Remember when the U.S. DOE's triennial "congestion studies" under Sec. 1222 of the Energy Policy Act were a big deal? That was before the 4th Circuit told them that a state's denial of a project was not a "failure to act" that triggered federal intervention to usurp state authority to permit a transmission project. And that was before the 9th Circuit vacated the "corridors" the DOE designated in 2009 because of DOE's failure to consult with affected states. What's left behind is a useless section of statute that doesn't actually DO anything except waste taxpayer money on ridiculous "congestion studies" that do nothing but compile unverified data and opinion from the internet and the industry to inform the DOE's designation of future "congestion" corridors. Now when DOE issues one of its "reports" (three years past the deadline, or maybe it's on time and DOE just skipped the 2012 report) it's so anticlimactic that nobody knows about it.
And that's what happened with DOE's 2015 Report Concerning Designation of National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors. Big nothing. In fact, it was so uninteresting that DOE didn't even bother to send notice to all the folks who commented on its draft that it had completed its study. An astute commenter just happened across it.
Despite the industry's urging to continue attempting to use this tool to usurp state authority to site and permit transmission, or to simply delegate its authority to create corridors to transmission builders, the DOE decided not to designate any new corridors. Seems they have lost their taste for it after the beat down they suffered in federal court.
So, isn't it time to do away with this waste of taxpayer money? How much did this limp "report" cost to create? Congress needs to reconsider this mandate in any new energy legislation. It's a waste of time and money.
DOE's got issues. I note that this "report" appears to be the agency's recommendation to the Secretary on the designation of new corridors. I guess that would make it an "internal deliberation" that should be swept under the rug and hidden from the public? Maybe that's what the lack of notice was about? How come DOE is making this "internal deliberation" available to the public, but hiding its "internal deliberations" regarding Clean Line's application under Sec. 1222 of the Energy Policy Act? Something really stinks at DOE. They're operating like they are somehow above the public scrutiny and transparency that our federal agencies are bound to operate under. It's just one big taxpayer funded, opague industry party. And that spells trouble down the road the next time DOE finds itself in federal court over its industry-sympathisizing machinations of the Energy Policy Act.
So, let's toss Sec. 1221 on the failed legislation heap, but save room on the pile for Sec. 1222. It's coming.
Ever heard the idiom "qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent." Probably not, but you must be familiar with its English translation, "when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas." Clean Line has recently exposed its dirty underbelly by publicly scratching its fleas.
Clean Line is now a proud "member" of the Consumers Energy Alliance (#25 under "Energy Providers and Suppliers").
What is the Consumers Energy Alliance? According to SourceWatch:
The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is a nonprofit organization and a front group for the energy industry that opposes political efforts to regulate carbon standards while advancing deep water and land-based drilling for oil and methane gas. The CEA supports lifting moratoria on offshore and land-based oil and natural gas drilling, encourages the creation and expansion of petroleum refineries and easing the permitting process for drilling. The group also says it supports energy conservation. CEO portrays itself as seeking to ensure a "proper balance" between traditional non-renewable and extractive energy sources and alternative energy sources. The group also supports construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
According to Salon.com, which obtained over 300 emails of personal messages between lobbyists and Canadian officials, the CEA is part of a sophisticated public affairs strategy designed to manipulate the U.S. political system by deluging the media with messaging favorable to the tar-sands industry; to persuade key state and federal legislators to act in the extractive industries' favor; and to defeat any attempt to regulate the carbon emissions emanating from gasoline and diesel used by U.S. vehicles.
So, the CEA is a well-known front group for the fossil fuel industry? But, wait a tick, I thought Clean Line was all about "clean" energy and shutting down the fossil fuel industry? Money makes strange bedfellows.
What is a front group?
A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned. The front group is perhaps the most easily recognized use of the third party technique. For example, Rick Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) claims that its mission is to defend the rights of consumers to choose to eat, drink and smoke as they please. In reality, CCF is a front group for the tobacco, restaurant and alcoholic beverage industries, which provide all or most of its funding.
Of course, not all organizations engaged in manipulative efforts to shape public opinion can be classified as "front groups." For example, the now-defunct Tobacco Institute was highly deceptive, but it didn't hide the fact that it represented the tobacco industry. There are also degrees of concealment. The Global Climate Coalition, for example, didn't hide the fact that its funding came from oil and coal companies, but nevertheless its name alone is sufficiently misleading that it can reasonably be considered a front group.
The shadowy way front groups operate makes it difficult to know whether a seemingly independent grassroots is actually representing some other entity. Thus, citizen smokers' rights groups and organizations of bartenders or restaurant workers working against smoking bans are sometimes characterized as front groups for the tobacco industry, but it is possible that some of these groups are self-initiated (although the tobacco industry has been known to use restaurant groups as fronts for its own interests).
“Unfortunately, virtually all energy projects face at least some level of opposition. But, in most cases, the opposition comes from the vocal few who stand in the way of the silent majority who see these necessary projects providing tremendous job and economic development opportunities on many levels. The EDJ Alliance will help taxpayers, energy consumers, landowners and businesses to voice their opinion to elected officials so that they embrace the opportunities associated with energy development.”
