What's been happening in transmission news this week? The Virginian Pilot
took a look at Dominion's Skiffes Creek 500kV transmission project... and it sort of looks like the project itself is up the creek. Dominion has lots of excuses for why it needs to build a ginormous transmission line across the James River, but none of them are exactly logical. Skiffes Creek is not really the only option to ensure reliability, it's just the one that regional grid planner PJM Interconnection approved a long time ago in an uncompetitive environment. If the transmission project is not approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, then PJM will have to go back to the drawing board and re-engineer another solution to what it views as a reliability problem.
Gotta wonder... if this problem was put out for bid in PJM's new competitive transmission process, would other companies have better solutions? Solutions that solve the problem without creating an eyesore and river hazard of an aerial crossing of the James River? Probably.
Dominion contends that the technology doesn't exist to run a reliable line of the caliber and kind needed under 4 miles of riverbed - at least not without a price tag in the billions.
Oh, baloney, Dominion! Take a look at the Artificial Island project
that is proposed to cross underneath the Delaware River just a couple states to the North. When transmission solutions are evaluated in a competitive environment, a submarine crossing suddenly becomes viable, not only from a cost standpoint, but also with an eye toward "constructability," a measure of the ease of getting a project approved and constructed with minimal opposition. In the case of the Artificial Island project, PJM ultimately selected a proposal by LS Power that uses a 3.5 mile submarine crossing of the river in which the company capped its construction costs
. Dominion needs to re-evaluate its submarine options.
The Skiffes Creek project is a cash cow for incumbent utility Dominion. Under PJM's old, pre FERC Order No. 1000 transmission project selection process, the incumbent was allowed to propose all solutions. The incumbent could propose only those solutions that would provide a healthy shot to its balance sheet. FERC recognized that this process didn't necessarily inspire the best and cheapest solutions and has revolutionized the way regional grid planners select new transmission projects.
Dominion tries to hide behind an aura of concern for ratepayer issues.
Curtis said the Skiffes over-the-river plan, at $60 million, is indeed on the lower cost end of the dozens of routes and options the company considered. Whatever the expense, though, customers will reimburse Dominion. Rate hikes are automatically allowed for utilities that build infrastructure to strengthen the grid.
"So these are rate-payer dollars, not Dominion dollars," Curtis said. "But the opposition is still committed to the conspiracy theory."
Curtis tells only part of the truth here. The part he leaves out is that Dominion will be earning a double-digit return on its $60M investment in the project over its useful life of approximately 40 years. The more the project costs, the more Dominion makes in pure profit. Dominion is hardly agnostic about ratepayer costs. Also, if Dominion had to compete to build this reliability solution, it would face giving up this potential profit entirely to another company with a cheaper, less intrusive proposal. There IS a conspiracy... because the investment is Dominion's dollars, not ratepayer dollars. And Dominion earns a healthy return on every dollar it invests in this project.
So, are there other solutions? Opponents accuse Dominion of not examining and considering all options.
"What's frustrating is that people think we're being disingenuous," Curtis said. "They don't believe we've looked at all the alternatives, or they think we're only concerned about making the most money for our shareholders."
The article reveals
Several lines already feed outside power to the Peninsula, but it won't be enough without the Yorktown plant, which Dominion says is too costly to upgrade in the face of new federal clean-air standards.
Did Dominion consider upgrading and rebuilding the existing lines to increase capacity before settling on an entirely new transmission line? C'mon, Dominion, you're no stranger to this plan... after all, your plan to rebuild the 500kV Mt. Storm-Doubs transmission line to increase its capacity is what killed the entirely new 300-mile PATH transmission line. Or are much cheaper rebuilds only considered when Dominion finds itself in a competitive environment?
How much time and money will Dominion's effort to keep itself from being propelled "up the creek" with Skiffes Creek cost ratepayers? Dominion's blind pursuit of this project in the face of better alternatives is what may cause "rolling blackouts" on the peninsula. The longer Dominion delays by backing a lame horse, the closer the peninsula gets to a genuine reliability issue. Get with it, Dominion, and switch to a solution that everyone can agree upon. Don't you have a legal obligation to keep the lights on? Or only one to increase shareholder dividends every quarter?
