Some people will do anything for a little grant money!

Despite being soundly (and loudly!) rejected by groups representing the interests of thousands of landowners impacted by proposed transmission projects across the Midwest last year, the Center for Rural Affairs is back with another report that it claims will "creat[e] procedural and cost efficiencies, as well as promot[e] due process rights."

CFRA does not represent landowners, and has made absolutely no attempt to involve landowners in any of its reports.  There are plenty of active transmission opposition landowner groups, however CFRA created another report recommending what it sees as "good" for landowners in complete isolation.  It's silly, it's uninformed, it's not good for landowners.  It's simply the environmental 1% telling the rest of America what to do and how to sacrifice their property to the Gods of Big Green.

The newest report was written by a young law student on a fellowship who has probably never owned property and recommends that landowners be subject to a new form of forced pooling, the "Transmission Corridor District."  Under the concept of forced pooling, landowners can be forced to give up certain rights to their land if their neighbors want to sell.  That's right... under the TCD, you can be forced into a group of landowners whose only purpose is to sell transmission rights of way across their land (and yours).  You may not "opt out" of this forced pool -- either cooperate or you're getting their version of "fair market value" for your property.  It's a fait accompli that you will sell your land for a proposed transmission project.

It also suggests that state PSCs take on the responsibility of assembling and administrating these districts.  Tell me, who is going to pay for that?  And what changes need to be made to the laws of each state to make it happen?  And then there's this:
Landowners, a developer, or a governmental entity could initiate a TCD proceeding. The initiating party approaches the planning agency to determine if the transmission line promotes reliability, economic development, or public policy (e.g., a renewable energy portfolio standard). In this initial  discussion with the planning agency, the initiating entity proposes a study area for the transmission corridor to the planning agency. Alternatively, the planning agency could determine that there is a need for a transmission project and initiate the TCD proceeding on its own.
For TCD proceedings, the planning agency would likely be a public utility commission (PUC). This is necessary because the placement and construction of power lines is almost always under the purview of the states, which then designate siting and approval responsibilities to the PUC or state  equivalent. Alternatively, the planning agency could be a federal or regional entity to promote interstate development.
Upon approval from the planning agency, the initiating party and planning agency work together to educate the potentially affected
members of the public about the benefits and negative effects of the proposed project.
Planning agency, eh?  Who do you think "plans" transmission projects?  It's not the state PUCs.  It's a regional transmission organization, or other utility-run group.   What do a group of landowners know about planning transmission?  Where are they supposed to get the "plan" they initially bring to "the planning agency?"  Transmission projects are born at "the planning agency," not from landowners who want to make some money selling transmission rights-of-way that don't coincide with a project that "the planning agency" determines is needed for reliability, economic or public policy purposes.  Alternatively, CFRA thinks "the planning agency" could initiate and administer the TCD proceeding.  Again... who's going to pay for this, and what authority does "the planning agency" have to force landowners into groups, or pools?  There's no logic here.

Each transmission project is geographically unique.  Who does CFRA think is going to bid on these constructed land corridors when only one transmission developer is interested in the area for a specific project?  One bidder does not create a fair market.


Further demonstration of the author's complete misunderstanding of transmission planning:
Additionally, FERC Orders 890 and 1000 encourage robust public participation. The orders accomplish this by requiring transmission planners to seek comment from customers and stakeholders in regional planning. Though the orders are silent in the context of assembling land for specific transmission lines, the wisdom of the orders should be applied to individual projects.
What?  CFRA thinks that regional planning "stakeholders" include the public?  While "the public" is certainly welcome at any planning meeting, "the public" doesn't have a vote when it comes to selecting plans.  That's not what FERC meant, silly!  Like FERC is going to issue orders based on the mistaken interpretation of its policies by some law student?  Get real, CFRA!

He also makes the accusation that "the current eminent domain framework seems to violate Order 1000."  Hahahahaaa!

CFRA's report also recommends that interstate cooperation create uniform state siting and condemnation laws... and herd cats.  It also contends that forced pooling of landowners ameliorates opposition, and saves time and money.  If CFRA thinks there's a problem with transmission opposition from landowners now, it ain't seen nothing yet!  The surest way to delay something is to add additional layers of administrative process and a new legal framework that hasn't been tested in the courts.  The report also recommends a robust public participation process just like the one transmission developers have been using for years, like it's some novel idea.  Maybe the author needs to step inside a real transmission project, instead of an artificial, self-aggrandizing, media version of "public participation."  Landowners are not satisfied with this model and it does not ameliorate opposition.  It actually creates opposition by helping landowners to meet and organize.

