I've been trying to keep my nose to the ol' grindstone and ignore the calliope music coming from PJM's "Annual Meeting"
in Atlantic City
. But it's really hard to ignore it when a clown scampers across your computer screen before you've even had your morning coffee.
I started my day today with the latest issue of RTO Insider. I figured it went well with coffee and would be a pleasant way to wake up before going back to work on something that matters. I love RTO Insider almost as much as chocolate donuts!
Bowring, Gates’ Consultant Spar over PJM Traders’ Obligations on Loopholes
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — To shake or not to shake the Money Tree?
That was the question Independent Market Monitor Joe Bowring posed during his Year in Review presentation at PJM’s Annual Meeting last week, setting off a lively debate with one of the consultants that Richard and Kevin Gates, enlisted in their high profile defense against market manipulation allegations.
“If the rules are imperfect, is it OK to do anything not explicitly prohibited?” Bowring asked.
He quickly provided his own answer. “It is not permissible,” he said, citing what he called the “duty” of market participants to inform RTO officials and federal regulators of such “money trees.”
Is this rule supposed to apply equally to every entity FERC regulates? Doesn't Bowring realize that utilities routinely exploit "unclear" rules in order to pocket a little extra scratch? If regulated utilities had a duty to report all their "misinterpretation" money trees to FERC, we're going to need a couple more hotlines. Of course, if the utilities are so busy self-reporting all their shakes (or kicks, flicks, and karate chops) of the "money tree," they might not have time to "accidentally" misinterpret any rules that result in a profit for their shareholders, would they? Or will they simply have to hire new monkeys to shake the tree, while the old monkeys watch and phone in a report to FERC's hotline?
Utilities large and small routinely interpret FERC rules in incorrect and bizarre ways in order to squeak some additional profit from them. Except FERC never fines its utility pets $30M when they get caught breaking the rules. It's all giggle, giggle, hush, hush, slap my wrist, I promise to be good if you overlook this little "misunderstanding." FERC needs to tighten that shit up and adopt Bowring's "Money Tree Methodology" for everyone!
I do so admire Bowring's enthusiasm. You go, sport! I hear there's going to be a vacant spot on the Commission soon! Maybe you should be Chairman?
What do you suppose caused Bowring's money tree epiphany? Do you suppose he participated in the "Spa Toccare"* leisure activity in order to relax and clear his mind before giving his report to the membership?
Whatever you do, don't click on the clown picture above.
No, don't do it!
Well, that would explain things then. Thanks a lot, Joe, for making me snort with laughter before the coffee was even ready to drink.
*Dedicated to undoing the effects of your day, Spa Toccare offers relaxing treatments guaranteed to exhilarate. Here, tensions melt, knots disappear, skin glistens and eyes sparkle. A new you emerges just in time to wave bye-bye to your worldly cares.
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.
It's a good thing when it supports the public enjoyment of the arts, history, or nature. But where does the line get drawn between philanthropy and tossing money down the toilet?
Do you suppose that the Clean Line executives sing and dance for their investors? They ought to, since I believe that's all the investors are going to get in exchange for their philanthropy.
It's been a while since we've gotten a look at who's supplying the money that keeps this rickety boat afloat. During the ICC RICL hearings in December of 2013, we heard that Clean Line was going to be out of money by mid-2014.
But, here they still are... being a nuisance to Mayberry. Looks like National Grid had to up the ante and kick in another $15M. And since a 40% share seems to have increased in value, does this mean that other investors have also flushed some more money down the Clean Line potty? And what about Bank of America? Didn't one of Clean Line's spinners say the company was getting cash from Bank of America?
If we can believe Clean Line's Grain Belt Express application to the Illinois Commerce Commission, here's a listing of who's to blame for funding this fiasco:
GridAmerica Holdings (National Grid) has invested $55.7M and currently owns 40% of the company.
ZAM Ventures (Ziff brothers) has invested $73.8M and currently is the majority owner, with a 53% stake.
Michael Zilkha has a piddling $2.8M invested, which gives him a 2% ownership interest.
The remaining 5% (or $6.7M) is owned by "Clean Line Investment" which is some vague investment vehicle owned by "service providers and employees of Clean Line."
Total investment: Around $140M
That's a lot of green that is simply going to disappear when Clean Line's circus tent folds in the middle of the night and the company slips out of town. But that's okay, I'm sure these savvy investors wouldn't invest money they couldn't afford to lose.
$140M invested and the company still doesn't have even one of its projects fully permitted and ready to build.