...or maybe we should call it a lesson in identifying good guys vs. bad guys?
Hey, Feds, your right hand should introduce itself to your left hand.
This article in Vista Today
informs that FERC bad boy Rich Gates will apply for a "Whistleblower" reward from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for his work in exposing Credit Suisse's "dark pool" after the penalty is announced. Gates estimates he could be in line for a reward in the neighborhood of $5 - $15 Million.
Meanwhile, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has fined the other Gates twin $30M for alleged "market manipulation" for exposing a loophole in PJM's poorly designed energy markets.
So, if Rich Gates takes in $15M from the SEC, could he use that money to pay off part of the FERC's $30M fine (assuming FERC can make it stick in court)? I'd say that's some pretty smart money management!
Next up... will Disney be making a good twin vs. bad twin flick starring Rich and Kevin Gates? This story has been done many times over, but I think some government employees might relish the chance to prance across the big screen as cartoon characters set to an inspiring theme song and cymbal-crashing, energizing score.
Rich can play the "good" twin, who developed tests of buying and selling the same security in numerous dark pools or exchanges to see if anyone was getting in front of client’s trades, as chronicled in Michael Lewis's book, Flash Boys.
Kevin can play the "bad" twin, who performed a similar test of PJM's MLSA payment market and ended up making money that would have gone to certain gigantic utility holding companies if not for his participation in the market and exposure of PJM's poor market design.
But, wait, which twin is good, and which twin is bad? They sort of look the same to me. Like maybe identical? Both twins demonstrated that they were much smarter than the regulators who are supposed to be monitoring both markets. Maybe it depends on where in the federal government you're standing when you blow your whistle. By offering a reward for whistleblowing, the SEC demonstrates that it could actually be helped by those who expose things the agency wasn't smart enough to catch. On the other hand, FERC punishes those who expose things they weren't smart enough to catch. I don't think FERC offers any rewards for exposing utility scams. In fact, it punishes those who expose incumbent utilities, dumb market design, and lazy regulation.
But now it can all end well, like it did in Disney's The Parent Trap, when the twins switch places and the SEC reward pays FERC's penalty... and they all live happily ever after.
My challenge partner, Ali Haverty, reminded me this morning of a Facebook meme
we shared months ago. It's a photo of two owls on a branch, and says, "Sometimes I just want someone to hug me and say, 'I know it's hard. You're going to be okay. Here is chocolate and 6 million dollars.'"
And that's what we got. Of course, the 6 million dollars belongs to the 61 million ratepayers in the PJM region. Our personal share is probably about a nickel.
On Monday, FERC ALJ Philip Baten issued his ruling on the PATH case that was heard back in the spring.
Ali and I were seeking the refund of just over $6M in expenses for the purposes of influencing the decisions of public officials that PATH incurred and recovered from PJM ratepayers in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Judge Baten ruled that all of the expenditures were not recoverable in PATH's rates and must be refunded.
This is my favorite part:
As a general proposition, the cases that are discussed above suggest that when utilities are seeking selection or CPCN approvals from governmental entities, the utilities should rely on the established governmental approval processes to persuade the officials and not indulge in collateral efforts such as public education, outreach, and advertising activities. If a utility should rely on these collateral activities while pursuing selection or CPCN processes, then it will risk the chance that these costs may not be recovered from ratepayers. If the selection or CPCN application has merit, the governmental selection process provides a sufficient vehicle for the utilities to present their engineering, marketing and economic studies and thereby hope to merit the vote of approval from these officials. In this regard the PATH Companies spent over $8 million on attorney fees to prosecute the CPCNs before the respective governmental bodies, which begs the need for these collateral expenses.
The judge's decision must now go before the Commission, who may affirm or deny, in whole or in part. That decision is several months down the road, at least, and requires another round of briefs.
Meanwhile... more chocolate. And champagne. And music. Let there be music!
The Public Service Commissions of both Delaware and Maryland have filed a complaint
at FERC over PJM's new transmission cost allocation process, specifically the cost allocation of PJM's Artificial Island transmission project. Under PJM's cost allocation rules, ratepayers of Delmarva Power in Maryland and Delaware would pay nearly 90% of the cost of the project, which is intended to improve transmission from the Salem/Hope Creek nuke in New Jersey. However, Delmarva customers will receive only 10% of the benefits flowing from the project.
