The Commission did not launch an investigation into the reliability of the MISO transmission system, and no testimony by an expert alleging reliability violations was submitted with the complaint. Instead, FERC treated the complaint as an unsubstantiated allegation, upon which it is not required to act.
FERC's dismissal was also based on the premise that the citizens are RTO/ISO stakeholders, and should have been participating in MISO's transmission planning process that approved the subject transmission line all the way back in 2008. FERC gives great deference to the decisions of its regional transmission organizations. If FERC started second guessing RTO/ISO decisions, it would be a never-ending spiral into micro-managing approval and siting of transmission projects, something FERC has no authority to do.
FERC's authority extends to ensuring that the regional transmission planning process is open and transparent. MISO (and other RTOs/ISOs) are complying with the spirit of FERC's Order No. 890 by theoretically making their planning process open to citizen participation. If the citizens choose not to participate, they cannot complain about the process later. Let's make an analogy here: It's not okay to violate a law and then claim you were unaware of the law, so therefore you are innocent of breaking the law.
However, citizen "stakeholder" participation in the regional transmission planning process only works on paper (or in theory). It doesn't translate to real life. Regional transmission organizations are not consumer friendly.
An RTO/ISO is an association of manufacturers or suppliers (of electricity) with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition in order to promote their own self-interest. Coincidentally, this is also the defined construct of a cartel. Only members of the regional planning cartels are permitted to vote on inclusion of transmission projects in the regional plan. Consumers can never legally be members entitled to vote. Consumer participation is limited to attempts to convince the voting membership to see things differently and in what may not be the company's financial best interests (which is the functional equivalent of screaming into a pillow). A consumer can never be a stakeholder with footing equal to that of an investor owned utility with a planned for-profit transmission project.
Here's why the "stakeholder" premise does not work for consumers:
1. Most consumers are unaware that regional transmission organizations exist. The RTO/ISO does nothing to foster understanding or recruit the interest and participation of consumers.
2. The regional planning process is highly technical and incomprehensible to nearly every consumer.
3. The regional planning process is time consuming and getting more so every day. As recently reported in the former PJM Insider, PJM is having trouble providing enough facilitators to run meetings on the problem statements (because there are too many of them). Consumers don't have the kind of time necessary to participate as a fully-engaged stakeholder.
4. State agencies tasked with protecting residential consumers are too underfunded and understaffed to effect meaningful stakeholder participation (see #3 above).
Therefore, consumers are not, and can never be, equal stakeholders, except on paper in FERC orders.
What's the solution?
PJM states have formed The Consumer Advocates of PJM States (CAPS) group and have been recruiting for someone to serve as a PJM monitor/participant on their behalf. While this is a step in the right direction, it still doesn't solve problems 1, 2 and 3 above. The same majority of consumers who don't know regional transmission organizations exist also don't know that state consumer advocates exist (which makes their jobs thankless, sort of like wetting your pants in a dark suit -- it gives you a warm feeling, but no one notices). We'll have to wait to see if this approach is effective.
There is no designated or funded consumer advocate on a federal level. While consumers have state advocates to participate on their behalf, there is no federal counterpart to help with the regional or federal workload. Congress has flirted with setting up a consumer advocate at FERC, but nothing has ever been accomplished.
Must the townsfolk storm the regional planning castle in huge numbers? They'll probably come fully decked out with torches and pitchforks... and stakes, they'll be holding stakes that they intend to pound through the heart of the transmission building cartel beast that taxes, frustrates and confounds them.