read the whole thing, congratulations! It took me most of the week to plow through it and to do the research to answer my own questions about certain parts.
First of all, we need to know what RICL asked the ICC to do.
In this proceeding, Rock Island Clean Line LLC (“Rock Island,” “RICL” or “RI”) filed the above-referenced petition with the Illinois Commerce Commission (“Commission” or “ICC”) pursuant to Sections 8-406 and 8-503 of the Public Utilities Act (“Act”), 220 ILCS 5/1-101, et seq.
Rock Island therein requests an order granting it a certificate of public convenience and necessity (“CPCN” or “Certificate”), pursuant to Section 8-406 of the Act, authorizing it to operate as a transmission public utility in the State of Illinois and to construct, operate and maintain an electric transmission line (“Project”); and authorizing and directing it, pursuant to Section 8-503 of the Act, to construct the proposed line.
Section 8-406 governs the following:
Whenever after a hearing the Commission determines that any new construction or the transaction of any business by a public utility will promote the public convenience and is necessary thereto, it shall have the power to issue certificates of public convenience and necessity. The Commission shall determine that proposed construction will promote the public convenience and necessity only if the utility demonstrates: (1) that the proposed construction is necessary to provide adequate, reliable, and efficient service to its customers and is the least‑cost means of satisfying the service needs of its customers or that the proposed construction will promote the development of an effectively competitive electricity market that operates efficiently, is equitable to all customers, and is the least cost means of satisfying those objectives; (2) that the utility is capable of efficiently managing and supervising the construction process and has taken sufficient action to ensure adequate and efficient construction and supervision thereof; and (3) that the utility is capable of financing the proposed construction without significant adverse financial consequences for the utility or its customers.
Here's what the P.O. determined about RICL's request under 8-406:
Having reviewed the record, the Commission finds, with regard to the first alternative showing in Section 8-406(b)(1), that Rock Island has not demonstrated that the Project is necessary to provide adequate, reliable, and efficient service to customers within the meaning of Section 8-406(b)(1).
BUT, regarding the second alternative:
In conclusion, upon consideration of the record and the determinations contained above, and subject to the conditions set forth above and elsewhere in this Order, the Commission finds that the Project will provide an opportunity for the delivery of more renewable energy into Illinois, and will promote the development of an effectively competitive electricity market that operates efficiently, including with respect to renewable energy; is equitable to all customers; and is the least cost means of satisfying those objectives, within the meaning of Section 8-406(b)(2).
The "conditions" attached to the judge's proposed conclusion are as follows:
Prior to recovering any Project costs from Illinois retail ratepayers through PJM or MISO regional cost allocation, Rock Island will obtain the permission of the Illinois Commerce Commission in a new proceeding initiated by Rock Island. For the purposes of the prior sentence, any system upgrades set forth in an interconnection agreement with PJM or MISO and the costs of which are allocated to Rock Island will be considered “Project costs.” For the avoidance of doubt, the phrase “recovering any Project costs from Illinois retail ratepayers through PJM or MISO regional cost allocation” includes the recovery of costs though PJM and MISO transmission service charges that are paid by retail electric suppliers in respect of their electric load served in Illinois.
As a condition of this Order, Rock Island shall not attempt to effect the interconnection until it has fully complied with the applicable requirements of PJM and the other conditions in this Order, and has signed all interconnection agreements.
AND (This is a biggie!)
Rock Island will not install transmission facilities for the Rock Island Clean Line Project on easement property until such time as Rock Island has obtained commitments for funds in a total amount equal to or greater than the total project cost. For the purposes of this condition:
(i) “install transmission facilities” shall mean to affix permanently to the ground transmission towers or other transmission equipment, including installation of bases and footings for transmission towers, but shall not include (A) preparatory work such as surveys, soil borings, engineering and design, obtaining permits and other approvals from governmental bodies, acquisition of options and easements for right-of-way, and ordering of equipment and materials, and (B) site preparation work and procurement and installation of equipment and facilities on property owned in fee by Rock Island including the converter station sites;
(ii) “easement property” shall mean property on which Rock Island has acquired an easement to install transmission facilities;
(iii) “has obtained commitments for funds” shall mean (A) for loans and other debt commitments, that Rock Island has entered into a loan agreement(s) with a lender(s) and has received the loan funds or has the right to draw down the loan funds on a schedule that is consistent with the need for funds to complete the Project, and (B) for equity, that Rock Island or its parent company has received the funds from the equity investors or that the equity investors have entered into a commitment to provide funds on a schedule that is consistent with the need for funds to complete the Project; and
(iv) “total project cost” shall mean the total estimated remaining cost, at the time that Rock Island is prepared to begin to install transmission facilities, for the following Project activities: engineering, manufacturing and installation of converter stations; transmission line engineering; transmission towers; conductor; construction labor necessary to complete the Project; right of way acquisition costs; and other costs necessary to complete the Project. For reference, the total estimated project cost as of November 1, 2012 is $2.0 billion.