In addition, all the interest in the project is coming from non-existent generators. It really doesn't matter how much Clean Line talks about how much its project is needed by other states in the east, without any contracts, Clean Line will fail.
Dance, Clean Line, dance!!!
Drama, drama, drama. I'm pretty sure the media over-dramatized the outages in DC yesterday. Maybe not a bad thing to raise awareness, but they've missed the real message.
OMG - like this outage affected IMPORTANT people doing IMPORTANT things! Like Pepco is sooooooo bad!
This article covers the basics, and with a few additional details from WaPo's more dramatic version, here's the story:
A hot 230-kV transmission line (conductor) just randomly fell off its tower in Southern Maryland. No storm. No damage. It just broke for no apparent reason. Live, uninsulated transmission line on the ground started a grass fire. Lucky it didn't fall on any people, vehicles, etc. that happened to be in the right-of-way at that time. The fault caused a bunch of other lines and generators to trip offline in self-defense against resulting voltage swings. And the lights went out many miles away in Washington, D.C.
So, no big deal, faults happen. But the grid is supposed to be designed so that other lines instantly spring to life and take the load of the one out of service and the fault ends up being nothing more than a barely-noticed blip. But that didn't happen, it started to cascade to other lines and generators. Comparison was made to the 2003 northeast blackout, when a fault on a transmission line in Ohio cascaded into a regional blackout. The concept is quite the same, but the effect not as far-reaching. Do you suppose we'll need a multi-million dollar government task force to examine the incident?
What's the real problem here?
Lack of maintenance and upgrades to existing transmission lines. The industry is so busy chasing the big profits that come from building NEW transmission that they aren't investing their money in maintaining the assets already in service. Perhaps our federal regulatory agencies need to start encouraging maintenance and rebuilds of aging lines with financial incentives?
And then there's the problem of parasites like DC that have no generation of their own and depend on transmission lines from distant generators. The more transmission lines we build, and the more centralized the system that supplies electricity, the bigger this problem becomes.
Stop it. Stupid.
Distributed generation and less transmission lines = reliability.
Energy markets aren't special.
They're just another product of the PJM cartel's enabling of its members profits.
Bowring said the process that RTOs use to create market rules is flawed because market players get to vote on those rules, and sometimes they block the passage of needed reforms because they are engaging in the behavior that a new rule would prohibit.
It's like attending goody-two-shoes-kindergarten if you want to participate in PJM's energy markets, and you're going to have to tattle on yourself if you make too much money:
Bowring said market participants also have a duty to inform market overseers of faulty rules and false arbitrage opportunities and to not engage in such behavior once they suspect it to be wrong. He said the "vast majority" of market players do just that, and that those who think "they're the smartest guys in the room" by figuring out how to exploit some rule loophole are usually not since others have also seen that opportunity but chose to do the right thing by not engaging in such behavior.
When is FERC going to "do the right thing" and get rid of its mysterious and dysfunctional energy markets?
They need to realize that they need outsiders to make their silly markets work. If outsiders aren’t allowed to make money playing by the market rules without suffering the occasional random sacrifice from their ranks to serve as an example of a "bad egg" and a demonstration of FERC's power, then perhaps they should just outlaw their participation altogether. Will the beatings continue until morale improves?
It’s like slopping a whole bunch of chum into the water and complaining when sharks show up instead of some pretty goldfish.
Below is a press release from Powhatan Energy Fund. Why mess with perfection? Here goes:------------
West Chester, PA - Last week, PJM Interconnection stated that Powhatan Energy Fund's response to FERC’s order to show cause illustrates our “failure to appreciate the unique legal and regulatory framework governing organized wholesale electricity markets.” Yeah, perhaps we do not understand this “uniqueness” – we were under the impression that constitutional protections applied to all regulated markets in this country, including theirs. We’ve raised our voice against the bullying tactics that FERC has employed in this investigation as they have completely ignored these protections, including our rights to due process and fair notice. Powhatan is in the news and people feel compelled to respond to us because we’re not unique – a lot of people know there’s a fundamental problem here.
The industry struggles to understand the rules and the laws under which they can operate their businesses. PJM’s recent statements add to their confusion. PJM’s pronouncement that FERC’s regulatory mission “to protect consumers and other market participants” is held to a “higher standard” than the SEC’s mission to protect investors is simply wrong. We do not believe PJM could cite any authority to support this claim. The SEC’s mission to protect investors is every bit as stringent and important as FERC’s. FERC has even stated that its market manipulation rule is modeled after the SEC’s 10b-5 precedent.