Vocal few? Silent majority? You mean landowners and consumers who object to the Plains & Eastern project vs. Clean Line Energy Partners? CLEP is hardly silent (paid mouthpieces like HBW stand in evidence) and it's certainly not any kind of "majority" in Arkansas. In addition, CEA does not represent any actual "consumers" or other "grassroots" interests. It simply pretends to speak for them.
Support landowners in Arkansas and Oklahoma! Support energy infrastructure! Support the Plains & Eastern Clean Line!
We need your help!
America's energy infrastructure needs your help! Lobbying efforts at the white house level have inhibited the passage of an energy infrastructure project beneficial to citizens and landowners in Arkansas and Oklahoma!
Support energy infrastructure, land owners, and the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project by simply clicking the link below to sign the petition! Every click makes a difference!
It is absolutely imperative to demonstrate support as a citizen! The future of America's energy infrastructure is in your hands!!
When a couple of the landowners CEA claims to represent questioned the group's claims, HBW promptly removed the claims from its facebook page.
How stupid does HBW think the American people are? Do they ever type a sentence that doesn't end with one (or two!!) exclamation points? This is ridiculous, ineffective drivel. C'mon!!!!!!!!
What "lobbying efforts at the White House level" have inhibited "passage" of an energy infrastructure project? Do you mean the DOE's consideration of Plains & Eastern's Section 1222 application to "participate" in the project in order to override state authority to site and permit transmission? That decision won't be made until next year. And it's supposed to be made by DOE secretary Ernest Moniz, not the "white house." Does HBW and Clean Line know something about some dirty dealings that the rest of us aren't privy to?
So, who are the faces of CEA's "initiative?"
Ryan Scott, Outreach Director
Since 2005, Ryan has provided strategic advice to clients across a number of industries with a focus on the oil and gas sector in particular.
While working as an attorney, before joining HBW, Ryan focused on commercial litigation, often representing business clients in contract disputes. Prior to practicing law, Ryan worked at Deloitte & Touche’s Strategy & Operations Consulting practice. While with Deloitte, he worked with clients such as Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), developing and delivering Financial Reporting & Legal training to a BMS executive team. Ryan evaluated Finance function processes to improve and transform them leading up to a major SAP implementation for Wal-Mart.
Ryan received a B.A. in Economics from the University of Southern California, and a JD – MBA from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio. Ryan is licensed to practice law in Illinois and is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association.
Here's Ryan Scott trading papers with Clean Line public relations "manager" Amy Kurt at the second Mendota Illinois Commerce Commission public forum in the fall of 2013:
And here's Ryan Scott interacting with the ICC judge at the forum:
Here's what Ryan Scott
had to say about the Rock Island Clean Line at the forum:
MR. SCOTT: My name is Ryan Scott;
R-y-a-n, S-c-o-t-t. I'm here as a resident of Illinois and representative of Consumer Energy Alliance. We're a trade association representing virtually every sector of the economy from trucking, to organized labor, to energy producers. The reason I'm here to speak in favor of Rock Island is simple. Consumer Energy Alliance and I support this project because it represents an important piece of the energy puzzle to supply consumers with affordable and reliable energy. Anyone who plugs in their smart phone into an electrical outlet, fires up their television to watch the Bears or perhaps a better football team or just uses their air conditioner will benefit from this project. The bottom line is in the United States demand is increasing. As one of the previous speakers stated, according to the Department of Energy and Energy Information Administration, forecasts of 25 percent increase in demand for electricity over the next three decades are expected in the United States. At the same time, the supply of electricity is expected to decrease due to aging plants and tightening Federal regulations. Many coal-fired power plants will be shuttered in the coming decades. In Illinois coal, which we expect to be decreasing in production, actually makes up approximately 40 percent of the State's energy base level. So that's an important piece of the puzzle that will no longer be available to Illinoisans. For all the reasons stated above and in order to meet Illinois' energy needs, the Consumer Energy Alliance and I support the Rock Island Clean Line project. Thank you.
That's funny. Ryan didn't mention that Clean Line Energy Partners is a member of the CEA.
Who does Ryan Scott work for? It's not CEA or its "initiative," it's HBW Resources. HBW doesn't do anything for free, so I believe that Ryan was paid to appear at the ICC forum and make that statement.
Didn't Clean Line have the opportunity to present its case to the ICC as the applicant? Why, then, did Clean Line feel it necessary to have paid speakers posing as third party "consumer" interests supporting its project at the forum? Did Clean Line think it was fooling the ICC into believing that consumers supported RICL?
And now Ryan, HBW, and its new "initiative" think they're fooling a whole new bunch of folks at the "white house" and in the Mayberry towns of Arkansas and Oklahoma?
I wonder what Clean Line's big green supporters think about its getting into bed with fossil fuel interests in the CEA? At what point are these environmental fools going to conclude that Clean Line isn't about "green" energy, but a different kind of $green$?
And, as far as Clean Line's attempted deception about the "benefits" of the Plains & Eastern Clean Line? Report to your battle stations, Mayberry! We're going to have some fun! You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to fool a farmer. Also an idiom you've probably heard. Not translated into Latin.
The media is calling both the House and Senate energy bills "boring."
The goal seems to be to pass an energy bill that doesn't do much of anything. For this, we pay these guys the big bucks!