Whoopsie, PJM! Your formulas still don't work! Didn't FERC's Order No. 1000 determine that costs would be commensurate with benefits? And didn't the 7th Circuit remand your prior cost allocation method TWICE because PJM and FERC couldn't show a correlation between benefits and costs?
It seems that PJM and FERC still haven't gotten it right on cost allocation. And the legal battle is just beginning. This could muck up PJM's cost allocation process for the transmission it orders up for years! As a result... transmission won't get built. Nice going, knuckleheads!
We have yet to see a massive transmission build out intended to ship renewables thousands of miles in an attempt to subvert state planning for compliance with the Clean Power Plan. Expect problems there, too! After all, not every state is going to receive the same kind of benefits from long-distance transmission that passes through in an attempt to meet the CPP goals of a different state.
I guess that's what happens when "regional" and federal interests attempt to overrun state regulators. This complaint is going to be interesting and eat up a lot of ink. Woo Hoo!
I saw lots of your tax dollars at work over the past couple weeks. They're everywhere.
Long, boring road trips allow lots of time for pondering. Lots of wind farms allow for lots of comparison.
Why were some turning while others were not? It sure seemed like the closer to the road they were, the more they turned. Like stage dressing for eager Sierra Club motorists, puttering along in their polluting conveyances. Or perhaps the ones encroaching on highways were newer and earning the $0.023/kWh production tax credit, while the ones farther away had been abandoned or were simply priced out of the market at the time? Why was a wind farm on the right hand side of the road turning away, while one on the left hand side sat idle? I did see more turning than not, which probably means there's adequate wind transmission capacity for what's been built.
This report says that wind is curtailed for 3 main reasons:
1. Transmission constraints. Not enough transmission for peak periods. Since the capacity factor for wind averages 35%, is it economic to build additional transmission for the odd times when wind is producing at a higher rate? Probably not.
2. System balancing. High wind penetrations make it hard to keep the system in balance because they require curtailment of base load generators during periods of low load. That's not economic either. "Some utilities or grid operators have curtailed generation from wind plants when minimum generation levels on fossil-fuel plants are reached, because stopping and restarting fossil units within a few hours can be significantly more expensive than paying for a few hours of wind curtailment."
3. Other reasons: voltage issues, interconnection issues, frequency and stability issues. Too much intermittent wind can make the grid unstable. Wind generators also "self-curtail" to protect bats and enable de-icing. Probably not a problem, since it was well over 100 degrees when clusters of wind turbines sat idle.
The expired production tax credit pays wind farm owners $.023/kWH generated. How much is that on an annual basis? Not information easily found. Why not? This article says that the PTC has cost American taxpayers $30B over the past 35 years. Of course, the Koch monster gets blamed for spreading "misinformation," but nobody offers a corrected figure.
Warren Buffet has bragged that the production tax credit is the only reason to build wind farms, "they don't make sense without the credit."
The PTC allows wind generators to bid into energy markets at low, or even negative, prices. This makes it harder for unsubsidized base load generators to stay afloat. As a result, these generators beg for ratepayer subsidies and foist the cost of their failing generators off onto ratepayers. Who thinks that we can replace all fossil fueled electric generation with intermittent renewables like wind?
Not PJM, whose recent capacity auction provides additional money to generators who can produce when called upon (you know, those baseload fossil fueled generators). This is going to cost consumers an additional $3.4B in yearly capacity charges.
And there we are. New intermittent wind capacity is being built at an alarming rate because it is profitable. New wind transmission capacity is being overbuilt at an alarming rate because it is profitable. All this intermittent generation is causing increased costs for consumers.
But the industry is raking it in. Thoughts to ponder...
Apparently FERC's Office of Enforcement had nothing better to do yesterday than to enjoy a summer drive down to Richmond for an enjoyable afternoon of venue shopping.
I guess they found exactly what they were looking for, because they dropped off a petition requesting a jury trial at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Richmond Division, in the matter of:
PETITION FOR AN ORDER AFFIRMING THE FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION'S MAY 29, 2015 ORDER ASSESSING CIVIL PENALTIES AGAINST POWHATAN ENERGY FUND, LLC, HEEP FUND, INC.,
HOULIAN "ALAN" CHEN, AND CU FUND, INC.