In conclusion, CFRA's latest "report" is a worthless piece of busy work that does nothing to help get transmission built.  You can't quell opposition unless you talk to them, sweet cheeks!  (I can call you sweet cheeks, right Brandon?  I mean I've probably got condiments in the back of the fridge that are older than you.)
 
 
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.

What crap!
 
 
Remember when Change.org was all about the "little people" effecting change for the better?  Yeah, scratch that.  Now its being used as just another corporate toy where those with lots of money can promote their own corporate petitions to push products that stand to make the rich even richer.

So, now Change.org allows corporate accounts to create corporate petitions intended to influence the decisions of public officials from which the corporation can profit?  That sounds suspiciously like LOBBYING to me...  What do you call it when a corporation asks its employees, and their mommies, and little sisters, to pretend they're some sort of "grassroots" supporter in favor of the corporation's for-profit proposal?

I think I shall call it... stupidity.

Clean Line is not an advocacy "organization" allowed to create and promote petitions under Change.org's rules.  It's a for-profit limited liability corporation.
  Shame on you, Clean Line!

How desperate is Clean Line, anyhow?  How much trouble are they in on their Plains & Eastern transmission line's request to use the authority of the federal government to condemn and take land from thousands of "little people" across Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee?

Do you think the decision of Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, will hinge on Clean Line's petition signatures?  I certainly hope not.
  That would be absurd. 
 
 
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;
(B)
(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.
Oh well, lookie there, big wind is reason #1, 2 & 3 for this new legislation.  This isn't about what's good for the people or the environment.  True democratic energy is relegated to reason #11, just an afterthought.  This legislation is designed to line the pockets of big wind and their big transmission developers, and appears to have been written by the funders of their big front group, "Americans for a Clean Energy Grid."  There are no real "Americans" participating in this farce -- it's nothing but a trade group masquerading as a grassroots movement.  Tawdry and unconvincing, but it appears Heinrich was eager to be their legislative minion.  ALEC ain't got nothing on these big green shysters.
 
 
Let's get the profitable infrastructure project party started!
A landowner from southeast Iowa today said he has recorded proof a land agent for the proposed Bakken Pipeline offered to get him an 18-year-old prostitute if he’d grant access rights to his property so the pipeline may pass through.

Hughie Tweedy of Montrose said he recorded two of his conversations with the land agent.
“On these recordings you will hear evidence of my senior pipeline representative offering me not once, not twice, but three times the sexual services of a woman,” Tweedy said, “the last time being a $1200 teenage prostitute.”


“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.”
I'm thinking Boeyink didn't move too "swiftly."  Or maybe he's been a whirling dervish but simply can't keep up with the unsavory activities of his hired land agents.

Whether it's offering ponies and prostitutes to landowners in exchange for easements, or pizza parties and puppy chow to college students in exchange for signatures on petitions of support, buying public support for infrastructure projects is big business! 

And who do you think is first in line for the free cheese?
“If an old junkyard dog like me was offered the sexual services of little girls to get my hackles down, I wonder what was offered to the powerbrokers of this state to gain their support for silence,” Tweedy said. “Shame, shame, shame.”
Can't add anything to that wisdom.
 
 
While up to my elbows in dirt yesterday, I got a little buzz on my phone telling me that PJM had awarded the Artificial Island project to... LS Power.  I laughed -- loud and hard.  If you laugh in the garden, and nobody is around to hear it, did you really laugh?  Or do your neighbors simply think that you've finally gone off the rails?

PJM's Artificial Island project window has been fraught with problems from the get-go.  The RTO initially awarded the project to one of its favored incumbents, but was set upon by other competitors who made a convincing case that the process was not competitive.

PJM hired some wacky "constructability" study to try to prove that its selection was based on the ease with which the project could be constructed.  That was a big waste of money.  The study failed to note the single, most-important reason projects get delayed -- public opposition!  Opposition is directly related to routing and the physical impact of the project, and the way its public relations are handled -- the worse the transmission developer does
at this, the bigger the resultant opposition.  That's a big, big factor in "constructability."

PJM got schooled on what "constructability" really means.

And the project PJM ultimately selected makes an underground crossing of the Delaware River
and avoids protected wildlife refuges.  Lesson learned, PJM?

Here's your "constructability" checklist, for future reference:

1.  Does this project make use of existing infrastructure that could be upgraded or rebuilt to lessen impact of a new right-of-way?
2.   Can this project be buried along existing or new rights-of-way?
3.  Can this project be avoided entirely with non-transmission alternatives?
4.  What alternatives are there to the project that you can share with the public?

If these things are truly considered, you could avoid the worst part of public opposition and win the "constructability" war.