Boring is much better than controversial, because honestly, these critters can get up to all kinds of hijinks when they're out of your sight in Washington, DC. Some of the more "controversial" stuff proposed earlier didn't make it into the bills that are currently being marked up, such as the "APPROVAL Act" bills introduced by the Arkansas delegation to neuter Section 1222 of the last energy policy act. Went nowhere. Nothing but hot air intended to appease angry voters. What a disappointment!
Anyhow, what IS in the bills that's of interest? Oh, there are a few things...
The House bill contains a section establishing an
Office of Compliance Assistance and Public Participation within the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. This figurehead shall:
SEC. 4211. FERC OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE ASSISTANCE AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION.
Section 319 of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. 825q–1) is amended to read as follows:
‘‘SEC. 319. OFFICE OF COMPLIANCE ASSISTANCE AND PUBLIC PARTICIPATION.
‘‘(a) ESTABLISHMENT.—There is established within the Commission an Office of Compliance Assistance and Public Participation (referred to in this section as the ‘Office’). The Office shall be headed by a Director.
‘‘(b) DUTIES OF DIRECTOR.--
‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—The Director of the Office
shall promote improved compliance with Commission rules and orders by—
‘‘(A) making recommendations to the Commission regarding—
‘‘(i) the protection of consumers;
‘‘(ii) market integrity and support for the development of responsible market behavior;
‘‘(iii) the application of Commission rules and orders in a manner that ensures that—
‘‘(I) rates and charges for, or in connection with, the transmission or sale of electric energy subject to the jurisdiction of the Commission shall be just and reasonable and not unduly discriminatory or preferential; and
‘‘(II) markets for such transmission and sale of electric energy are not impaired and consumers are not damaged; and
‘‘(iv) the impact of existing and proposed Commission rules and orders on small entities, as defined in section 601 of title 5, United States Code (commonly known as the Regulatory Flexibility Act);
‘‘(B) providing entities subject to regulation by the Commission the opportunity to obtain timely guidance for compliance with Com- mission rules and orders; and
‘‘(C) providing information to the Commission and Congress to inform policy with respect to energy issues under the jurisdiction of the Commission.
‘‘(2) REPORTS AND GUIDANCE.—The Director shall, as the Director determines appropriate, issue reports and guidance to the Commission and to entities subject to regulation by the Commission, regarding market practices, proposing improvements in Commission monitoring of market practices, and addressing potential improvements to both industry and Commission practices.
‘‘(3) OUTREACH.—The Director shall promote
improved compliance with Commission rules and orders through outreach, publications, and, where appropriate, direct communication with entities regulated by the Commission.’’.
What? Why isn't the Commission already doing these things? And more importantly, who does this Director report to? Sounds like he reports to Congress as their special FERC minion. Is this Director supposed to take the place of a consumer advocate at FERC, freeing up the resources of state consumer advocates to concentrate on consumer issues within their own states? If so, how come this Director has no real power, other than to issue reports and recommendations? How will this position be filled? Appointment? Hired by the Commissioners? Whose interests would this Director REALLY serve? Sounds like nothing but a feel-good figurehead sucking the taxpayer teat that produces nothing of use to consumers.
The Senate bill has a couple of items of interest, including a "Transmission Ombudsperson" who, unlike the House's FERC minion, serves only the industry, smoothing things over for companies who want to build transmission (or at least that's how the Senate thinks it will work).
- (b) TRANSMISSION OMBUDSPERSON.—
(1) ESTABLISHMENT.—To enhance and ensure the reliability of the electric grid, there is established within the Council on Environmental Quality the position of Transmission Ombudsperson (referred to in this subsection as the ‘‘Ombudsperson’’), to provide a unified point of contact for—
- (A) resolving interagency or intra-agency issues or delays with respect to electric transmission infrastructure permits; and
(B) receiving and resolving complaints
from parties with outstanding or in-process applications relating to electric transmission infrastructure.
(2) DUTIES.—The Ombudsperson shall—
(A) establish a process for--
(i) facilitating the permitting process for performance of maintenance and upgrades to electric transmission lines on Federal land and non-Federal land, with a special emphasis on facilitating access for immediate maintenance, repair, and vegetation management needs;
(ii) resolving complaints filed with the
Ombudsperson with respect to in-process electric transmission infrastructure permits; and
(iii) issuing recommended resolutions
to address the complaints filed with the
(B) hear, compile, and share any com-
plaints filed with Ombudsperson relating to in-process electric transmission infrastructure permits.
If this Ombudsperson ever exists, put him on your speed dial and complain regularly! Although he'll probably just sit around, take long lunches and frequent vacations because the federal government has a very narrow responsibility to issue electric transmission infrastructure permits. It's up to you to wake him up occasionally! Another do-nothing on the taxpayer dime.
Hey, but wait, perhaps if the section codifying Obama's "Interagency Rapid Response Transmission Team" (RRTT or "er-tit" as we dubbed it) makes it through, Ombudsperson will have more to do! The er-tit is supposed to "
expedite and improve the permitting process for electric transmission infrastructure on Federal land and non-Federal land." Again, very few federal transmission permits, but the er-tit is supposed to whip the federal agencies to approve the few permits they do have jurisdiction over faster, faster, faster! The er-tit consists of representatives from a laundry list of federal agencies, but has absolutely NOBODY watching out for the interests of consumers or landowners. Full-speed ahead for the er-tit and its industry flunkies! I shouldn't laugh... the original incarnation of the er-tit rammed through a federal process for the Susquehanna Roseland transmission line in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that cost ratepayers $60M, plus interest over the next 40 years, to pay off the demands of former Interior Secretary Salazar
. Let's hope the new er-tit behaves better.
