And the planning and reliability organizations have never found a need for thousands of miles of expensive, invasive "clean" lines. That's why Clean Line Energy Partners is a merchant transmission company, proposing to build new transmission outside our regulated system and shoulder all the financial risk that nobody may find its lines useful, economic, or necessary to purchase. We don't need Clean Line to "make transmission great again." Our transmission system never stopped being great, but if it did, regulated planners would propose additions to the system to ensure it remained great.
But Clean Line needs our regulated transmission system to make itself great. It needs volunteer customers to provide a revenue stream that would make its proposal profitable for its filthy rich investors. And when that did not happen voluntarily, Clean Line now seeks to use the federal government to force electric customers into captivity to finance its projects.
Clean Line and its environmental sycophants, along with transmission industry profiteers, gathered together last week to scheme up a way to force legislators and governmental regulators to usurp state authority to site and permit new transmission projects. And hilarity ensued.
Considering that there was only one news report of the event, and the front group that organized it didn't bother with social media engagement, it more closely resembled a closed echo chamber that nobody cares about. So even though Clean Line president Michael Skelly shamelessly sucked up to the political party in power, nothing of any import happened. Except I laughed!
Conference organizer "Americans for a Clean Energy Grid" has been trying to make itself relevant for years, but their execution is lame and conference attendees may randomly crap on all their ideas.
The organization, an initiative of the Energy Future Coalition, has held regional transmission conferences, but this was its first national event.
The coalition was formed in 2002 by former Sen. Tim Wirth, a Colorado Democrat; Republican C. Boyden Gray, who served as White House counsel to President George H.W. Bush; and Democrat John Podesta, a former aide to Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who chaired Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
“I’d love to have more load growth. It ain’t going to happen,” Craig Glazer, PJM’s vice president for federal government policy, told the gathering.
Weak load growth will make it more complicated to finance upgrades for aging transmission, and the lack of a federal carbon tax or renewable mandate is making it difficult to integrate renewable generation, Glazer said.
And when the organization's dream of taking away state authority to site and permit transmission was brought up:
Hoecker and Brown discussed FERC’s inability to gain “backstop” siting authority, saying it’s still very difficult to prevent individual states from blocking a project. The Energy Policy Act of 2015 amended the Federal Power Act to give FERC the authority to site electric transmission lines blocked by states, but court rulings have blocked the commission’s attempts to use it, prompting some in Congress to propose additional legislation strengthening FERC’s authority.
Brown said that Order 1000 hasn’t really helped SPP much with large regional projects.
“We need to decide what we want this grid of the future to look like,” Glazer said. For example, should it be a “localized grid” that can harness distributed generation? he asked. “There’s an added complication; it’s not even clear who is in charge,” Glazer said. FERC, state utility commissions and governors all have a say in siting decisions, he said.
If each governor is asked what infrastructure projects they want, the country will end up with a lot of state-based projects, not interstate ones, Clean Line Energy Partners President Mike Skelly said.
Perhaps the new mantra is “we’re going to make transmission great again,” Skelly said. The power to select infrastructure projects should not be taken away from transmission planners and placed in the hands of Congress, he said.
Skelly and others cautioned the Trump administration not to skimp on project reviews or stakeholder input. The key is that all projects must have “timelines” for regulatory approvals to avoid infinite delays, he said.
The executive director of the AFL-CIO’s Industrial Union Council, Brad Markell, said the labor movement agrees with the need for “hard timelines” to shorten the permit process.
Markell said that labor unions have been in contact with the Trump administration on potential infrastructure efforts.
“From our point of view, more power for the federal government and less power for the states [on electric infrastructure] would be a good thing,” he said.
Others deemed that unlikely. “I think we’re stuck with the system we have,” Glazer said.
And then the environmental groups weighed in and things got a lot sillier.
Mary Anne Hitt, executive director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said that — contrary to what conference participants may have heard — her organization doesn’t oppose all power lines, only those that appear aimed to “prop up fossil fuels.”
The environmental group opposed the abandoned “coal by wire” Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) project in PJM. On the other hand, it has backed the Plains and Eastern Clean Line Project, designed to move renewable energy from Oklahoma to Tennessee.
Hitt said she was concerned that President Trump’s nominee for EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, opposed Clean Line in 2015 as Oklahoma attorney general.
And an ineffectual time was had by all. But, hey, the political posturing was exquisite!
And speaking of political posturing, here's some political posturing from E&E News regarding a real Washington, D.C., organizational conference with clout - the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners winter meeting. The members of this organization actually regulate utilities, they don't just talk about it. E&E complains:
Curiously, there are no sessions scheduled there addressing the unsettled question of whether the federal government has any legitimate interest in transmission siting.
This "question" isn't unsettled. It's written in black and white. But for those who want to misuse statute, it becomes an "unsettled question" kicked into federal court. Just because an entity doesn't like the law does not make the law open to interpretation. The law does not allow the federal government any authority over, or interest in, transmission siting. Transmission siting is state jurisdictional.
While it's oftentimes hard to tell a useful and influential Washington conference from a useless and ineffectual one, remember that not all Washington gatherings have the same amount of clout.