One of my favorite moments in electric transmission history involves a 1966 initiative by our friends at the Edison Electric Institute to commission one of the "preeminent industrial design firms" of the day to design a number of "aesthetic" high voltage transmission structures that would "be universally acceptable to the industry and the public." You can read all about this stunning moment in electric transmission history in a research paper published in 1997 (Levy, Eugene. “The Aesthetics of Power: High-voltage Transmission Systems and the American Landscape”. Technology and Culture 38.3 (1997): 575–607.) You can read this paper free online at jstor.org
(requires sign-up for free membership). The paper reviews a whole bunch of mid-century utility efforts to make electric transmission towers prettier and thus more acceptable to a public who was increasingly opposed to the construction of these unsightly, dangerous structures in their communities.
Although EEI's project was an abysmal failure, the utility industry wasn't about to give up its attempt to "sway by words" and continued the effort to beautify transmission towers through a series of industry magazine advertisements. It wasn't really about swaying the public at that point, but about swaying the utility executives to purchase new designs that they believed were more beautiful than traditional towers. And the utility industry of the day was dominated by men. And the fastest way to a man's heart is through his... ummm... stop. Anyhow, a 1968 A.B. Chance Co. advertisement in one utility rag utilized what was supposed to be a hot 1968 woman, dubbed "Miss Beautility," singing a little song about her "15-minute color film showing the use of strong, tapered, galvanized steel unipoles." Oh, behave, you silly men! Get your minds out of the gutter. "Miss Beautility" wasn't talking about YOUR unipole!
American Electric Power is still enthralled with its unipole. It made some big to do about its new BOLD design recently. AEP claims that its "elegant" unipole "imparts a more favorable aesthetic appearance."
Says who? AEP hasn't published any public opinion polling results that back up its aesthetic claims.
Nevertheless, AEP claims, "Efficiency never looked so good!"
However, the public that opposes transmission towers hasn't expressed a desire for "a streamlined, low-profile structure with phase-conductor bundles arranged into compact delta configurations." Only AEP gets excited about that.
I'm really disappointed that AEP wasted all its brainpower developing another overhead transmission structure. It doesn't matter what the tower looks like. The industry has tried shaping them like people. Or Mickey Mouse. Clowns. Robot. Deer. And many more bright ideas to "disguise" or "amuse" the people who gotta live with them. I'm still waiting for the tower shaped like a dollar sign, since building new towers directly translates to increased utility profits.
But here's the reality. What society wants is not to see these towers at all. This is what the perfectly aesthetic electric transmission tower looks like.
Since AEP probably doesn't have any employees who look and think like this guy
AEP needs to get with the program and put its money and talents on a true aesthetically pleasing transmission solution. One we can't see.
AEP is wasting its time on overhead line design. It's BOLD design is about as appealing as a fresh turd. It won't do a thing to ameliorate public opposition to new transmission projects. Fail.
More problems for Dominion's troubled Skiffes Creek transmission project in the WaPo
The most recent problem involves fish. More precisely, the Atlantic Sturgeon.
Under choppy waters was the spawning ground of the Atlantic sturgeon, a large, prehistoric-looking fish credited with saving the early settlers from starvation. So abundant were the fish then that members of native tribes would wade into the river and catch them by hand. By 40 years ago, however, the sturgeon were thought to be wiped out because of decades of overfishing. Today, the fish are struggling to make a comeback as a federally protected endangered species.
Environmentalists believe construction of overhead towers in the James River will disturb the spawning of the endangered sturgeons.
The thumping percussion of the pile driver is likely to disturb not only the sturgeon, but also other anadromous fish that live their early lives in rivers before moving on to the ocean as adults.
“Every sturgeon killed by ship strike or a tower being pounded into the ground in this important area is a step backward in the effort to recover this population,” he said.
But wait, Dominion has a solution to the noise problem (and, no, it doesn't involve giving the fish little headsets that play music from The Little Mermaid
). Dominion says it will construct "a plastic bubble curtain to blunt the hammering."
And if that doesn't work... residents of Jamestown can once again wade into the river and catch stunned sturgeons by hand. Just think of all the community goodwill to be had if Dominion makes lemonade out of these sour lemons and sets up a riverside community fish fry for local residents!