To allow the Commission to verify its compliance with this condition, Rock Island shall submit the following documents to the Director of the Financial Analysis Division and the Director of the Public Safety & Reliability Division at such time as Rock Island is prepared to begin to install transmission facilities:
a) On a confidential basis, equity and loan or other debt financing agreements and commitments entered into or obtained by Rock Island or its parent company for the purpose of funding the Rock Island Clean Line Project that, in the aggregate, provide commitments for funds for the total project cost;
b) An attestation certified by an officer of Rock Island that Rock Island has not, prior to the date of the attestation, installed transmission facilities on easement property; or a notification that such installation is scheduled to begin on a specified date;
c) A statement of the total project cost, broken out by the components listed in the definition of “total project cost,” above, and certified by an officer of Rock Island, along with a reconciliation of the total project cost in the statement to the total project cost as of November 1, 2012 of $2.0 billion; and
d) A reconciliation statement, certified by an officer of Rock Island, showing that the agreements and commitments for funds provided in (a) are equal to or greater than the total project cost provided in (c).
So, the P.O. did not find that RICL was necessary, but did find that it would promote the development of a competitive electricity market (not that the current market doesn't already do that). Therefore, the P.O. recommends that RICL be granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity under Section 8-406 because it satisfied the second part of (1) after the "or" (see 8-406 language above). However, the proposed finding comes with HEFTY conditions and would expire two years after being granted. Do you think RICL can get its stuff together to satisfy all the conditions AND get a permit from Iowa within two years? Tick tock! How many years has RICL been trying to make these projects work now? Has it been 5 years already?
Now let's move on to RICL's request that the ICC "authorize" or direct it to construct the line under Section 8-503. Remember that RICL told the ICC that they might not even construct the project after all if it wasn't profitable enough?
The Commission has reviewed the evidence and arguments. First of all, to the extent Rock Island is asserting that the criteria in Sections 8-406(b) and 8-503 are identical, and that a finding the Section 8-406(b) criteria have been met would automatically mean the Commission is required to grant the relief sought under Section 8-503, the Commission disagrees. Such an interpretation would render Section 8-503 superfluous.
ComEd and Staff argue that Rock Island’s request for Section 8-503 relief is premature, in that Rock Island is seeking authority that cannot be utilized given the contingencies, conditions and regulatory approvals still needed. While the Commission is by no means suggesting that RI would have to satisfy every condition, contingency or uncertainty before Section 8-503 authorization may be granted, the Commission does agree with Staff and ComEd that under the circumstances, it would be premature to grant Section 8-503 relief to Rock Island in this proceeding.
Rock Island claims Section 8-503 approval is needed now because it is one of the major regulatory approvals needed to satisfy potential lenders and investors; however, Rock Island does not explain how a Section 8-503 authorization is somehow more urgent or important in that regard than is the proceeding in Iowa, where the Project originates and the first 379 miles of the 500-mile line would be built. Even Rock Island does not estimate a decision being reached in Iowa until 2015, assuming the formal proceeding has even begun there.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the request for relief pursuant to Section 8-503 of the Act is not granted at this time; this determination is without prejudice to the filing of a request for such relief in the future.
When necessary for the construction of any alterations, additions, extensions or improvements ordered or authorized under Section 8‑503 or 12‑218 of this Act, any public utility may enter upon, take or damage private property in the manner provided for by the law of eminent domain.
But, the P.O. is NOT proposing that RICL be granted eminent domain authority at this time. RICL may re-apply for Section 8-503 at a later date. Important: RICL does NOT have eminent domain authority to condemn and take property in Illinois at this time, and this proposed order would not give it to them!
But, the P.O. also proposed that the recommended CPCN issued under Section 8-406 would allow Section 8-510 of the Code, which states:
Land surveys. For the purpose of making land surveys, any public utility that has been granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity by, or received an order under Section 8‑503 of this Act from, the Commission may, 30 days after providing written notice to the owner thereof by registered mail, enter upon the property of any owner who has refused permission for entrance upon that property, but subject to responsibility for all damages which may be inflicted thereby.