Although the Commission issued an Order assessing civil penalties on May 29, the accused had 60 days to cough up the roughly $34.5M in penalties and disgorgement. They didn't pay. FERC wasted no time filing its petition after the 60 days were up.
"It has taken Powhatan almost five years to get to court for a very simple spread trading strategy that has been blessed by 12 independent experts at our website, ferclitigation.com," said Powhatan's Richard Gates.
FERC listed six, count 'em, six lawyers as counsel for the plaintiff. It listed only two lawyers for the defense, one for Powhatan Energy Fund and one for Alan Chen, HEEP Fund and CU Fund. Does it really take six FERC lawyers to equal one defense lawyer? Who is paying for this? How much has FERC spent on this investigation over the past 5 years, and how much will it spend down in Richmond? At what point will the cost of this litigation be more than the recovery?
"While the costs of fighting off the bogus allegations have been huge and will just grow for us, we're glad we are able to stand our ground and not be forced into settlement the way others firms have. Plus, it will be nice to be in the neutral venue of a courtroom instead of this Orwellian organization that has trapped us the last 5 years," added Gates.
Richmond? FERC says it selected Richmond because:
Venue is also governed by FPA section 317, 16 U.S.C. § 825p, which provides that “[a]ny suit or action to enforce any liability or duty created by . . . this Act, or any rule, regulation, or order thereunder may be brought in [the district wherein any act or transaction constituting the violation occurred] or in the district wherein the defendant is an inhabitant.”
And the trades occurred in PJM. And Powhatan's "principal place of business" is in Henrico, Virginia. Of course FERC probably knows that the Gates brothers actually live in Pennsylvania and Chen in Texas.
Oh, there it is!
Respondents’ unlawful scheme resulted in
the misdirection and capture of over $10 million in PJM market payments, including
approximately $1,147,087 that would otherwise have flowed to Dominion Virginia Power and inured to the benefit of Dominion and its ratepayers, including ratepayers in this District.
So, FERC wants this case heard before jurors who might believe they were personally cheated out of more than a million bucks? I do hope they fully explain their use of "to the benefit of Dominion and its ratepayers" to show how much would have ended up in Dominion's pocket and how much would have ended up in Dominion's ratepayer pockets if not for the defendant's actions. Maybe FERC can also explain how much of the $34.5M in penalties and disgorgement will end up in Dominion's pocket and how Dominion will flow that recovery into the rates that will make the ratepayers on the jury whole (or not). And do tell where the rest of the money will go, FERC...
I will admit that I haven't read everything in this case, but FERC has yet to convince me that any actual ratepayers were damaged here. If Dominion had collected the MLSA payments instead of Powhatan and Chen, would they have directly reduced rates, or simply gone into Dominion's corporate coffers? Since FERC has yet to adequately explain, I'm leaning toward the latter option. Who is FERC really protecting here? Ratepayers or its pet incumbent utilities?
Gates seems to agree, "By filing the lawsuit, FERC has shown the world it continues not to support open and competitive power markets. Instead, FERC favors incumbent utilities that function without incentives to do better. Indeed, earlier this year the WSJ* described how utilities get profits by just spending more. While we believe in the societal benefits of competition, and know the law allows for it in these markets, it makes sense utilities may not want any."
Is FERC confused about who it serves? Is this case supposed to hinge on a jury's failure to understand it and instead be swept away by platitudes and grandstanding from FERC's sextet of lawyers? FERC used the word "Enron" something more than 30 times in its District Court Petition. Maybe the defense can use the word "McCarthyism" an equal number of times just to keep things fair? I suppose the jury's view of these two competing terms is going to depend on its average age.
And the quality of the public relations battle deployed.
*If you don't subscribe to WSJ and can't read this article via the link, type the phrase "Utilities’ Profit Recipe: Spend More" into Google and click through on that link. No, we're not advising that you engage in newspaper subscription link manipulation, through a scheme to engage in fraudulent Headline Googling (HG) transactions in internet search engine markets to garner excessive amounts of certain free reads of stories behind a paywall. I also recommend that you not engage in any views that constitute a wash viewing scheme in violation of the WSJ’s prohibition of that practice.