Well, Happy Holidays to you from the Edison Electric Institute!
In a recent article in The Intercept, a recording of an EEI lobbyist strategy phone conference reveals that investor owned utility schemers are hoping that the refugee crisis will give them the cover they need to block the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.
“We’re suddenly not the big issue,” said one call participant. “I mean, this is all going to turn on refugees.”
“I think that helps us,” said another call participant. “I think it helps us with the White House being on defense,” another legislative strategist on the call said.
The EEI schemers hope all the focus on the refugee crisis will allow them to advance a rider on the WOTUS rule.
In Washington, it's all about attaching unsavory things onto popular legislation that has nothing to do with the unsavory activities.
Lobbyists frequently use “must pass” legislation, such as raising the debt-ceiling and government appropriation bills, to enact proposals that would otherwise face a presidential veto. In the last omnibus spending bill, legislators slipped riders onto the bill that repealed rules that prevent banks from using taxpayer-backed funds from trading in derivatives, as well as more than $3 billion in weapons programs the Pentagon did not ask Congress to fund.
If congressional leaders attach provisions to the omnibus to block Syrian refugee settlement, the Obama administration may be forced to accept a compromise that allows for other legislative riders to sneak through.
The participants on the EEI call appeared eager to use the refugee fight to distract the administration.
“In our big meeting this morning, all our lobbyists, their report back from the Hill over the last couple of days in House and Senate is that offices have been saying they are hearing more on this refugee issue than they have heard on any other issue in the last eight years, more than Obamacare, more than anything,” one the legislative strategists remarked.
Who runs this country? Corporations do. EEI is a particularly nasty wart on the posterior of a democratic government of the people, by the people, and for the people. There's big money involved in EEI's courting of Congress and regulatory agencies
I particularly liked boingboing.net's take on the leaked phone recording. Using EEI's "mission" page, boingboing lifted a meme featuring a photo and quote of Thomas Edison:
What you are will show in what you do.
It does, EEI, it certainly does.
How do you chuckleheads sleep at night?
There's probably more than a handful of folks down in Houston this morning falling to their knees thanking their makers that today is the last day of this week. What else can happen? The day's not over yet!!!
Each one of Clean Line's Midwestern projects suffered a setback that caused media backlash at some point this week, and the victories for affected landowners just keep piling up.
First, landowner groups in Illinois came out undaunted about the ICC's approval of the Grain Belt Express project last week. Because of the scathing dissent of two ICC Commissioners regarding the legalities of Clean Line's permit, appeal seems quite likely. And quite likely to be successful.
Block Grain Belt Express President Dave Buchman said, “We are disappointed by today’s decision but it was not unexpected. It is imperative for members of the opposition to remain united in our common goal of preserving property rights.” Buckman is anxious to review the order so that the group may formulate a plan of action. They have many avenues of defense still available, such as appealing the decision because the ICC violated state law by allowing Clean Line to file under an expedited permitting process for public utilities, although Clean Line is not a public utility. Additionally, Buckman advises that it is crucial to remember that if landowners stick together, the eminent domain process will be significantly more difficult, if not impossible, for Clean Line.
And in Missouri, the Missouri Landowners Alliance announced its victory in Caldwell County Circuit Court:
Opponents of Grain Belt Express recently won another significant victory in their efforts to block construction of a proposed mega electric transmission line through Missouri. Last month, the Caldwell County Circuit Court found that a project franchise initially granted by the County, but later rescinded, was void. Under Missouri law, Grain Belt Express must have the franchise of all counties crossed in order to build its project.
Last year the Missouri Landowners Alliance (MLA) filed a petition in the Circuit Court of Caldwell County, asking the Court to find that the franchise supposedly granted by the Caldwell County Commission to Grain Belt was void and/or unenforceable. The franchise would have allowed Grain Belt to build its line on and over the public roads of the county.
On October 7, the Circuit Court issued an Order finding in favor of the MLA. The time for Grain Belt to appeal that Order has now passed. Therefore, as a practical matter, Grain Belt now has no legal authority to build its proposed line across Caldwell County. And Grain Belt would have no such authority to build, even if it could somehow persuade the Missouri Public Service Commission to reverse its decision earlier this year that denied Grain Belt a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity. Grain Belt must obtain authorization not only from the PSC, but also from the County Commission in each of the Missouri counties where it plans to locate the line.