The P.O. recommended granting RICL the Certificate required to enter onto private property under Section 8-510, and reasoned:
...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.
The P.O. proposes that RICL be granted authority to trespass upon, enter, and damage private property, although prohibited from taking that same property by eminent domain. Yet, it's clear that RICL at this time does NOT
have any dedicated funds, so how would landowners be compensated for damages incurred in the surveying process? What protections are in place for landowners in the likely event that funds are not acquired to build the project and the company goes bankrupt? At this time... none!
But, remember, this is only a PROPOSED
Order, subject to more legal filings and alternative proposed language. What the Commission actually approves may be radically different.
Meanwhile, keep up to date on all the RICL news and action alerts by liking BlockRICL on facebook or visiting their website.
Tammy Hammond is the founder of Rosewood Services
, a facility that fosters an environment of independence, inclusion and productivity for individuals with developmental disabilities through education, work, recreation, and housing designed for their unique abilities. On this Independence Day she shares her thoughts about the nature of sacrifice and the devastation the proposed Grain Belt Express Clean Line will have on her life, her programs, and most importantly, the independence of the clients she serves in Kansas.
Grain Belt Express is a massive high voltage electric transmission line proposed to transport energy generated in the southwestern Kansas region to expensive east coast cities. Purposed to provide attractive returns to foreign investors, Grain Belt Express is designed to increase America’s dependence on centralized electric generation and old fashioned overhead transmission that disturbs our rural communities and way of life. Only through development of their own sources of renewable electricity will eastern states realize their own true independence, while keeping their energy dollars at home in their own communities.
Read Tammy's declaration of independence from Grain Belt Express, entitled "This Land is Our Land." Here's a preview to get you started:
My name is Tammy Hammond, Kansas land owner for 30 years. As I sit here on
Independence Day 2014 my thoughts are consumed with the efforts of Grain Belt Express Clean Line's plan to run High Voltage Transmission Lines across my properties.
I'm very much opposed to the Grain Belt
Express 140 feet tall transmission towers,
carrying 750,000 volts of electricity, running
across our land. I could list pages of serious
health risks to my children and grandchildren, or provide statistics to the devastating de-valuation of property these High Voltage Power Lines will cause.
Probably, you have already heard those
arguments, so I would like to explain
something which I believe to be much more
I've been struggling for days with how to tell this story; how do I express with words why a
landowner will fight till their last breath, and their last dollar, to keep what is rightfully theirs?
How do you explain this so people understand the deep-rooted patronage of owning your
piece of the American dream...your Freedom in the heartland...the place you proudly call
home... What I discovered is something much deeper, much larger than Grain Belt Express....
I believe it is "American Spirit", how fitting to tell the story on July 4th, our Country's
Click here to continue reading
Tammy's inspirational treatise ends with this message to the Sam Brownback political machine that stole the independence and freedom of hard working Kansas voters by greasing the approval of Grain Belt Express at his Kansas Corporation Commission:
So Today... this Message is for you, Grain Belt Express, Elected Officials or whoever is listening...
Do not underestimate our deep rooted sense of Freedom....
This is our land, my children's land, and so on for generations to come...
Earned with "our" blood, sweat and tears, it is
"we" who have the right to call this land home....
Make no mistake. We planted our "Flag of Freedom" and we will fight to
you cannot have it...
you have not earned it...
we are here to stay...
Our friends at Clean Line have been as busy as a nasty nest of yellow jackets this past week, while I was tied up with other things. So, on this beautiful Sunday, let's hunker down around the campfire and catch up on some scary stories...
My multilingual, Arkansan friend, Doc, alerted me to an interesting discovery this week. Clean Line's project manager for its Plains & Eastern "Clean" Line, slated to plow through Arkansas like Godzilla on his way to Tokyo, is a Mr. Mario Hurtado. In the Spanish language, the word "hurtado" means "to steal." So, Clean Line is sending out some guy named "to steal" to... ummm... steal land from Arkansans. Brilliant! Perhaps Clean Line watches too many old movies and expected its opponents in Arkansas to behave like movie characters...
...and not like multilingual PhD's.
So... Arkansas... Beware the Hurtado!
My friend Doc says he looks like this:
Meanwhile, in other "Clean" news from Arkansas...