So, anything can happen in the Congressional energy world, as the busy little bees try to add things (bad things? good things?) into these energy bills before the recess. How come the consumers don't have a lobbyist working for their interests on Capitol Hill? It's up to you to babysit these Congress critters!
Looks like Clean Line Energy Partners has given up hope of getting the state utility commission approvals it needs to build its Rock Island Clean Line, Grain Belt Express Clean Line and Plains & Eastern Clean Line.
And why do you suppose Clean Line no longer cares whether or not your state utility commissions find that the Clean Line projects are "needed" and beneficial to the citizens of each state?
Because Clean Line has now decided that it MUST have federal eminent domain authority to site its projects. No more making nice with the states, Clean Line wants the federal government to condemn your property so that Clean Line can commandeer it to host its massive transmission line.
Just last week, Clean Line Energy Partners Vice President Hans Detweiler submitted a Congressional lobbying registration form to lobby on behalf of Clean Line.
Detweiler's specific lobbying issues, according to the registration:
Federal legislation related to the use of federal eminent domain for energy delivery
Hans, you really are an
Nice touch about the "foreign entity" that owns more than 20% of the registrant, you know, National Grid. How can they pretend that Clean Line is about increasing America's energy independence? It's actually about sending America's energy dollars overseas to foreign investors!
Seems like our widdle Hansy-poo hasn't heard that S1017 is much too controversial to stand a chance of being included in Murkowski's omnibus energy bill
. But maybe he can pull some pork, along with a couple Senatorial legs, at the next Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting? Maybe a bouncy house? Pony rides? Balloon animals?
However, sandwiches and cheap amusements are going to be quickly forgotten in the face of the combined outrage of voters and state officials if the feds show up to take private property for a foreign corporation's profit. Bundy Ranch, on steroids.
Proceed to your battle stations, Mayberry!
Journalists are trained to be independent reporters of the facts. The readers are supposed to take those facts and form their own opinion. But what happens when a "journalist" tries to spin her opinion as "news?"
"Clean Line receives pocket approval from legislature."
On the heels of lawmakers voting to reject a House bill designed to stop the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project, Michael Skelly, President of Clean Line Energy, visited a Ralls County site of a Grain Belt Express Clean Line’s delivery station, a $100 million facility that proponents say will allow Missourians to receive low-cost, clean power from the Grain Belt Express Clean Line.
The Grain Belt Express Clean Line is a proposed electric power line that will deliver competitively-priced renewable energy to Missouri. The House Energy and Environment Committee voted down House Bill 1027, which would modify provisions relating to eminent domain powers of utilities, on April 28. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, who represents Monroe, Lincoln, Pike, and Ralls Counties.
“With the vote this morning, Missouri lawmakers have demonstrated that they stand behind market based solutions to bring low-cost, renewable energy to the state,” said Mark Lawlor, Director of Development for Clean Line Energy. “The Grain Belt Express Clean Line will deliver enough low-cost clean power to Missouri through a direct connection to the electric grid to power 200,000 Missouri homes. We look forward to continuing to work with landowners and community members to develop the project in Missouri in a collaborative way. This project is very important to Missouri’s energy future.”
At the hearing on the bill, supporters spoke of the benefits that the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project would bring to the state and asked legislators to block HB 1027.
According to the Legislative Drafter's Deskbook: A Practical Guide
, a "pocket approval" happens when the President does not sign a bill, but fails to return it to the legislature within 10 days. In that case, it becomes law through "pocket approval."
Is that what this reporter meant? That HB 1027 became law because the President failed to return it to the House? Or is this reporter just desperate to include the words "approval" and "Grain Belt Express" in a headline?
There was no "approval" for Grain Belt Express in Missouri. The legislature does not have authority to "approve" a transmission project. "Approval" can only come from the Missouri Public Service Commission, and the Staff of the MO PSC just last week reaffirmed their recommendation that the PSC DENY APPROVAL for Grain Belt Express.
This headline is simply the reporter's opinionated fantasy. The only thing that actually happened at the legislature is that Clean Line's expensive lobbyists managed to twist enough arms to prevent legislation supported by the people from passing. Big deal... there's always next year!
The reporter conveniently skips over the fact that GBE won't provide ANY energy to Missouri that is not purchased by an actual utility that serves electric load in the state. Evidence at the PSC indicates that there are no utilities stepping up to purchase electricity from GBE's Missouri converter station.
The article also claims: "Grain Belt Express project moves process forward, receiving public support."
Moves forward? Forward to where? GBE is still stuck in the Molasses Swamp waiting for a decision on its application from the MO PSC. It's not going anywhere.
And where's the proof that GBE has any "public support?" The evidence at hand indicates that GBE is receiving record public opposition. This is backed up by the fact that when "Mike" Skelly called a recent press conference at a field in Ralls County, the only "supporters" who showed up were brought in by GBE from many miles away. On the same day, the Ralls County Commission re-iterated its opposition to GBE, no matter how much of a company man their assessor wants to be in the media.