Grain Belt’s only apparent hope for building the line through Caldwell County would be to convince the County Commission to reissue a new franchise for the proposed line. Given that the County Commission supported the MLA in the Caldwell County Circuit Court case, the MLA is optimistic that the County Commission would reject any such overtures from Grain Belt. A survey taken last year for Grain Belt revealed that the citizens of Caldwell County overwhelmingly oppose the proposed transmission line.
Grain Belt could conceivably try to salvage this project by somehow re-routing the line around Caldwell County, into other neighboring counties. But given Grain Belt’s claim that the optimal route for the line is through Caldwell County, that option would seemingly raise a host of problems for Grain Belt.
The Grain Belt project is spearheaded by a Houston-based, investor-owned company with the goal of transmitting energy from Kansas to the richer eastern markets. After a lengthy court battle, in July the Missouri Public Service Commission issued an order finding that Grain Belt Express has failed to meet, by a preponderance of the evidence, its burden of proof to demonstrate that the project is necessary or convenient for the public service.
Recently, the Illinois Commerce Commission granted Grain Belt permission to build in Illinois, leaving Missouri as the only holdout. Jennifer Gatrel from grassroots group Block Grain Belt stated, “The decision by the Illinois commissioners is in no way final. There will be an extensive appeals process, which the opposition has an excellent chance of winning. We are all very grateful for the two brave commissioners who, in their dissent, outlined why it was illegal for Clean Line to be allowed the expedited permitting process available for public utilities. Their support will be invaluable in the appeal.”
Russ Piscotta, President of Block Grain Belt Missouri, stated, “We have beat them once and we will beat them again as many times as necessary. We have spent this time preparing our strategies and are ready to once again defend ourselves. Overall, as a grassroots group, we are doing excellent. We need to remember that Clean Line's goal is to dishearten us. Our goal is to prevent the precedent of a private company getting access to eminent domain. We are doing great so far and will continue to win. We simply cannot afford to lose. Many thanks to the thousands of devoted landowners who have sacrificed much. We are all in this together, and together we will succeed!”
In Iowa, the fate of RICL is equally uncertain. RICL has directed the Iowa Utility Board to suspend all work on their application. In spite of 18 months of land agent activity, less that 15 percent of the easements have been acquired and opposition remains strong.
Carolyn Sheridan, president of the grass roots organization Preservation of Rural Iowa (PRIA) commented, “We have a strong legal team and support continues to grow as they and we monitor all aspects of this proposed project. There is no indication that landowners will change their opposition to the misuse of eminent domain."
This came back to bite Clean Line on Thursday, when the press somehow got the idea that they'd previously been lied to. Never lie to reporters! They eventually find stuff out.
Such as the fact that Clean Line quietly asked the Iowa Utilities Board to stop reviewing its application for RICL back in the spring.
Those closely monitoring the project say they were told months ago it had been put on hold. Land agents haven't been in the state for months.
Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, a supporter of the line, said at a wind energy conference in September that the plan had "kind of been placed on hold right now." Clean Line Energy Partners spokeswoman Sarah Bray said the next day that the project was "certainly still moving forward," with biological studies, wind resource assessment and commercial discussions.
Bray struck a different tone in response to an inquiry on Thursday.
"Given the unique regulatory structure in Iowa, we are currently assessing ways to move the project forward and continue easement negotiations without incurring significant financial and regulatory risk," she wrote in an email.
This caused a whole bunch of weasel words and backpedaling by Clean Line... and more inaccurate and whiny claims by the company spokeswoman. Bray also whined that the IUB regulatory process would cause the company to spend "tens of millions" of dollars to acquire land with no guarantee that their project would be approved. Not true! The IUB requires that a company seeking a transmission line permit submit certain information for each property it may take by eminent domain. Because Clean Line's land acquisition in Iowa has been such a failure (only 17% of needed easements have been acquired to date) Clean Line doesn't want to do all the work required to take the remaining 83% of the needed easements. The law doesn't require Clean Line to own all easements up front, it could just as easily acquire signed option agreements to purchase easements if the project is approved by the IUB. But, the fly in that ointment is that the landowners are having none of it. So, when Bray says that the company's negotiations with landowners "have been very positive,"
she's spinning like crazy.