"Clean" Line has submitted a second application for negotiated rate authority from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
I guess their first one wasn't good enough, since they didn't even bother to mention it in their new filing. So, inquiring minds want to know... is "Clean" Line just stupid, or are they trying to pull something on FERC?
Negotiated rate authority is no big thing, though. It simply bangs out a plan for the company to negotiate rates with potential customers in a fair and non-discriminatory fashion. It doesn't get them any customers. It is not an "approval" of the project. FERC's only authority over this project is ensuring its rate structure is fair. FERC has no authority over the siting and permitting of this project. Big deal, Mr. To Steal.
And, news from Missouri...
"Clean" Line has been quoting industry-influenced WHO studies as "proof" that their transmission projects will have no health effects on nearby residents. However, a well-respected, local physician has been compiling and reviewing medical research on the health risks of the proposed "Clean" Line. The Moberly Monitor did an indepth report about what Dr. Smith has found. Shocking and dangerous! Dr. Smith's findings are a MUST READ for every person in proximity to one of these "Clean" Lines.
Other news outlets have also picked up on Dr. Smith's EMF research, and the truth is spreading like wildfire! SeeABC News, the News Democrat, and about 18 other major news outlets.
"Clean" Line needs to finish watching the movie that they've been using as the basis for their arrogant expectations of the intelligence and cunning of their local opposition. They must not have watched far enough to see this scene yet:
The Center for Rural Affairs has pissed off a whole new bunch of people, this time in Wisconsin, by sending out a "red alert" telling them this is their "last chance" to comment on the Badger-Coulee transmission project. Of course it's not their "last chance"!
Carol Overland, who has been fighting the legal fight against unneeded transmission for many years, tells CFRA what the people REALLY think:
I'm disturbed to see that you're regarding Lu Nelsen and Center for Rural Affairs as a primary source. Center for Rural Affairs is not an intervenor in this project. Center for Rural Affairs is a paid transmission advocate, through the RE-AMP program, it is paid to to promote transmission.
A CfRA Director also sits on the RE-AMP Steering Committee. It's unfortunate that these facts are not included in your article -- this interest should be disclosed, because they are neither objective nor representing public interests or farmer interests. If their paid advocacy was not disclosed to you, that's an even more significant problem.
Congratulations, Mayberry! Your entrenched opposition to Clean Line Energy Partners' transmission projects across the Midwest has pushed the company into the untenable position of having to perform massive eminent domain condemnations and takings. Of course, this would never be allowed to happen in reality. The political and public opinion costs would simply be too high. As well, Clean Line has not been successful in convincing all state regulators to grant it the ability to effect eminent domain takings.
Clean Line Energy's only hope at this point is to try to trick you into supporting a new scheme to steal your land.
Last year, Clean Line sycophants at the Center for Rural Affairs and the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with other "big green" and "big wind" players, published a self-aggrandizing "report" they arrogantly dubbed "America's Power Plan" (although no actual "Americans" were involved in its creation). In Clean Line's sponsored "plan," the important folks discussed several new ways to steal your land using eminent domain so that they wouldn't be forced to commit massive eminent domain takings.
One of the ways Clean Line wants to steal your land is called a "Special Purpose Development Corporation" ("SPDC"). A SPDC is a government-sponsored legal entity created especially to become the "bad guy" in an eminent domain situation. Instead of Clean Line stealing your land, a government-blessed SPDC will steal your land and sell it to Clean Line. The SPDC and the government that operates it will also profit in the transaction, paying itself a portion of the proceeds from the sale of your land.
Here's how it works:
1. State or local government, or even a private corporation with government-granted eminent domain power, forms a SPDC for a particular purpose, such as securing new transmission line rights of way across private property.
2. Landowners in the target area are given a choice:
a. Voluntarily deed their land over to the SPDC in return for "shares" in the corporation.
b. Refuse to voluntarily turn over your land and have it taken by the SPDC via eminent domain. You will not receive any "shares" in the corporation.
This allows your friends and neighbors who choose to join the SPDC to force you to sell your land for their personal profit.
3. Once all land is acquired, the SPDC sells it to Clean Line and distributes the proceeds to the "shareholders" of the corporation, after first paying all sorts of legal, financial and management fees for the corporation and the costs of its employees. There is no guarantee that a landowner's "shares" in the SPDC would be worth more at the end of this game than the landowner could expect to receive through traditional eminent domain processes.