Here's Block GBE MO's press release that reflects what REALLY happened:
Two Counties Clarify Opposition to Grain Belt: Chariton and Ralls Legalize Letters of Rescission
Texas based Clean Line Energy, that hopes to build a 750 mile high voltage-transmission line across the state, just hit another snag. Five out of eight counties crossed have now officially rescinded permission for Grain Belt Express to access their county. In Missouri, each county and the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) must grant permission to erect any towers.
The staff of the Missouri PSC recommended denying Grain Belt last fall. They stated “Grain Belt Express has not shown it is needed, economically feasible, or promotes the public interest in Missouri”. They also stated, “Section 229.100 RS Mo precludes Grain Belt from building its proposed line without first obtaining the consent of the County Commission in each of the eight counties in northern Missouri where the line would be located.”
Grain Belt questioned the validity of the rescission letters from two counties that were written in the summer of 2014. They stated that Chariton County’s letter had not specifically withdrawn section 229.100 authority or permission to build.
They also stated that Ralls County had said they would consider granting franchise only after the commission approved Grain Belt. Because the county must give permission for the PSC to grant a certificate it created a chicken and egg situation. Grain Belt asked for the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity first and promises to get the consent of each of the counties afterwards.
In response, both Chariton and Ralls County submitted new letters to the PSC to reiterate that Grain Belt does not have permission to build transmission lines in their county.
Ralls County’s new letter reads, in part, “Accordingly, if our grant of authority of August 23rd, 2012 to Grain Belt Express was valid, the County Commission does hereby rescind and revoke any authority granted that date to Grain Belt Express."
Wiley Hibbard, Presiding Commissioner of Ralls County stated, “I, as well as the other two Commissioners in Ralls County, felt it was important that we should restate our opposition to GBE's application to the PSC.
"By pure coincidence, we chose to send our letter to the PSC on the same day GBE held a press conference in Ralls County. It is my understanding that no landowners from Ralls County attended. GBE had to bring a person in from a county many miles away to speak to the press. This will show Grain Belt and the PSC that landowner's rights are very important to the citizens of Ralls County.”
Jennifer Gatrel of Block Grain Belt Express Missouri stated, “We are delighted that five out of eight counties have withdrawn their permission. We are very hopeful that the Missouri PSC will quickly deny Grain Belt and allow landowners to resume our lives."
A reporter who purposely misstates the facts to promote a corporate agenda does so at the peril of her own reputation.
Brace yourselves, Americans, Congress is tinkering with energy policy again! No good can come of this. And some idiot has introduced a whole new Sec. 216 (16 U.S.C. 824p)
aka Section 1221
of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that's even worse than its first iteration.
The original, Section 1221, designated the Secretary of Energy to conduct an electric transmission "congestion study" and designate "National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors" (NIETCs) every three years. Transmission proposed in these designated corridors
was subject to "backstop" permitting by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the event a state withheld approval of an application for a permit for more than one year, or lacked the authority to permit the project.
Section 1221 was promptly deconstructed in two federal courts. When FERC proposed that "withholding approval" included a denial, and that meant it could override a state's denial of an application, the 4th Circuit determined that "withheld approval"
excludes a state's denial of an application, preserving state authority. In addition, the 9th Circuit determined
that DOE did not properly "consult with states" before designating NIETCs, and therefore it vacated the corridors DOE had set in 2009.
Last year, DOE made a half-hearted attempt to produce the 2012 "congestion study," but was resoundingly smacked down by a whole bunch of comments, and hasn't done a thing since.
In practice, Section 1221 has been an abject failure
However, the new Section 216, carried to Congress by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), attempts to fix all that by giving FERC authority to overrule a state denial of a transmission permit and use federal eminent domain authority to take private property. It also tosses NIETCs out the window as a means to identify worthy transmission projects and replaces them with an RTO/ISO finding that the project is "needed."
Good news: The new Sec. 216 does not apply to Clean Line in its current form.
Bad news: The new Sec. 216 will encourage a whole bunch of new transmission projects of questionable necessity, and landowners along existing corridors and/or those owning "open farmland" are always the first targets identified on the ol' transmission routing Etch-A-Sketch.
So, let's look at what the new Sec. 216 says:
(B) FEDERAL AUTHORITY.—The Commission may authorize, in accordance with subsection (d), construction of a high-priority regional transmission project that the Commission finds to be required by the present or future public convenience and necessity and in accordance with this section if--
“(i) a State--
“(I) fails to approve construction and authorize routing of a high-priority regional transmission project not later than 1 year after the date the applicant submits a completed application for authorization to the State;
“(II) rejects or denies the application for a high-priority regional transmission project;
“(III) authorizes the high-priority regional transmission project subject to conditions that unreasonably interfere with the development of a high-priority regional transmission project contrary to the purposes of this section; or
“(IV) does not have authority to approve the siting of the high-priority regional transmission project; or
“(ii) the developer seeking a certificate for construction under subsection (d) does not qualify to apply for State authorization to construct a high-priority regional transmission project because the developer does not serve end-users in the State.
So, FERC can "authorize" a transmission project if a state denies an application or conditions approval in a way the transmission developer doesn't like. That's not "backstop" or secondary authority, it's usurping state authority in its entirety. A state must approve, or else. So, why even bother with the fan dance of state applications at all? That's just a big waste of time and money.
