Loren Sprouse, a Block Grain Belt Express-Missouri member and electrical engineer, went to the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) earlier this year with his concerns about the electric fields that would be created by Grain Belt Express, and their possible corrosive effect on nearby infrastructure. In response, MoDOT has compiled a research report of the most current studies available on the subject. The report, entitled "Effects of Ground Voltage of Stray Current on Infrastructure Caused by High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) Transmission Lines," cites numerous studies which indicate that DC lines may have a harmful impact on metallic infrastructure when operated in the monopolar mode, or under emergency conditions.

Although Grain Belt Express's website claims that its project will be a bipolar line, Sprouse is still concerned about the extremely high voltage of the line, and the electric fields and stray currents it may produce.

 "This is just another example of not fully understanding the potential long term negative consequences of this project. Our regulators need to enforce extremely high design standards when reviewing such projects around distances from homes, areas where people work around and under these lines, and especially around proximity to pipelines carrying natural gas and other petroleum products," Sprouse said.

The report indicates that monopolar HVDC transmission lines have an extremely corrosive effect on adjacent infrastructure, such as pipelines. Sprouse says that electric fields will always produce some stray currents, even in Grain Belt Express's bipolar HVDC model, or alternating current (AC) transmission lines.

The report confirmed Sprouse's worry, stating "The effect of stray current corrosion on underground infrastructure has been a concern for decades. As one example, a 1967 article warned about the "stray current corrosion of underground metallic structures" caused by HVDC transmission lines. In the literature, most studies are concerned about potential damage to pipeline structures." The report also quoted a 2008 GAO report that identified a risk "associated with siting HVDC electric transmission lines along active transportation ROW ... Stray current could interfere with railroad signaling systems and highway traffic operations, and accelerate pipeline corrosion, resulting in accidents."

Curt Jacobs from Erie, Illinois, echoed the concerns of Sprouse when commenting on a pipeline explosion that occurred last August adjacent to an AC transmission line near the proposed Rock Island Clean Line route.

"This pipeline explosion opened our eyes to the dangers of power lines close to pipelines. The suggestion that DC power can be even more corrosive than AC power raises significant safety questions for those of us that would be forced to live and work near Clean Line's proposed projects and the existing pipelines the routes attempt to parallel," he said.

Block GBE spokeswoman Jennifer Gatrel is worried that siting Grain Belt Express parallel to buried pipelines for approximately 119 miles across Missouri is too risky to the families who live and work close by. Approximately 53% of the GBE proposed route is sited within a mile of the pipeline corridor.

"We are very concerned about the implications of this report. Grain Belt wants to run their massive line close to pipelines through much of the state. The report makes it clear that there could be a real and present danger of doing so," she said. "As a mother to small children the idea that they could be put in danger is not acceptable!"
 
Some of Block GBE's major concerns, in addition to safety issues, are property rights, property devaluation, health effects, and the impediments to farming posed by the lines. Citizens interested in reading the report in full or learning more about the issue can find more information at www.blockgbemo.com or by calling 660-232-1280. The public will also have a chance to weigh in on the issue directly to the Missouri PSC who will decide whether to allow Grain Belt to build the lines. The schedule is located at the group's website here.
 
 
Last Monday, Illinois Commerce Commission ALJ Larry Jones issued his proposal for an Order of the Commission regarding RICL's request for authority to build its project in Illinois.  Note that this is just a proposal, it is NOT an official Order of the Commission and has no authority unless adopted by the five member Commission.

Meanwhile, the legal debate will continue.  Under Section 200.830 of the Rules, exceptions to the Proposed Order and replies thereto may be filed by the parties.

Let's just start out by stating that the Proposed Order (P.O., for short) is a beast -- 216 pages of repetitive back and forth, and lots of legal prose.  If you've actually read the whole thing, congratulations!  It took me most of the week to plow through it and to do the research to answer my own questions about certain parts.

First of all, we need to know what RICL asked the ICC to do.
In this proceeding, Rock Island Clean Line LLC (“Rock Island,” “RICL” or “RI”) filed the above-referenced petition with the Illinois Commerce Commission (“Commission” or “ICC”) pursuant to Sections 8-406 and 8-503 of the Public Utilities Act (“Act”),  220 ILCS 5/1-101, et seq.