It's all just a scam to encourage communities and local governments to take the fall for Clean Line's unconscionable land grab. It pits neighbors against neighbors in local communities and causes local strife. It absolves Clean Line from the consequences of its greedy action.
Don't be fooled by legal gibberish, fantastic promises of incredible riches, or empty claims of "better deals." Just say "no" to Special Purpose Development Corporations.
The coordinated and knowledgeable opposition to Clean Line across eight states CAN stop these projects. Hold on to your land -- you will be glad you did when Clean Line folds its tent and slinks back to Texas with its tail between its legs.
Have you been perturbed by Clean Line's violation
of its own "Code of Conduct"
for land agents? Are you gasping for breath in clouds of land agent smoke? Are you unsure how to respond to the outrageous lies and pushy behavior of Clean Line land agents? Like a lot of Mayberry denizens, you were probably raised to be polite and to take others at their word. What is a person with morals to do when faced with outrageous land agent schemes?
Scott at RidiculousRICL has got your back. He has so helpfully put together a Code of Conduct for Landowners to guide you. We're pretty sure this Code doesn't cover everything, so feel free to make additional suggestions.
Scott's Landowners' Code is just as official and just as enforceable as Clean Line's Land Agent Code. As recently admitted by Clean Line, and as I've been telling you for the last year, Clean Line's Code is nothing but a "feel good" piece of paper.
Clean Line's "Code" was copied from another transmission line fight that occurred in Pennsylvania in 2008. In its original form, it was part of settlement of a case where the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate sought an injunction against transmission owner TrAILCo to end abusive practices. Read the OCA's Motion for Injunctive Relief for a detailed description of harassing and coercive land agent behavior that sounds hauntingly familiar to stories of Clean Line's current tactics. In the Pennsylvania case, the Code was enforceable by the court. In Clean Line's case, nobody is enforcing it, not even Clean Line!
So, landowners should feel free to invent their own "code" and share it freely!
Clean Line's latest public relations mantra is to accuse its opposition of spreading "misinformation." It's a desperate, failed attempt to group its forthright and knowledgeable adversaries as unacceptable and to characterize them as liars, a propaganda technique known as "name calling."
But who is really spreading "misinformation?" Two of Clean Line's most recent one-sided media excursions contained information and quotes from company executives that were outright lies.
First, the "miscommunication" in Arkansas Business about the Plains and Eastern Clean Line:
It has been in the works for the past half-decade and will build two lines intended to connect the Midwest’s wind resources to surrounding areas with less potential to generate wind, such as Missouri and southern Indiana. About 7,000 megawatts of power in Oklahoma would become available to surrounding states.
Clean Line quickly fell on its sword here, and the publication corrected its article to remove this reference. Supposedly there is only ONE line on this project, with a capacity of 3500MW. But then the company turned right around and signed a certain legal document with the same error in it! How many lines does Clean Line intend to build, exactly? "Misinformed" minds want to know!
The second lie was apparently just a "miscommunication" in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial. Matthew Stallbaumer from Kansas has been chasing that one around all week. What he found was a shocking lack of honesty. In Matthew's own words:
"Mr. Lawlor has been through this before, in Kansas, where he says the company has completed buying the land it needs for that portion of the line."
The landowners know this isn't true. But there was some hope on my end that our land would no longer be impacted, so I called the St. Louis Dispatch and spoke with Deborah Peterson, Editorial Writer, who told me she was involved with writing the editorial. She assured me that what was printed was what Mr. Lawlor communicated to her.
So I tried to call Mr. Lawlor, his reputation for not answering his phone or responding to messages is accurate, so I called Clean Line's office and waited on hold rather than leave a message. I spoke with Grain Belt Express representative Ally Smith. She admitted they are still negotiating easements in Kansas, which conflicts with Mr. Lawlor's statement, and promised to check into the situation and call me back the next day to explain how something so wrong could be communicated/printed.
Three days go by, no call back. I called Ms. Smith again, but had to leave a message, no call back. Finally, this afternoon, Ms. Smith answers her phone, she claims to have tried to call me earlier in the day (I had no missed calls on my phone) but let bygones be.
Turns out there was a "miscommunication" between Mr. Lawlor and the STL Dispatch editorial board. That was the extent of the explanation. No mention of what he really meant or said, but to me it seems pretty hard to confuse anything with owning all the property they need in Kansas. (I wonder if lies count as miscommunication, I guess one could argue they do, I wonder, was Ms. Smith miscommunicating to me?).