It's also of note that LS Power proposed a cost cap for its project.  LS Power now has a firm budget for its project.  If it exceeds budget, it's going to have to justify why and beg on bended knee to recover its overruns.  A cost cap also acts as a performance standard.  If LS Power doesn't perform to get this project built on time and within budget
, it does so at its own peril.

Let's hope the cost cap is also a lesson well-learned by PJM.  It's what Congress intended when creating financial incentives for transmission
, and cost caps effectively end the "the more we spend, the more we make" attitude so pervasive in the transmission industry today, to the benefit of electric ratepayers.

Progress?

 
 
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!
 
 
Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Regional Transmission Organization!
Is it PJM?
No.
Is it MISO?
No.
Is it SPP?
No.
Which Regional Transmission Organization is it?
It's merchant transmission wanna-be Clean Line Energy Partners!
Go away, Clean Line, you're not a Regional Transmission Organization!

The U.S. Department of Energy has finally published Clean Line's third "application" to have the DOE "participate" in its Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project in preparation for opening a new 45-day public comment period on non-NEPA issues.  The only thing missing on this pile of make-believe is the golden binding.

This supplemental application is Clean Line's third chance to cure defects in its prior two applications, such as the fact that Sec. 1222 requires that an eligible project:
(2) is consistent with--
(A) transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.]), if any, or approved regional reliability organization;
None of Clean Line's projects are included in a RTO/ISO plan.  In fact, Clean Line hasn't even bothered submitting its projects into any regional planning process for consideration.

So, what did Clean Line do when the DOE asked that it prove its project met the statutory requirements under Sec. 1222?  Clean Line pretends to be a Regional Transmission Organization!
2.2 The proposed Project must be consistent with transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.) if any, or approved regional
reliability organization

In establishing this criterion, Congress sought to ensure that projects undertaken through Section 1222 are appropriately planned to meet identified transmission needs. The Plains & Eastern Project meets this requirement. On an  interregional basis, numerous planning
initiatives and reports have identified the need for new West-East transmission lines to move
wind power from the central United States to load centers. On a regional basis, SPP and MISO (the two RTOs with which the Project interconnects) have also identified the need for new transmission facilities to accommodate wind generation. Further the Project has been planned and developed in a manner that is consistent with ISO/RTO planning assessments. Namely, in planning and developing the Project, Clean Line performed a series of studies and evaluations that are consistent with how the ISOs and RTOs generally identify needs and solutions for transmission system development. A final measure by which Clean Line meets the statutory requirement is its consistency with reliability standards issued by the approved regional reliability organizations (“RRO”) as envisioned under Section 1222. In light of these multiple areas of consistency, further detailed below, Project meets the criterion for consistency with planning and identified transmission needs.
That's right.  Clean Line says that it planned its project using the same studies that RTOs use to make regional transmission plans, therefore Clean Line's findings that its project meets identified transmission needs are just as good as any RTO determination.

Idiots.
Here's what it takes to be a Regional Transmission Organization:
(j) Required characteristics for a Regional Transmission Organization.
A Regional Transmission Organization must satisfy the following characteristics when it commences operation:
(1) Independence. The Regional Transmission Organization must be independent of any market participant. The Regional Transmission Organization must include, as part of its demonstration of independence, a demonstration that it meets the following:
(i) The Regional Transmission Organization, its employees, and any non-stakeholder directors must not have financial interests in any market participant.
(ii) The Regional Transmission Organization must have a decision making process that is independent of control by any market participant or class of participants.
(iii) The Regional Transmission Organization must have exclusive and independent authority under section 205 of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. 824d), to propose rates, terms and conditions of transmission service provided over the facilities it operates.
Get it, Clean Line?  You can't be a Regional Transmission Organization that identifies transmission needs as long as you have a PECUNIARY interest in a project under consideration.

Clean Line is not a Regional Transmission Organization.

Just one more thing to fight about in federal court?  Any determination by DOE that Clean Line's project(s) qualify under Section 1222 is sort of like one of those Monopoly "Go To Jail" cards.  Go to Federal Court.  Go Directly to Federal Court.  Do Not Pass "Go."  Do not collect... any money at all. 

Do you suppose Clean Line is also going to be on the hook for DOE's legal bills, or is the American Taxpayer going to end up funding this courtroom showdown?
 
 
Silly!  But that's exactly what Grain Belt Express expects the Missouri Public Service Commission to do -- issue a permit for the project and then trust Grain Belt Express to later meet all the requirements for a permit.  In the words of the attorney for one of the intervening landowner groups:
Even though the Commission gave GBE a second chance to provide the additional information the Commission said it requires in order to make a decision in this case, GBE did not provide the requested information. Much of the requested information—for example, the RTO interconnection studies—will not be available for some time, perhaps years. And, GBE may never be able to get the required consents from all of the county commissions. GBE’s general attitude is summed up thusly: Trust us—we will give you the information only after you give us our CCN.
As you may recall, instead of making a decision on the application of Grain Belt Express for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity after going through all the motions of a contested case (discovery, testimony, evidentiary hearing), the MO PSC issued an Order demanding more information from the applicant.  This would be additional evidence submitted after the hearing record had closed.  This generates due process concerns, and the PSC had asked the parties how they wanted to deal with this submission of additional evidence.