As if it's not bad enough that investor owned utility regional transmission organization cartels decide which of their members get to profit from building new transmission of questionable worth, now ITC thinks these cartels should take over transmission ratemaking from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
In a Petition for Declaratory Order filed yesterday, ITC wants the Commission to rule:
1) that binding revenue requirement bids selected as the result of Commission-approved, Order No. 1000-compliant, and demonstrably competitive transmission project selection processes will be deemed just and reasonable when filed at the Commission as a stated rate pursuant to Federal Power Act (“FPA”) Section 205; and 2) that such binding bids are entitled to protection under the Mobile-Sierra standard, and may not subsequently be changed by means of a complaint filed under FPA Section 206 unless required by the public interest.
FERC's Order No. 1000 was supposed to open the doors to competition in order to make transmission cost competitive. RTOs are now supposed to consider costs when deciding who gets to build a project. Some, like PJM, require bidders to submit a total project cost with their bid. It is not subject to accuracy checks, so a company can submit a low bid to win the project, and then recover cost overruns. This makes the cost bid worthless. Other RTOs, such as MISO and SPP, require the bidder to submit yearly revenue requirements for the life of the project (40 years). Unlike a "total project cost" estimate of a project's total capital investment, a revenue requirement also includes the utility's return, Operations and Maintenance costs, taxes, and other costs to more accurately represent a ratepayer's actual cost. Of course, these revenue requirements are just estimates, actual rates may differ.
On top of that, competition has inspired transmission companies to offer not to exceed "cost caps," where a transmission company eats any overages. This serves to make cost bids more accurate and encourages the company to actually perform, instead of its usual apathy to cost concerns because the company is simply passing its costs into rates that someone else pays.
Good idea, right? Except when a cost cap and company performance actually makes the project come in under budget, ratepayers can reap the benefits of even lower rates. ITC wants that to stop. It wants to recover the full amount of its cost cap, even if it spends less. How rickety will transmission become once corporate greed and shareholder returns enter the picture? How many equipment cost and construction practice corners will be cut to decrease costs and increase profits?
Here's a better idea: Dangle a fixed reward of a percentage of cost underruns for the economical company when a project is successfully constructed, instead of encouraging them to adopt a culture of greed by proposing an endless cycle of cost cutting to increase profits. ITC's proposal is crap.
First of all, RTOs don't know diddly doo about rates and ratemaking and care even less. RTOs are NOT regulators in the public interest. They operate in the interest of their investor owned members. There is no real public involvement in any of their decisions, and more importantly, no due process for ratepayers to participate in examination of the rates proposed in the cost cap "revenue requirements" that ITC wants to lock in at the RTO level.
There's a whole lot that goes into ratemaking aside from known costs, such as the company's rate of return. How is an RTO supposed to decide that? In addition, only the Commission has jurisdiction over transmission rate incentives that can increase return. Does ITC propose that the RTO take over this process in order to set the return at a "competitive" rate decided through the bidding process? And what about incentives that don't have anything to do with rates, such as guaranteed recovery in the case of abandonment? Would those still be the domain of the Commission, or shall they delegate those to RTOs as well?
Message unclear. Ask again later.
Having the utility design its own rates in a "competitive" manner would do nothing but encourage collusion that results in rates that are not just and reasonable. No rate should ever be bullet proof.
Well, isn't that cute? FirstEnergy has mated with itself and given birth to MAIT, Mid-Atlantic Interstate Transmission, LLC. Who thinks up these stupid names? This one rolls off the tongue with as much excitement and pleasure as the phrase "hand over your wallet and nobody gets hurt," or perhaps the descriptive "hot turd."
So, FirstEnergy needs to create another "independent" transco in order to energize its balance sheet by creating the world's sweetest investment account that will pay lucrative double-digit returns for many decades to come? Well, that's good for everyone, right? No, it's not.
FirstEnergy proposes that its "eastern" retail distribution companies "sell" their transmission assets to the newly formed "MAIT" in exchange for a backseat interest in the company and annual "lease" payments for right-of-way and other real estate interests that the retail companies will continue to own (along with the tax liability). Will the "lease payments" be enough to cover all the liabilities of owning the real estate? Or will the retail distribution customers end up financing a portion of that to make the "lease" cheaper for MAIT? Who's going to be supervising that to make sure it's an arm's length transaction?