I asked Ms. Smith about Clean Line's Code of Conduct found on their website and these lines specifically:
I c. Do not misrepresent any fact.
II h. Do not represent that a relative, neighbor and/or friend have signed a document or reached an agreement with Grain Belt Express Clean Line.
III b. Do not discuss your negotiations or interactions with other property owners or other persons.
It's pretty evident that some if not all of those codes have been ignored by Mr. Lawlor. I asked Ms. Smith who is responsible for enforcing those codes and what the penalty is. I was asked to be put on hold. Then she made efforts to dodge the questions, instead offered that they had contacted the paper to report the error, that it may or may not be corrected, and there is nothing else they can do. I asked again who enforces the code and what the penalty is, doesn't seem like that tough of a question for a company who touts their transparency and integrity and efforts to inform every chance they get, but Ms. Smith couldn't answer the question beyond "it's a managerial process". Perhaps Mr. Lawlor will enforce the code upon himself and penalize himself. I was told I must file a complaint regarding the code and their internal managerial process would determine its merits. I thought I was filing a complaint with my initial call, but it turns out it has to be in writing. I asked whether she could file a complaint on my behalf as she is aware of the situation now, turns out Clean Line employees can't file a complaint, they aren't in a position to hold themselves or each other accountable regarding their own Code of Conduct. So, how can their managerial process result in any penalty if they can't enforce it upon themselves?
Does anyone still think Clean Line will be accountable for any other promises or statements they make to property owners, commissioners, press, politicians or investors?
Miscommunication is defined as "failure to communicate adequately." For instance, giving your instructions in French to an employee who only speaks English. "Miscommunication" is also a weasely synonym for not being truthful. For instance, politicians and bureaucrats are never dishonest, they simply "miscommunicate."
In Mayberry, we just call that "lying."
Things are not going well for our friends at Clean Line Energy Partners.
Opposition to its Rock Island Clean Line, Grain Belt Express, and Plains & Eastern Clean Line projects continues to grow at explosive rates. This isn't just a handful of NIMBYs in an isolated tool shed, but an active, educated, cohesive, movement numbering in the thousands and stretching across eight states (and beyond!)
Clean Line's biggest problem is its desire to wield the power granted to entities acting in the public interest by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation
See where it says "public use?" Clean Line is not a "public use." It is a privately held investment vehicle that desires to build a for-profit project that has not been found necessary by any transmission planning entity acting under the auspices of our government. Any yahoo can wake up in the morning and decide to build a transmission line, but the idea does not make it "needed." Clean Line is a private entity who intends to sell transmission capacity to other private entities through privately negotiated contracts.
Whether granted by a state, or by the federal government through Sec. 1222 of the Energy Policy Act, giving eminent domain authority to Clean Line is just wrong. And the people will continue to loudly protest until the threat is removed.
Clean Line is failing in the all-important court of public opinion, which powers the legislative stance that drives approval or rejection of Clean Line's state regulatory applications. Clean Line hates it when the voters connect with their elected representatives because Clean Line has spent lots of time and money wooing your legislators to support its project with inflated claims about jobs and economic development. Clean Line has also been busy trying to slant the news coverage of its projects by meeting privately with editors and reporters in order to present them with a one-sided set of "facts" that support the project. News sources practicing ethical journalism seem to be immune, but every once in a while Clean Line hits the mark with an editor motivated by politics or good ol' boy business glad handing.
Yesterday, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch posted one such editorial, so full of political pandering that it probably didn't require the additional lies that it printed. The Editorial Board went wandering off about repeal of state renewable portfolio standards, the Koch brothers, foreign oil, commercial hog farms, Keystone XL, and oil subsidies. None of these topics have anything to do with Clean Line, but the paper tried to use these political topics to paint the opposition it knows nothing about as unacceptable and therefore not worthy of being heard. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also quotes Grain Belt Express project manager Mark Lawlor as claiming he has purchased all the land he needs in Kansas:
Mr. Lawlor has been through this before, in Kansas, where he says the company has completed buying the land it needs for that portion of the line.
This is an outright lie. Did Lawlor really say that? Or was that the editor's creation? Clean Line better clear this up before it comes back to bite them in a future eminent domain condemnation proceeding.... because that's the only way Lawlor is going to get his hands on some of the land he needs in Kansas.