Tell ya what... if FERC ends up with authority to overrule state transmission permitting decisions, there's going to be a lot more "turn-offs" for Commissioner Norman Bay, because the protestors will have moved "from pipelines to Order 1000." *Insert laughter here*
Second problem - how these "special" high-priority regional transmission projects are determined:
(1) HIGH-PRIORITY REGIONAL TRANSMISSION PROJECT.—The term ‘high-priority regional transmission project’ means an overhead, submarine, or underground transmission facility, including conductors or cables, towers, manhole duct systems, reactors, capacitors, circuit breakers, static VAR compensators, static synchronous compensators, power converters, transformers, synchronous condensers, braking resistors, and any ancillary facilities and equipment necessary for the proper operation of the facility, that is selected in a regional transmission plan for the purposes of cost allocation under Order Number 1000 of the Commission (or any successor order), including an interregional project selected under that plan.
That's it -- mere selection of and inclusion in a regional transmission plan makes a project "high-priority." Ummm... does Heinrich know that RTOs include hundreds of projects in their regional plans each year? "High-priority" over what? Transmission projects that aren't in a regional plan? Those are few and far between because they're nearly impossible to build (ain't that right, Clean Line?) So, every
project is going to be a "high-priority" project in this brave, new world?
It's quite obvious that S.1017 intends to "fix" everything that went wrong with the original Sec. 216, including the flawed NIETCs and the ability of a state to deny an application for a transmission project that did not serve its citizens. But, let's ask ourselves, does it really need fixing? State approvals aren't the problem with new transmission, it's federal approvals and studies that muck up and delay transmission plans. In addition, Congress has resolutely refused to make electric transmission siting and permitting a federal responsibility, and will most likely continue to do so.
There seemed to be little love for controversial legislation like S.1017 at Thursday's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. But, you know how Congress is... they get up to all sorts of hijinks if you don't keep your eye on them, so this bears a bit of babysitting.
One more thing before I wrap this up... where did this legislation come from?
The original Sec. 216 got its purpose from:
(4) In determining whether to designate a national interest electric transmission corridor under paragraph (2), the Secretary may consider whether--
(A) the economic vitality and development of the corridor, or the end markets served by the corridor, may be constrained by lack of adequate or reasonably priced electricity;
(i) economic growth in the corridor, or the end markets served by the corridor, may be jeopardized by reliance on limited sources of energy; and
(ii) a diversification of supply is warranted;
(C) the energy independence of the United States would be served by the designation;
(D) the designation would be in the interest of national energy policy; and
(E) the designation would enhance national defense and homeland security.
Nothing in there about renewable energy, right?
Now take a look at the purpose of the new Sec. 216:
(a) Policy.—It is the policy of the United States that the national interstate transmission system should be guided by the goal of maximizing the net benefits of the electricity system, taking into consideration--
“(1) support for the development of new, cleaner power generation capacity, including renewable energy generation located distant from load centers;
“(2) opportunities for reduced emissions from regional power production;
“(3) transmission needs driven by public policy requirements established by State or Federal laws (including regulations);
“(4) cost savings resulting from--
“(A) reduced transmission congestion;
“(B) enhanced opportunities for intraregional and interregional electricity trades;
“(C) reduced line losses;
“(D) generation resource-sharing; and
“(E) enhanced fuel diversity;
“(5) reliability benefits, including satisfying reliability standards and guidelines for resource adequacy and system security;
“(6) diversification of risk relating to events affecting fuel supply or generating resources in a particular region;
“(7) the enhancement of competition in electricity markets and mitigation of market power;
“(8) the ability to collocate facilities on existing rights-of-way;
“(9) competing land use priorities, including land protected under Federal or State law;
“(10) the requirements of section 217(b)(4); and
“(11) the contribution of demand side management (including energy efficiency and demand response), energy storage, distributed generation resources, and smart grid investments.
Great news out of Iowa yesterday! Legislation targeted to restrict the use of eminent domain by private companies not serving Iowans advanced as hundreds of landowners and other stakeholders gathered to speak out at a subcommittee meeting at the Capitol.
NPR has the story. Listen to the audio, it's better than the print version.
Several landowners spoke out about abusive practices of land agents attempting to secure right-of-way.
“I've heard this from other landowners being told the same thing,” Murray says. “Right-of-way agents are saying this is inevitable so you better take the easement deal before you.”
A spokesman for Bakken crude pipeline company Dakota Access said what the companies always say when faced with the transgressions of their shifty land agents:
“If anybody knows of anyone who’s been dealt with unfairly,” Boeyink says, “get the names to me and we will deal with it swiftly.”
Yada, yada, yada, we will fire any land agent who violates the "code of conduct." Tell me, if land agents were regularly subjected to firing for using abusively coercive tactics to secure easements, why does it still happen with such regularity? I don't think I believe it. I think it's merely window dressing for instances where a land agent is caught by a landowner in a pack of lies. I think that companies routinely look the other way when violations occur, as long as easement agreements are being filed. Because for every one unscrupulous land agent that gets reported in the media, there are probably hundreds of others that got away with it. I have heard numerous horror stories about transmission right-of-way land agents, continuing up until the present. Where there's this much smoke, there is certainly fire.