The response of of Show Me Concerned Landowners points out that Clean Line didn't actually submit the information ordered -- in many instances, it submitted excuses for not providing information, claiming that it would provide the necessary information AFTER the MO PSC issued the CCN.  Clean Line seems to overlook the fact that much of this information is REQUIRED in order to issue the permit in the first place!  No information, no permit.  It's as simple as that.
The Commission should not allow GBE to play this “which comes first—the chicken or the egg” game. Show Me recommends that the Commission deny GBE’s Application without prejudice. GBE is free to refile its Application after it obtains all of the relevant information and documentation that the law and this Commission require.
The Missouri Landowners Alliance, another landowner group, took a different approach to this permitting circus:  Asking that the entire legal process be repeated in order to allow this new evidence to be examined and rebutted by the other parties.  That should only add... oh... another year or so to the permitting process?

But wait, Clean Line is whining about the amount of time this is taking!  It's already been more than a year! 
The Commission’s supplemental procedure should be scheduled with consideration given to the time that has already elapsed in this case. The Company filed its Application for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity on March 26, 2014, over 12 months ago. Staff and other parties conducted extensive discovery regarding the Company’s Application, testimony, and schedules. The Commission held eight local public hearings, which occurred on August 12 and 14, and September 3 and 4. Three rounds of pre-filed testimony occurred, and the Commission conducted five days of evidentiary hearings (November 10, November 12-14, and November 21).
...and then the Commission ordered GBE to submit new evidence after the record had closed.  Return to "Go!"

United for Missouri, another citizens' group, thinks the whole idea of asking for more evidence after the record is closed isn't legal in the first place and the PSC should just deny GBE's application outright:
UFM recommends that the Commission reject the Grain Belt Express Response and deny Grain Belt Express’ application because the Commission misapplied its rules in its March 11 Order. The Commission’s order, therefore, was unlawful, arbitrary and capricious. Further, a review of the Grain Belt Express Response shows that there is very little additional relevant evidence to be adduced in additional proceedings. As a result, further proceedings would be inappropriate and a useless exercise. Finally, a review of the Grain Belt Express Response confirms UFM’s argument in its briefs previously filed in this case, that the proposed facilities are a private enterprise not devoted to the public convenience or necessity, and therefore are not qualified to receive a certificate of convenience and necessity.
And the Missouri Farm Bureau can't resist pointing out how futile this whole exercise has been:
Another initial point pertains to the information provided on the number of voluntary easements Grain Belt Express has obtained from landowners on the proposed route. According to Supplemental Exhibit 1 of Grain Belt Express’ Response, out of 724 tracts of land, Grain Belt Express has acquired only 45 easements voluntarily—about 6.2%. Grain Belt Express has been aggressively pursuing voluntary easements from landowners for a year. Given Grain Belt Express’ lack of success in convincing landowners that this is a good project for Missouri, granting Grain Belt Express the power of eminent domain would be inappropriate.
Really?  Would the MO PSC really grant eminent domain to a company that's going to need to use it on 93.8% of the properties?

Perhaps the MO PSC should have just denied the application in the first place, instead of opening this can of worms.  It's not too late!
 
 
Yesterday marked the official conclusion of the FERC hearing that's taken up so much of my time over the past month or so.

I'm sure numerous celebrations occurred.

Some were more fun
than others
For those who remarked that the second celebration didn't look like much fun, I offer that the beer was picked up off the table, the light turned out, and the room vacated.  Instant fun!

Now, where did I leave my life?  Anyone seen it?

First, I offer this article from WSJ* (I admit it, the world has been revolving even though I paid it little attention).  It's finally been recognized that utilities may be investing in infrastructure as a cash cow.  Ya think?

The way the regulated rate world works is that the more they invest, the more $$ they make.  Although utilities have a built in O&M component in most stated rates, if they don't spend it all, they can use the money for something else, such as increasing shareholder dividends.  And they did.  But, as less power is sold, profits go down and the utility must turn to other profit centers, such as increased capital spending on long-neglected maintenance, or new transmission lines.  And rates go up.

And they wonder why we drink...

*If you can't read the article, google the headline "Utilities' Profit Recipe:  Spend More" and you should be able to access it directly.