The editorial was so bad that it has inspired more than 80 comments, almost all of them from real people knowledgeable about transmission and opposed to Clean Line. Go ahead, read the comments, and see the people educate Clean Line's sparse supporters in Missouri.
And if you think that editorial is bad, check out this article in the Cherokee Chronicle Times where reporter Loren G. Flaugh tosses journalistic ethics out the window to openly insult one of Clean Line's opponents in Iowa. The reporter inserts personal opinion into the story, calling Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance board member Jerry Crew "befuddled," "mistaken," and says his group "doesn't understand" the project's business model. And the reporter bases his inexpert understanding on talking points from Clean Line. I wonder, would that hold up in court?
Crew wanted elected officials to tell him what was on the line when the wind doesn't blow. No one could give him a correct or logical answer. The reporter concludes that when the wind doesn't blow, the line will be de-energized. I think the reporter is the one "befuddled" by Clean Line's bullsh*t. If wind farms are contracted to purchase a certain amount of capacity on the line, and they aren't producing anything, they will most likely re-sell their capacity in the secondary market to try to recover some of their cost. Who would buy it? Any generator who wants to connect into the series of regional feeder lines supplying Rock Island Clean Line's starting point converter station, that's who. And it could be ANY kind of generator -- coal, oil, gas, solar, wind. Clean Line cannot guarantee that its line will be... "clean."
Jerry Crew is absolutely correct, and the reporter is misinformed.
My, my, my, how desperate Clean Line has become as it stoops to new lows in the media. A viable project wouldn't require tossing journalistic ethics out the window. Clean Line is more closely imitating the death throes of a bad project. Surrender, Clean Line.
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.
Eminent domain. Two ugly little words.
Here's two more: Clean Line.
Mary Mauch of BlockRICL was on the radio this afternoon talking about Clean Line's proposals to take 3,000 miles of new transmission line right of way through eminent domain in numerous states across the Midwest.
Historically, we haven't spent too much time worrying about the right of public utilities to take private property using eminent domain. It was a necessary evil to bringing electric service to every citizen in the last century.
But, let's take a look at where we are now in order to understand that transmission line eminent domain has reached the tipping point, where revolution is imminent.
It's no longer about bringing electricity to Mr. Smith's remote farmstead so he can read seed catalogs after the sun sets. It's about trading electricity as a commodity, as new transmission lines get bigger and costlier. It's no longer about providing a necessary service, it's about supporting markets and investor profits.
Transmission lines "ordered" by regional grid planners for reliability, economic or environmental reasons are bad enough, but one could argue that they are still ostensibly serving a "public" purpose by stabilizing the grid, the market, or saving the planet. These projects are paid for by all users of the electric grid, therefore there is some justification for the use of eminent domain in order to keep ratepayer cost in check.
And then we have the merchant transmission projects, like Clean Line. This company is proposing transmission that has not been vetted or approved by regional grid planners. They simply want to build a transmission line because it would be profitable. Merchant projects are paid for entirely by their owners. The merchant recovers its costs by selling capacity on the line to generators or load serving utilities (who then pass it on to the users of the project). The merchant enterprise depends on the cost of building the line being less than the amount of profit to be derived from selling capacity. If the cost of the line is greater than the profits, then it isn't an economic endeavor and it won't be built.
A merchant transmission developer has an interest in keeping its costs low to increase profit and make the project economic. But a merchant transmission project isn't a public necessity. It's a profit center, plain and simple. That a successful merchant project would transmit electric power for purchase by utilities if the price is right does not a "public purpose" make.
Clean Line proposes that state regulators anoint it with public utility status and its attendant power of eminent domain so that it may take whatever property it needs for its project at a low price. This would keep the costs low for Clean Line, so that it could increase the amount of profit it may derive from operation of its line.
This is where the disconnect starts. A merchant project that depends purely on economics for its purpose should be required to operate completely on an economic basis. If Landowner A requires 150% market value for property, then that is the cost of the transmission line. An economic project absolutely cannot rely on the power of the state to make itself profitable.
Landowners across Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee have taken a stand. No eminent domain for privately financed economic projects. The landowners are becoming highly educated about electric transmission, property rights and civic engagement. And it's spreading like wildfire.
As a result, we are reaching the tipping point where absolutely NO transmission is going to be built, even that which may be needed.
The urban decision-makers with their quarter acre plots maintained by hired landscapers and gardeners simply cannot understand a farmer's or rancher's connection to his land. Or why they are prepared to fight for their livelihood.