The Sierra Club seems to be backing off its hypocritical support of Clean Line transmission projects, while simultaneously opposing pipelines as an abuse of eminent domain.
Wally Taylor of Cedar Rapids, a lawyer for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, said his organization is worried about an "extreme risk to property and the environment" if the pipeline project proceeds. There is no doubt that oil spills will occur and it will be many years before the land can be farmed again, he added.
It's also clear that if Bakken crude oil is transported through Iowa, it will be shipped from Illinois onto the world petroleum market via the Gulf of Mexico, Taylor said. "This is all about private property. It isn't about benefiting Iowa or the nation," he said. Similarly, the Rock Island Clean Line would not provide a way for Iowans to connect to the line or to obtain energy from the transmission facility, he added.
That's right, Sierra Club! Clean Line does not provide a way for pass-thru states to benefit from its projects! The projects also destroy the environment and economy of pass-thru states and won't actually shut down any coal plants. Not one! Sierra Club should really get its act together here and stop worshipping at the alter of grant funding and renewable energy make-believe.
Clean Line's spokesperson tried to get the committee to believe the company plans on acquiring more than 90% of the easements it needs voluntarily.
Paula Dierenfeld, representing Clean Line Energy Partners, said her company currently has obtained voluntary easements from about 15 to 20 percent of property owners and has a goal of obtaining "well in excess of 90 percent" voluntary easements. But she questioned the proposed requirement to obtain 75 percent voluntary sign-ups before eminent domain can be requested. She said a company could spend millions of dollars on obtaining easements without even knowing whether a project could move forward. She asked whether any businesses would support that idea.
Paula must be new. Clean Line has obtained all the voluntary easements it's going to get, even with the hard sell tactics reported by Mr. Murray. 15%. That's it. The rest is a fairy tale. The people of Iowa aren't buying what you're selling. You know, Paula, risk is a big, big part of being in the merchant transmission business when you don't have an order to construct the project from a regional transmission authority. Maybe you should ask your bosses at Clean Line why they're supporting the company spending millions of dollars on obtaining easements without even knowing whether their project could move forward?
Way to go, Iowa!
Disturbing news out of Colorado this morning. The Denver Post reports
that the legislature is playing games with funding of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) for the next 10 years. Without funding and authorization, the OCC will simply cease to exist under Colorado's "sunset" law.
A concerned legislator likened the refusal to deal with the re-funding of the OCC to "Washington, D.C.-style politics."
"If people disagree on the policy, the substance or the process, that's fair; that's what we're each here to do," Garcia said. "But what we're seeing here is Washington, D.C.-style politics where you put something off to the side, and the committee chair doesn't give it due regard until it's too late."
Why is consumer counsel so important? Because it is the utility consumer's only defense against high rates and utility policy that compromises their interest. Only the consumer counsel is looking out for residential and small business interests during utility rate cases. Without the OCC, residential consumers would have no choice but to represent themselves in every utility case before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Who can afford the time or expense of that? Nobody, therefore consumers would be unrepresented. It's just not true that outside consumer groups, contingency-based lawyers, or class-action lawsuits can take the place of an independent, governmental advocate that defends the interests of all
residential and small business consumers.
According to a report prepared last fall, the OCC regularly saves this class of consumers between $40-50 million per year in increased rates. The cost of this representation is a mere $1.5M/year. The funding for the OCC comes from fees paid by regulated utilities, not out of the state's general fund. It costs consumers nothing, and it consistently saves them money. The report recommends continuing the OCC until 2026. However, the legislature is ignoring it, and without their nod, the OCC will sunset.
Don't let the Colorado legislature rob you of the representation that keeps your utility bill in check. Without the OCC, out-of-control rate increases could have you lamenting that "someone" should do something about that. The OCC is the consumer's "someone," even though most consumers don't even know they exist. Get educated and take an active role in the processes that control your utility costs -- support the re-funding of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel.
Halt The Power Lines makes it quick and easy to do your part! Visit them here to find out how to take action!
Branstad, who appoints the members of the utilities board, warned against "political interference" into the administrative review process by which a pipeline carrying Bakken crude oil and a transmission line transporting wind-generated electricity could be approved.
"It would be mistake to get politics into this," Branstad said. "We should abide by the processes that have been put in place."
However, Carol Overland reports
that Governor Branstad has changed his mind and made some changes to the Iowa Utilities Board at the urging of MidAmerican Energy. It doesn't get any more political than this!
An outgoing member of the Iowa Utilities Board has bluntly told Gov. Terry Branstad in a letter that his decision to remove her is improper and being done to placate a powerful energy company.
Sheila Tipton told the governor in the March 18 letter that his move to replace her and demote board chairwoman Elizabeth Jacobs is an inappropriate attempt to influence future decisions to favor utilities and "appease MidAmerican Energy." The company had complained about a ruling requiring the company to use some proceeds from a $280 million wind energy investment to reduce customers' rates.
So, what is Branstad saying here? Is he saying that the interests of Iowans represented by their elected representatives aren't as powerful as campaign contributions he may receive from energy companies the IUB regulates?
Where I come from, that's called hypocrisy, and it's shameful. Only when regulators may regulate without political interference can the industry they regulate fail to capture them. It's time for the voice of the citizens of Iowa to be heard!