Meanwhile, down in Arkansas, Clean Line's release of an "economic study" of the benefits of its Plains & Eastern project for Arkansas was a major flop. First of all, most people realize the study is nothing but cooked numbers created from Clean Line's data plugged into a generic spreadsheet that calculates numbers that don't jive with the economic data included in the Environmental Impact Statement released by the DOE.
A controversial electric transmission line project pushed by Houston-based Plains & Eastern Clean Line with the regulatory process challenged by members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation would create a $660 million impact to Arkansas’ economy, according to a University of Arkansas report.
When asked about the UA economic impact report, Sen. Boozman said the issue is not the impact, but with the process and the potential cost to Arkansas ratepayers.
“Arkansans are not opposed to building needed infrastructure projects, but questions remain about whether this particular project is needed. No Arkansas utilities have signed up to purchase power from the line,” Boozman noted in a statement sent to Talk Business & Politics. “There are questions about the long-term benefits and costs to the state of Arkansas. Not only should a transmission project be necessary, but the state must be given an opportunity to review and approve it – just as it has always has in the past. When DC bureaucrats force a project on the state, as they have in this instance, the harm and costs may not be properly addressed.”
A statement from Rep. Womack’s office to Talk Business & Politics raised a question about who funded the UA study.
“Our concerns about the project are not based on whether Clean Line can commission a favorable study, but rather if the federal government should be able to supersede a state’s right to decide to license a utility and allow the use of eminent domain on behalf of a private company,” Womack said in the statement.
When asked about the perceived credibility of a study commissioned by Clean Line, Deck provided the following statement: “One of the things that our Center does for a wide variety of organizations is estimate economic impacts. Clean Line came to us to understand how its expenditures in Arkansas will affect the state’s economy. We very carefully looked at how much direct expenditure would be made and how the supply chain and personal expenditures that will result from that direct investment would impact the state. For this kind of study, there is no way to estimate economic impact without considerable input from the companies that are involved. And, of course, companies are the most interested in understanding their own particular economic impact. So, for economic impact studies, you will almost always find that the economic impact generator is the funder of the work.
“As always, economic impact should be considered a single piece of the puzzle as we live in a complex world. But, it is an important piece.”
Landowner opposition groups say the report doesn't address their concerns:
Jordan Wimpy, attorney for Arkansas Citizens Against Clean Line Energy, said Tuesday, “At this time, the primary concern of our clients is Department of Energy’s review of and potential participation in a project that meets no identified or documented transmission need. This is particularly concerning when the federal government’s involvement will circumvent normal state level review and may well include the use of federal eminent domain to condemn the property of private landowners in order to benefit a private, for-profit transmission company.”
Alison Millsaps, spokeswoman for Block Plains & Eastern Clean Line, said, “Again and again, Clean Line and their supporters attempt to focus solely on economic development in regard to Plains & Eastern. The people who make up the opposition to this line aren’t against economic development, they’re against the use of eminent domain to further what is essentially private economic development.
“Dangling big numbers doesn’t always make a proposal necessary or legal. We believe both of those issues will ultimately be determined in a court of law, not by a study on construction benefits,” she said.
Flop. Flop. Flop.
So, let's recap. Clean Line's RICL project is dead in the water and there is no federal override over the IUB's permitting authority. RICL's Illinois permit is being appealed. Clean Line's Grain Belt Express project is blocked by counties in Missouri, and will most likely be successfully appealed in Illinois. Clean Line's Plains & Eastern project just keeps gathering the ire of the State of Arkansas and nobody is buying the manufactured "benefits" of the project.
The only thing moving forward here is bad press.
Remember when the environmental community was a kind and gentle, financially struggling, underdog that Americans could look to for help against corporate energy schemes? That wasn't so long ago, but the environmental community has done a complete 180 in the past seven years to morph into an arrogant, mean-spirited, well-funded, corporate bully. And their halo (and popularity with the American people) has tarnished. Along with their increased funding has come corporate and political agendas that the environmentalists must pursue in order to keep receiving their fat, donated paychecks. No longer does their funding come from the American people through memberships and donations. Now they're big business, living high on the hog while feeding on corporate largesse and political contributions. Big Green has become the enemy of the American people. Just another corporate lackey.