We wish PJM would stop pretending that this investigation has anything to do with “just and reasonable prices” for power, as they put it. There is no allegation that we increased power prices. As a matter of fact, Alan’s trading had no negative effect on prices or on the power markets at all. If PJM wants to argue, we suggest they find a different straw man.
PJM made the rules, and Alan traded under those rules. Our activities were perfectly legal. And the thing is – PJM knows it. Even after August 2, 2010, when Alan stopped trading, PJM continued to wire funds to us for the very trades that are the subject of the investigation. If they really thought there was anything illegal about the trades, we wonder why they repeatedly sent us money.
We suspect that every single UTC trader made money in the summer of 2010. Instead of vilifying us in the press, PJM should thank us for identifying the goose that was laying these golden eggs. If PJM feels compelled to run any more simulations, Powhatan suggests they quantify how much money the big utilities would have “lost” the last five years had PJM continued to pay UTC traders to take transmission service out of the system. It will show the big utilities are better today, in part, because of Alan’s trading.
Throughout this five-year investigation, we’ve been very cooperative. Over the last year, we’ve been very open. The analysis of our experts, the interactions we’ve had with the FERC, and even our legal correspondence are available to the leadership team at PJM, who can see it all at www.ferclitigation.com
. We encourage a visit.
C. The Report Contains So Many Obviously Wrong Accusations That Some
Additional Comments On the Most Blatant Inaccuracies Are Warranted
1. Dr. Chen’s “Home Run” Trading Strategy Is Not A “Post Hoc Invention” Because, Among Other Things, 35 Is Less Than 50
2. The Staff’s Analysis Of The “Indicia of Manipulation” Misses The Mark Entirely
3. Dr. Chen’s Trades Were Not “Wash-like” Or “Wash-type” – Whatever The Heck That Means
4. The Staff’s Stubborn Reliance On The Unpublished, Non- Precedential Amanat Case Is Just Lame
5. Uttering the Phrase “Enron” Or “Death Star” Does Not Magically Transform The Staff’s Investigation
6. Who Cares What Bob Steele Thinks?
7. The Staff Has Not Identified Any Actionable “Harm”
Although weighing in at 49 pages, Powhatan's response is a quick and easy read, heavy on the common sense, and light on the bafflement that DC lawyers like to rely on to confuse the decision-makers. It's a modern-day, regulatory version of The Emperor's New Clothes down there, where the object seems to be to simply confuse the issues with lots of big words and complicated concepts until the decision-maker (who most likely doesn't have the technical background to appreciate all the little nuances) is left drooling in his chair, more confused than he was before he entered the room. I believe they hope that the decision-maker, like the long-ago emperor, will simply be afraid to admit that he doesn't get it, for fear of looking stupid in front of his lawyer courtesans. When that happens, the emperor may nod his head and agree with the sagest of experts before him.
And in that spirit, OE's self-designated little conscience has entered the room by filing a public protest on the debacle.
Former compliance counsel and current Super Dad Eric Morris shares:
I would hope the four Commissioners voting on this docket would reflect on the unjustness of treating certain entities that have regular business before the Commission very deferentially and then outsiders who receive zero funding from ratepayers such as the subjects of this investigation very harshly.
He also has some other interesting observations, such as:
If [Kevin Gates] had become rich and bought a utility or five, I would imagine you would treat that future version of Kevin Gates much more nicely.
But what would Kevin Gates want with a utility (or five)? He'd have to abandon his morals in order to run them.
Even Eric can't seem to find the harm that FERC's OE claims was done by Powhatan:
And speaking of protecting the incumbents, all the “harm” is supposedly being done to them. I’d love to see OE prove that that money would have lowered ratepayers’ bills; if so, PJM should be broken-up for ever allowing this. I would guess it is much closer to the old story of private gains (to PJM Members) and public risk (ratepayers paying for this investigation), though. Who knows, maybe the PJM cartel is smarter than the Wall Street banksters like Goldman and I am just not giving them enough credit?
I doubt it.
*FERCenese |ferk in knees| noun: The incomprehensible, acronym-laden gibberish spoken at FERC that is hard for common folks to understand. Origin: Electric ratepayer Scott Thorsen, standing in a field in Illinois.
Wow, what a shocker, right? What happens when a cartel has to make new rules whereby its members have to compete for projects?
Complete and utter failure.
On Thursday, PSE&G filed a complaint against PJM at FERC. The complaint is just a new wrinkle in PJM's failure to carry out a competitive transmission planning process ordered by FERC and set out in PJM's own rules. PJM didn't seem to have any problem coming up with a competitive process in order to comply with Order No. 1000, but it completely failed at carrying out its own rules in its first attempt at a competitive transmission project window.