Rock Island therein requests an order granting it a certificate of public convenience and necessity (“CPCN” or “Certificate”), pursuant to Section 8-406 of the Act, authorizing it to operate as a transmission public utility in the State of Illinois and to construct, operate and maintain an electric transmission line (“Project”); and authorizing and directing it, pursuant to Section 8-503 of the Act, to construct the proposed line. 
Section 8-406 governs the following:
Whenever after a hearing the Commission determines that any new construction or the transaction of any business by a public utility will promote the public convenience and is necessary thereto, it shall have the power to issue certificates of public convenience and necessity. The Commission shall determine that proposed construction will promote the public convenience and necessity only if the utility demonstrates: (1) that the proposed construction is necessary to provide adequate, reliable, and efficient service to its customers and is the least‑cost means of satisfying the service needs of its customers or that the proposed construction will promote the development of an effectively competitive electricity market that operates efficiently, is equitable to all customers, and is the least cost means of satisfying those objectives; (2) that the utility is capable of efficiently managing and supervising the construction process and has taken sufficient action to ensure adequate and efficient construction and supervision thereof; and (3) that the utility is capable of financing the proposed construction without significant adverse financial consequences for the utility or its customers.
Here's what the P.O. determined about RICL's request under 8-406:
Having reviewed the record, the Commission finds, with regard to the first alternative showing in Section 8-406(b)(1), that Rock Island has not demonstrated that the Project is necessary to provide adequate, reliable, and efficient service to customers within the meaning of Section 8-406(b)(1).

BUT, regarding the second alternative:


In conclusion, upon consideration of the record and the determinations contained above, and subject to the conditions set forth above and elsewhere in this Order, the Commission finds that the Project will provide an opportunity for the delivery of more renewable energy into Illinois, and will promote the development of an effectively competitive electricity market that operates efficiently, including with respect to renewable energy; is equitable to all customers; and is the least cost means of satisfying those objectives, within the meaning of Section 8-406(b)(2).
The "conditions" attached to the judge's proposed conclusion are as follows:
Prior to recovering any Project costs from Illinois retail ratepayers through PJM or MISO regional cost allocation, Rock Island will obtain the permission of the Illinois Commerce Commission in a new proceeding initiated by Rock Island. For the purposes of the prior sentence, any system upgrades set forth in an interconnection agreement with PJM or MISO and the costs of which are allocated to Rock Island will be considered “Project costs.” For the avoidance of doubt, the phrase “recovering any Project costs from Illinois retail ratepayers through PJM or MISO regional cost allocation” includes the recovery of costs though PJM and MISO transmission service charges that are paid by retail electric suppliers in respect of their electric load served in Illinois.  

AND

As a condition of this Order, Rock Island shall not attempt to effect the interconnection until it has fully complied with the applicable requirements of PJM and the other conditions in this Order, and has signed all interconnection agreements.

AND (This is a biggie!)

Rock Island will not install transmission facilities for the Rock Island Clean Line Project on easement property until such time as Rock Island has obtained commitments for funds in a total amount equal to or greater than the total project cost.  For the purposes of this condition:

 (i) “install transmission facilities” shall mean to affix permanently to the ground transmission towers or other transmission equipment, including installation of bases and footings for transmission towers, but shall not include (A) preparatory work such as surveys, soil borings, engineering and design, obtaining permits and other approvals from governmental bodies, acquisition of options and easements for right-of-way, and ordering of equipment and materials, and (B) site preparation work and procurement and installation of equipment and facilities on property owned in fee by Rock Island including the converter station sites;

(ii) “easement property” shall mean property on which Rock Island has acquired an easement to install transmission facilities;

(iii)  “has obtained commitments for funds” shall mean (A) for loans and other debt commitments, that Rock Island has entered into a loan agreement(s) with a lender(s) and has received the loan funds or has the right to draw down the loan funds on a schedule that is consistent with the need for funds to complete the Project, and (B) for equity, that Rock Island or its parent company has received the funds from the equity investors or that the equity investors have entered into a commitment to provide funds on a schedule that is consistent with the need for funds to complete the Project; and  

(iv) “total project cost” shall mean the total estimated remaining cost, at the time that Rock Island is prepared to begin to install transmission facilities, for the following Project activities: engineering, manufacturing and installation of converter stations; transmission line engineering; transmission towers; conductor; construction labor necessary to complete the Project; right of way acquisition costs; and other costs necessary to complete the Project.  For reference, the total estimated project cost as of November 1, 2012 is $2.0 billion.