Some of them may be quite unaware of how they're perceived by the rest of us, but the majority must be quietly whispering in shocked tones about the way the public now perceives them as the enemy. In its defense, the environmental community continues to deny there's an issue, and make excuses for its hypocritical choice of which energy projects to support or oppose.
For example, a recent piece in political rag Triple Pundit attempts to compare and contrast the Keystone XL pipeline with the Plains & Eastern Clean Line. This piece fails at the starting gate:
After all, both involve transporting energy from one place to another; both require the taking of right-of-way from property owners; and both will create relatively few direct and permanent jobs once completed.
Those are the important points that Americans care about. The rationalization that follows to explain why those detriments are okay as long as the project has the name "Clean" in its name is nothing but fantasy.
The author is a public relations wonk and "author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes." Well, recycling... that certainly qualifies her to expound on the need for electric transmission and the condemnation of private property for energy projects. Not.
The author claims that Clean Line will provide more jobs than Keystone, and she bases that on information from... Clean Line. Just because Clean Line says it will "source" its components from US companies doesn't mean they will be produced in the US. The author points out that Keystone components will be produced in foreign countries and simply "sourced" in the US. In fact, Clean Line would be fiscally imprudent to sign contracts for components with US companies now, long before any shovel hits the ground. It's common practice to issue an RFP for project components and then evaluate the bids for price, quality and deliverability. If she'd looked underneath the "clean" veneer, she'd realize that Clean Line's promises of US manufacturing jobs are just that... promises. There are no signed procurement contracts for certain components at fixed prices. And there are no guarantees of new jobs.
There's no logic in pretending a transmission project provides more "operations" jobs than Keystone. Maybe if the author knew anything about how transmission lines are operated she'd realize that the "operators" are already employed at regional transmission authorities. One more line in the stable isn't going to create any new jobs. Jobs at wind farms? Sure, the same as jobs that would fill the Keystone pipeline with its liquid gold. No difference.
The Energy Department has not given Clean Line its "Seal of Approval," no matter what Clean Line wants to spout in the media. A decision still has not been made.
Mention of TVA? Why? The TVA has not included Clean Line in its Integrated Resource Plan and has remarked that any possible use of the project is at least a decade away. It isn't about where Clean Line connects, it's about finding buyers for the energy Clean Line transports at the connection points. There are none. Moreover, there are no generators to sign contracts with end users. Who builds a road without any cars to drive on it? We don't build public infrastructure unless there's a need for it, and only public utilities with a need to transmit power have a right to eminent domain authority. Sure, any investor can build a shopping mall and hope shoppers show up, but we don't use eminent domain for that kind of speculative, for-profit enterprise. And that's exactly what Clean Line is -- a "build it and they will come" idea. Block GBE-MO said it best, "No need, no gain, no eminent domain!"
And let's talk about those mid-point converter stations. Without buyers, they're just useless monstrosities. And there are no buyers. Just because Clean Line builds a converter station does not mean power flows to that location. The converter station is a tollbooth -- if there are no buyers to pay for the juice, it doesn't pass the tollgate. Arkansas doesn't magically "get" 500 MW of electricity unless someone pays for it. And if there are no buyers, why invest $100M in a converter station that sits idle? There's no guarantee that a converter station will be built in Arkansas if it's not profitable.
Perhaps the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce (a traditional utility ally that the environmental groups have disregarded as biased in the past) is looking forward to "new supplies of clean energy," but again, without buyers, they get nothing.
And then the author trots out a 5-year old "report" Clean Line presented to the TVA (who elected NOT to purchase any of its electricity). This has about as much validity as any other lobbyist promise, I suppose, and is not worth reading. But, this point is so off the mark it deserves mention:
Greater transmission reliability: The project increases transmission capacity and grid reliability. This is especially important in light of potential for coal power plant retirements and the lack of inter-regional transmission projects.