The complaint alleges that PJM altered all projects submitted in the Artificial Island competitive window, substituting its own project creations for the ones actually submitted, and then allowed a select set of project sponsors to continually alter their projects throughout the evaluation process. PJM still has not selected a "winner," although the process has been dragging on for nearly two years. PJM simply cannot resist using its heavy hand to unfairly influence selection of transmission projects that need to be built.
Funny that when PJM has to operate competitively, it cannot. Everything falls apart.
Is it really about keeping the system reliable and cost effective, or is it about ensuring profits for its most favored members? Where do consumers fit in?
So, why don't we just do away with PJM transmission planning altogether? It's a miserable failure.
On that tape, Dr. Bowring says that the trades did not violate the rules, that he understands why the traders engaged in them, and that the rules need to be changed to remove the incentives that drove the trading. He also says that he would not refer the trading conduct to Enforcement if the traders stopped the trading in question.
Powhatan says that accused trader Alan Chen had a similar conversation with Bowring, but did not record it.
The problem here stems from OE's failure to turn over the recording when it was asked to produce exculpatory evidence, i.e. to disclose all evidence that is "favorable to an accused" or "would tend to exculpate him or reduce the penalty."
This seems to be a bit of a double standard, since FERC is relying on the statements of a different trader to make its case to the Commission.
Powhatan also points out that Bowring is obligated to refer trading that he thinks might be market manipulation to FERC's Office of Enforcement. I wonder how many little phone calls he's made to traders over the years, instead of fixing all the flaws in his "markets?"
How is anyone supposed to know what's allowed and what's prohibited? Or do those rules reside only in Bowring's head? So, keep that recorder handy, just in case... unless you've got $30M or so laying around and don't mind parting with it.
FERC bad-boy Kevin Gates says he's going to create an animated monkey for his website that explains how to make money in PJM's badly-designed markets.
Gates therefore said he stands by his earlier statement that FERC created a market "where a monkey could have made money that summer" by randomly picking nodes, MWs, congestion caps and hours. "We now have the data and I intend to prove it empirically," Gates added. "Once I'm done with the analysis, I intend to create an animated monkey to put on my website to present the results of my work and help explain the market that FERC created."
But what kind of monkey? Will it be a nice monkey?
Or will it be a naughty monkey?
For instance, staff said Chen and Powhatan's investors, including Gates, should have known that it was improper for Chen to submit trades in PJM's up-to congestion, or UTC, market on the funds' behalf just to maximize the rebates PJM gives market participants that use its transmission lines when it collects excess line-loss payments.
Staff further alleged that Gates and Chen suspected as much, citing an email exchange between the two parties suggesting that they "contact a law firm, the FERC, or PJM to try to get more insight into this issue." They never did, however, but instead decided to have Chen ramp up the trading activity, staff asserted.
Gates told SNL Energy that the problem with most of the emails and other information cited by staff to support its case is that they were taken out of context.
For instance, when asked if he indeed suspected that the types of trades in which Chen was engaging might be improper and why he did not seek advice on the issue, Gates recalled that the email exchange regarding the potential need for guidance took place in March 2010 and Chen did not begin trading in an allegedly illegal manner until the following June.
“The timing and the content of the email shows we weren't talking about Alan's trading at all — it was about the rebates themselves. We were concerned that FERC would try to retroactively take them back — not just for us, but for everyone," Gates said. He insisted that he never thought Chen's trading would be considered illegal.
Gates further explained that he did not contact an energy attorney at that time because he thought the possibility that FERC might punish market participants retroactively for flaws in existing rules was "preposterous when those rules were clearly approved." He also thought that while an attorney could quantify the risk or the likelihood that FERC may do so, contacting one would do nothing to protect him from that risk.
According to Gates, his decision not to seek legal advice at that time was the right one. He noted that after FERC in July 2011 tried to retroactively "claw-back those rebates" by ordering virtual (financial) traders such as Powhatan to return the previously refunded amounts, a federal appeals court in August 2013 remanded that decision, finding that the agency failed to justify its mandate. Moreover, Gates stressed that FERC staff has not alleged that any of Chen's trading activities prior to June 2010 were improper.
To be fair, SNL Financial also did an article featuring FERC's perspective
, but that one is behind a pay wall, so I guess nobody cares...
Personally, I'm looking forward to the animated monkey! I hope it's an evil monkey! They're ever so much more fun!