Have you been getting random mailers from "Potomac Edison," "Mon Power," or another FirstEnergy distribution affiliate trying to sell you an "Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan from HomeServe?"
Just say no.
Go outside and look at your electric meter. You are responsible for some components of your electric service connection. The utility is responsible for the meter components and any underground service lines. You are responsible for maintaining the rest. Is your service drop overhead, or underground? Read the fine print:
The meter that measures the amount of electricity used, any underground service entrance conductor, and the meter base (materials only) are not covered under this plan, but are covered by your local FirstEnergy Company. Your local FirstEnergy Company will supply the materials to repair or replace the meter base...
So, what is covered? An overhead connection to your house (cost estimated at $200) and the labor to replace the company-supplied meter base (estimated to cost another $200), if they ever need to be replaced! So, how much will FirstEnergy's insurance cost you? $5.49/month. Forever. You'd be better off putting that $5.49 in a mason jar every month, on the off chance that you ever do need these unusual electrical repairs, so that you can hire a local electrician to fix them. FirstEnergy's literature claims that your homeowner's insurance won't cover these repairs. Know why? Because the cost of repairs is usually lower than your deductible!
Why would you want to give a bunch of money to the utility for "insurance" against an unusual problem that only costs a couple hundred bucks to fix? It doesn't say "stupid" on my forehead. Oh, but wait! If you sign up you will receive a "special" phone number to call to get your service. If you remember what you did with that phone number and the rest of your paperwork when you have an outdoor electrical line issue, then you could avoid the hassles of looking for an electrician in the yellow pages and "waiting" for service (because service dispatched through Akron, Ohio, is much quicker than calling an electrician in your own town).
Sounds like a scam to me!
So, I've been a Potomac Edison (or Allegheny Power, when that name suited them) customer for nearly 30 years. How come I'm just now being bombarded with these junk mailers? Because the West Virginia PSC recently sold me out to the company, going against the advice of its own Staff, the Consumer Advocate Division, and the findings of one of its own Administrative Law Judges.
Say what? Take a look at WV PSC Case No. 13-0021-E-PC (look up "Case Information" here). Two years ago, FirstEnergy asked the PSC for permission for its two West Virginia distribution companies (Potomac Edison and Mon Power) to market these useless "services" and products to their customers and to add the cost of any purchases to the customer's electric bill.
The Staff of the PSC and the Consumer Advocate objected to FirstEnergy's plan, which, in addition to the "Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan," will soon be offering you:
1. Other Home Solutions maintenance and repair plans (i.e. insurance) for other appliances you own, your natural gas service lines and even your plumbing.
2. Surge suppression service (which they already separately offer as part of their regulated service activity in West Virginia).
3. Customer Electrical Services Program that allows your electric company to "arrange" electrical service work to be performed in your home. You still pay for all the work they do, your monthly fee just alleviates your "hassle" of finding your own electrician and negotiating a reasonable fee for service with him.
4. Online store - where you can buy all sorts of useless crap and energy-wasting space heaters, and pay for it all on your monthly electric bill.
A hearing was held, and the PSC's Administrative Law Judge recommended that the Commission prohibit this kind of promotion. However, FirstEnergy didn't like that decision, so they filed exceptions to the Judge's Order and the Commission disregarded it and made a new finding that FirstEnergy could continue to promote these useless "services."
Remember, none of these services are regulated, so if you have an issue with service or billing of these add-ons, the PSC can't help you. You're on your own to solve the problem with the company (and it's not even the utility you'll be fighting with, but some third-party "insurance company") or through the court system.
So, how much money does FirstEnergy make off these products? Is the company really that desperate that it needs to peddle space heaters and worthless "insurance" to its customers? It's not about the few pennies in kickbacks FirstEnergy receives from these third-party companies for selling you a "service," it's about the half a million bucks FirstEnergy was paid by one of these third-party companies for "licensing rights and utility bill access fees" to access Potomac Edison's or Mon Power's customer records and to have your utility bill you for their services. FirstEnergy is essentially selling an asset -- its customer base and monthly billing system -- to a private company that hopes to make money selling things to the customer base. There is a commercial value to a customer base of 500,000 customers. When the customer base is acquired through a regulated monopoly, should the utility be able to sell it for private profit? Your WV Public Service Commission says they can.
Tell your legislators to ask the PSC why they have allowed Potomac Edison and Mon Power to sell you out like that. And think twice about jacking up your monthly electric bills with "insurance" you'll probably never need and overpriced lightbulbs from FirstEnergy's online store.
And want to have some fun right now? All those junk mailers they're sending you have postage paid return envelopes to "Plan Administrator." The envelope instructs: "Include only your form and nothing else." If you don't sign up for the plan, you won't need a "form," so go ahead and stuff them with "nothing else" or whatever you want and return them. See how much scrap paper you can fit into the envelope! Or perhaps your child would like to draw a picture for "Plan Administrator?" Go ahead, have some fun!
And then, get serious. The fine print instructs:
If you would prefer not to receive these solicitation from HomeServe, please call 1-888-866-2127.
Tell them you don't want to receive any more offers for their services from Potomac Edison or Mon Power and see what happens. Of course, this won't stop the other offers from the other vendors mentioned above, but it's a start. I'd like to know who's really controlling the mailing list here -- is it FirstEnergy or is it HomeServe? Let me know what you are told in the comments section of this blog post...