Reliability is not a measure of the amount of available transmission. Reliability is the ability to deliver power at all times. Our current grid is managed by regional planners/operators who order new projects needed for reliability. No regional grid planner has ordered Clean Line. It's completely outside any regional grid planning. It's completely unneeded for reliability purposes. Furthermore, the most reliable electric delivery system is located as close as possible to the point of use. Transmission lines are a link in the power supply chain that can be broken at a moment's notice. The more power you depend on from far away, the more unreliable your system (more moving parts, more chance for problems). As well, Clean Line is proposing an electric supply provided by intermittent renewables. There is no reliability to a generator that cannot be counted on to run when called. That's unreliability.
The article then goes down a political rathole to make partisan attacks on elected officials. Nobody in the real world cares!
And finally, the author gets on her soapbox to tell the world why and how Keystone will affect the landowners and what makes it "bad."
...property owners and communities throughout the length of the pipeline would be saddled with the risk of a pipeline leak, break or other mishap.
And what makes this different than the burdens saddled on Clean Line-affected landowners? There is no contrast here, just some blather she probably pulled out of newspaper articles about the opposition. I wonder how many Keystone-affected landowners this recycling queen has actually spoken to? I'm guessing none.
I've spoken to plenty of landowners affected by Clean Line's proposal, as well as regular folks concerned about energy issues. Here's the common thread: They're not going to put up with eminent domain for energy projects any more. Whether its Keystone or Clean Line, the project must be built without the heavy hand of government land theft. While use of eminent domain for energy projects was used repeatedly to build the infrastructure we have today, it's no longer acceptable. It's a new generation, with a new way to organize and fight. Nobody's lights are going to go off if we don't build new energy projects. Instead, what these environmentalists propose is to build an entirely new infrastructure to replace our current system, but basing it on yesterday's unpopular ideas. The American people don't want "clean" energy that costs them more or that usurps their right to own and enjoy property.
We're at an energy crossroads. We can embrace new ideas and create a new, democratic and reliable energy future -- or we can simply replace our corporate masters with new "clean" corporations and continue with the status quo. The people are rising up -- no more corporate energy control!
Only when the environmental groups come to terms with their new unpopularity will they become an impetus toward a new energy future and stop dragging the future down into the corporate past.
I bet you think I'm talking about FirstEnergy subsidiaries Potomac Edison (or Perpetual Estimate, as it is more commonly known) and Mon Power. But, I'm not. Apparently your electric company doesn't need a penny-pinching merger to bugger up its meter reading cycle when sheer stupidity and hard words like "algorithm" will do the job quite nicely.
Sherfox Holmes is on the case in Michigan, where Consumers Energy hasn't been reading electric meters with any regularity, which has resulted in the outrageous "catch up" bills that are all-too-familiar to West Virginians.
Sherfox, the Michigan Public Utility Commission and Consumers Energy have put their noggins together (well, at least Sherfox believes it has some role in this) to determine that Consumers is not reading electric meters at least once a year. In fact, one lady complained that she hadn't received a meter reading in over 3 years -- once when she moved in and once just recently, which gave her a balance of over $3,000.
In the meantime, there’s still some people out there getting hit with high bills that they can’t afford.
“When we received the bill, I was like 'What has happened? I don’t understand this,'” said Carol Armstrong.
Armstrong requested three years worth of her energy bills after she got hit with an over $3,000 bill. She found out they had estimated her bill for three years except for twice: the month she moved into her house, and the month they charged her over $3,000.
Initially, Consumers Energy told Armstrong she would have to pay an additional $438 to each bill until it was paid off.
“They say it like it’s nothing. I told them well you say that like it’s nothing, but let me ask you question. If you went to your house today and opened your mailbox, and you had a bill in there like that, how would you feel? She said 'I wouldn’t be able to pay it,'” said Armstrong.
That’s when Armstrong contacted the Michigan Public Service Commission who told her she actually had three years to pay it back, the same amount of time they estimated her electric usage.
The Michigan PSC says that meters are supposed to be read monthly
... unless there's some excuse for the utility not to read meters. Then everything is okay as long as the customer has as long to pay as the utility shirked its duties to read the meter.
This is no solution! It gives consumers an inaccurate picture of their energy use and causes financial hardship. Interesting though that a consumer can be "late" paying an estimated bill with no repercussions. Maybe the customers should start refusing to pay their estimated bills to inspire the utility to get off its dead behind and read meters?