FirstEnergy says they need to do this because it is consistent with the public interest. You know, you "public" are supposed to benefit from it. So, what are the benefits?
MAIT will not result in cross-subsidization of a non-utility associate company or the pledge or encumbrance of utility assets for the benefit of an associate company.
It supposedly won't have an adverse impact on competition, rates, or regulation.
FirstEnergy commits to hold customers harmless from transaction costs. (oh, like they did in the FirstEnergy/Allegheny Energy merger?)
So, "the public" won't be harmed? Even if we believe that, it's not a "benefit." It's "do no harm."
But, wait, there's more!!
MAIT results in the creation of a stand-alone transmission company, which provides a number of
benefits to customers and the PJM region!
Tell us more, Rod Roddy....
FirstEnergy is in the midst of a major investment cycle in transmission infrastructure. In 2014, FirstEnergy commenced its EtF initiative, which is intended to identify the need for, and facilitate the investment in, improvements to the security, resiliency, efficiency, and operational flexibility of its transmission systems. EtF projects include building and re-conductoring transmission lines; building and enhancing substations; modernizing transmission
communication infrastructure; and installing dynamic reactive resources to regulate system
voltage. In all, FirstEnergy plans to invest approximately $2.5 to $3 billion in the FirstEnergy East Operating Companies’ service territories through this program over the next five to ten years.
FET formed MAIT in preparation for this significant planned investment. As Mr. Staub
explains in his testimony, utilities face significant challenges in their efforts to simultaneously meet the service requirements of retail customers while also making sustained investments in their transmission assets. A utility’s investment in transmission infrastructure competes with other business lines of the utility for capital, and transmission investments “can be deferred in favor of more immediate or emergency investments in distribution” facilities. The singleminded
focus as a transmission-only entity will enable MAIT to commit to addressing the significant investment needs of the transmission system.
This stand-alone structure also will allow MAIT to attract capital on more commercially reasonable terms. Mr. Staub explains that lenders view stand-alone transmission companies favorably due to their transparent and easy-to-assess risk profile. The Commission has also observed that stand-alone transmission companies typically enjoy an enhanced ability to respond to transmission needs and have a superior track record of investing in new infrastructure.
MAIT’s improved access to capital will increase the likelihood that the planned investments are carried out and completed in a timely fashion and at a lower cost. Moreover, MAIT will incur debt in its own name, without a parent guarantee. Any debt MAIT incurs to finance new transmission projects, therefore, will not affect the financial condition and credit ratings of the FirstEnergy East Operating Companies. Hence, the migration to a stand-alone transmission model not only better supports the sustained level of transmission investment needed at MAIT but also preserves and enhances the FirstEnergy East Operating Companies’ capacity to issue debt for their respective retail and distribution needs.
Oh bull...oney, FirstEnergy! You forgot to mention FERC's extra special .5% ROE adder for transmission only companies, or "transcos." And, hey, if MAIT joins PJM, you can get another .5%!! You also forgot to mention in that breath that you do plan to immediately make a section 205 filing to set up a formula rate for MAIT that provides a lot of financial goodies that you can't get through a stated rate. Are you also going to be applying for all the other FERC transmission incentives? I bet you are, you coy little company!
So the real benefits here are for FirstEnergy, not "the public." Since the public is not receiving a benefit, and if we believe FirstEnergy that this won't increase rates (and profits), then why in the hell would FirstEnergy want to do this and shell out the "transaction costs" it can't pass to ratepayers? Do you really expect us to believe there's nothing in it for Y-O-U, FirstEnergy? I mean, you guys are kind of stupid, but I didn't think you were complete idiots.
And I do believe you are attempting to remove a whole bunch of transmission from state regulatory oversight so that you can plow your "transmission spend" into making "investments" of questionable worth in your lower voltage transmission lines that aren't part of any PJM transmission plan.
So, does anyone care? Apparently not much. The only parties to intervene in this docket are competitor PSEG and FERC settlement gadflies AMP and ODEC.
Remember, these companies are regulated to protect you. Except there's nobody minding the store on your behalf.
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.