Although, the MI PSC found a better solution to the problem than the WV PSC ever did... smart meters! The MI PSC thinks the problem will go away when customers have smart meters and has encouraged the company to step up its smart meter installation. But, as long as there's controversy about smart meter fees, the company isn't inspired to do anything to fix the problem.
Here's the deal: Multiple estimates screw up any algorithm that estimates future bills. It doesn't take a detective to figure this out. Consumers Energy has screwed things up by shirking its duties, and the MI PSC has allowed this to happen by shirking its own duties. And consumers will pay. They always do.
In addition to airing her jurisdictional and standing concerns, the judge said permitting retail ratepayers to file such complaints "is at odds with promoting efficiency" because FERC could be faced with handling "potentially millions of individual complainants."
The groups, however, insisted that Cintron's position is "contrary to the plain language of the FPA," which states that "any person" has standing to file a complaint with FERC, as well as long-standing commission precedent holding that retail ratepayers have standing to challenge wholesale rates.
Citing a proceeding involving the abandoned Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline project in which FERC found that "[a] complaint regarding a transmission rate can … be filed by any person, including an end-use customer that will pay some portion of that rate when flowed through its retail bill," the groups called Cintron's attempts to distinguish that situation from AEP's "unavailing." The judge relied on differences in the two companies' formula rate protocols to make her case, but the groups argued that "standing is a statutory right under the FPA, and whatever is said in the AEP protocol cannot overturn the statute."
As for Cintron's concerns about the regulatory burden that would be placed on FERC if retail ratepayers are allowed to challenge wholesale rates, the groups insisted that "administrative convenience is not a basis to eviscerate a statutory right." They said that "[i]n any event, this is a chimera — in the nearly 20 years since the commission issued Order 888, there has been a stream but not a deluge of … rate challenges."
Finally, among other things, the groups said the "novel viewpoint" expressed by Cintron "would reopen the … regulatory gap between federal and state jurisdiction that the FPA was designed to close."
"For consumers impacted by commission-jurisdictional transmission rates, there is no other effective remedy," the groups said.
And there's more new filings on the Docket
It is long settled law that FERC has jurisdiction over interstate transmission rates. State Commissions are required to respect that jurisdiction and cannot change transmission rates that flow through to the retail electric customers over which the states have jurisdiction. A state must pass interstate transmission rates through unscathed. A rate can only be changed in the jurisdiction in which it is set. Therefore, any retail customer who pays an interstate transmission rate can only address it at FERC, where the rate was set.
Power Magazine published an interesting piece yesterday headlined, "Will FERC Bar Retail Customers From Electricity Cases?"
Should retail electricity customers be barred from bringing cases before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a decades-long practice? A FERC administrative law judge, Carmen Citron, last month recommended to the commission that it abandon its long-standing practice and deny retail customers standing before the agency.
Cintron’s mid-October recommendation came in a case involving an Arkansas lawyer, school teacher and activist (ER07-1069-006), Martha Peine of Eureka Springs, Ark. She challenged expenses AEP subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Co. charged to consumers in lobbying for a new interstate power line. She argued at FERC that SWEPCO had stuck customers with some $92,000 in expenses that were improper. Her filing was under Section 205 of the Federal Power Act (FPA).
challenged Cintron’s reasoning as flipping “the fundamental purpose of the FPA on its head.”
Elcon asserted, “The purpose of the FPA is not to protect utilities from the burden of responding to consumers; rather, as the Supreme Court and other courts have recognized, it is ‘to protect power consumers against excessive prices.’”
ELCON's filing is powerful -- must read!
Whether retail customers can continue their historic right to access to FERC also has political implications for the commission. In recent months, anti-natural gas activists have staged demonstrations at commission meetings, including interrupting proceedings (resulting in guard-escorted exits from FERC’s D.C. headquarters). The protesters have argued, often at high volume, that FERC cares only for the interests of big energy companies, and not those of people affected by the agency’s actions.
The commission has repeatedly said, as it opens its monthly public meetings, that it will consider arguments and protests to its activities from anybody, through normal FERC proceedings, including filings. Should the commission adopt Cintron’s recommendations, those statements will ring administratively and politically hollow.
This sort of begs a question about who FERC serves, doesn't it?
The whole history of this legal quagmire can be found on FERC Docket No. ER07-1069, sub docket 006 (although FERC misdocketed one of the supporting memorandums on the main docket, instead of the sub.) Interesting reading!
At any rate, the Commission has until Nov. 12 to decide the Certified Question, or else it will revert back to the judge for decision.
What do you think the Commission should do?
A couple of new parties have spoken this morning. The National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates and the City of Coffeyville, Kansas, have filed support of ELCON's position and are asking the Commission to publicly notice this issue and accept public comment before making a decision.
... well, at least for now.
After announcing plans to retire its Asheville coal-fired generation plant in May, Duke Energy dreamed up a bodacious plan to replace it with a massive gas-fired plant, 40-miles of new 230kV line, and a new substation in Campobello, SC.
The folks in North and South Carolina organized with local environmental organizations to produce more than 9,000 public comments opposing the plan and numerous local government resolutions against it. The people spoke.
Duke says it listened.
Last month, Duke suspended its Western Carolinas Modernization Plan for the plant/transmission line in order to go back to the drawing board.
Today, the drawing was revealed. No new transmission line! No new substation! A marginally smaller, two-unit gas plant. Upgrades to existing transmission lines and substations.
Duke made a mistake packaging all this stuff together in one plan. It also packaged all its opposition together in one package by doing so. It wasn't going to fly.
So, Duke has begun the process of peeling its opposition away in layers. First to go are all those noisy, pesky, tenacious transmission line opponents. We'll see how that affects the noise level, won't we?
This leaves only opposition to the gas plant from environmental groups. Or, does it? Who's to say that Duke won't use its quiet time to construct the gas plant, then propose a new transmission line to serve it after it's completed?
The opposition says it's in it for the long haul. This isn't over.
But, for today, there's celebrating in the Carolinas!
Congratulations, Carolina Land Coalition!
It's really no secret at all how TDI New England is speeding through approvals for its New England Clean Power Link project.
The Clean Power Link is entirely underwater or underground.
The line will originate at the U.S.-Canadian border and travel approximately 97 miles underwater down Lake Champlain to Benson, Vt., and then be buried along town and state roads and railroad rights-of-way or on land owned by TDI New England for approximately 57 miles to a new converter station to be built in Ludlow, Vt.
The Clean Power Link encountered minimal public resistance in Vermont because of the burial of the line.
“It is well recognized in the industry that siting is one of the most difficult facets of building new energy infrastructure,” said Susan Schibanoff with Responsible Energy Action. “NECPL dealt with that issue first by creating solid community and political support with a fully buried line. It has clearly paid off in terms of the record speed with which they have moved ahead.”
This amazing project completed its Environmental Impact Statement in just two years
! The Union Leader compares it to the stalled, overhead Northern Pass project, which has been trying to get its EIS completed since 2010. That's 5 years, and no end in sight.
When transmission developers design projects to be as unobtrusive and acceptable to landowners as possible, the developer can save millions in expensive advocacy-building and opposition battling tactics, as well as years in its project timeline.
This means burial, especially on public land/water, and along existing roadways or other rights-of-way. No eminent domain is required.
But, but, but... a buried project is so much more expensive than an overhead project, whine the transmission developers.
And they fear adding "unnecessary" cost of burial to an O1000 competitively bid project for fear of not being awarded the project. Let's see these guys start making logical arguments to the RTO about the amount of time and money saved by not having any opposition, not having huge land/eminent domain costs to acquire rights-of-way from private landowners, and general constructability of a buried project vs. any additional cost of burial along public rights-of-way. I think they will pretty much balance themselves out. The more buried projects that get built, the cheaper it will become.
Because NECPL proves that is IS possible get 'er done in a timely fashion while keeping your integrity intact. Even for a merchant project (NECPL is a merchant project).
There's a lesson here for the transmission industry, if you can actually teach some very old dogs a new trick. Can transmission developers shrug off their old dirty tricks that lie to communities? Can they ever be honest with affected communities? Can they develop some integrity? Better ideas are right there for the taking.
This is the modern way to get needed transmission built. Anybody who tries to tell you different is a dinosaur who needs to retire.