To allow the Commission to verify its compliance with this condition, Rock Island shall submit the following documents to the Director of the Financial Analysis Division and the Director of the Public Safety & Reliability Division at such time as Rock Island is prepared to begin to install transmission facilities:

a) On a confidential basis, equity and loan or other debt financing agreements and commitments entered into or obtained by Rock Island or its parent company for the purpose of funding the Rock Island Clean Line Project that, in the aggregate, provide commitments for funds for the total project cost;

b) An attestation certified by an officer of Rock Island that Rock Island has not, prior to the date of the attestation, installed transmission facilities on easement property; or a notification that such installation is scheduled to begin on a specified date;

c) A statement of the total project cost, broken out by the components listed in the definition of “total project cost,” above, and certified by an officer of Rock Island, along with a reconciliation of the total project cost in the statement to the total project cost as of November 1, 2012 of $2.0 billion; and

d) A reconciliation statement, certified by an officer of Rock Island, showing that the agreements and commitments for funds provided in (a) are equal to or greater than the total project cost provided in (c).

So, the P.O. did not find that RICL was necessary, but did find that it would promote the development of a competitive electricity market (not that the current market doesn't already do that).  Therefore, the P.O. recommends that RICL be granted a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity under Section 8-406 because it satisfied the second part of (1) after the "or" (see 8-406 language above).  However, the proposed finding comes with HEFTY conditions and would expire two years after being granted.  Do you think RICL can get its stuff together to satisfy all the conditions AND get a permit from Iowa within two years?  Tick tock!  How many years has RICL been trying to make these projects work now?  Has it been 5 years already?

Now let's move on to RICL's request that the ICC "authorize" or direct it to construct the line under Section 8-503.  Remember that RICL told the ICC that they might not even construct the project after all if it wasn't profitable enough? 
The Commission has reviewed the evidence and arguments.  First of all, to the extent Rock Island is asserting that the criteria in Sections 8-406(b) and 8-503 are identical, and that a finding the Section 8-406(b) criteria have been met would automatically mean the Commission is required to grant the relief sought under Section 8-503, the Commission disagrees.  Such an interpretation would render Section 8-503 superfluous.    

ComEd and Staff argue that Rock Island’s request for Section 8-503 relief is premature, in that Rock Island is seeking authority that cannot be utilized given the contingencies, conditions and regulatory approvals still needed.    While the Commission is by no means suggesting that RI would have to satisfy every condition, contingency or uncertainty before Section 8-503 authorization may be granted, the Commission does agree with Staff and ComEd that under the circumstances, it would be premature to grant Section 8-503 relief to Rock Island in this proceeding.  

Rock Island claims Section 8-503 approval is needed now because it is one of the major regulatory approvals needed to satisfy potential lenders and investors; however, Rock Island does not explain how a Section 8-503 authorization is somehow more urgent or important in that regard than is the proceeding in Iowa, where the Project originates and the first 379 miles of the 500-mile line would be built.  Even Rock Island does not estimate a decision being reached in Iowa until 2015, assuming the formal proceeding has even begun there.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the request for relief pursuant to Section 8-503 of the Act is not granted at this time; this determination is without prejudice to the filing of a request for such relief in the future. 
Authority under Section 8-503 is necessary to apply for eminent domain under Section 8-509, which reads:
When necessary for the construction of any alterations, additions, extensions or improvements ordered or authorized under Section 8‑503 or 12‑218 of this Act, any public utility may enter upon, take or damage private property in the manner provided for by the law of eminent domain.
But, the P.O. is NOT proposing that RICL be granted eminent domain authority at this time.  RICL may re-apply for Section 8-503 at a later date.  Important:  RICL does NOT have eminent domain authority to condemn and take property in Illinois at this time, and this proposed order would not give it to them!

But, the P.O. also proposed that the recommended CPCN issued under Section 8-406 would allow Section 8-510 of the Code, which states:
Land surveys. For the purpose of making land surveys, any public utility that has been granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity by, or received an order under Section 8‑503 of this Act from, the Commission may, 30 days after providing written notice to the owner thereof by registered mail, enter upon the property of any owner who has refused permission for entrance upon that property, but subject to responsibility for all damages which may be inflicted thereby.
The P.O. recommended granting RICL the Certificate required to enter onto private property under Section 8-510, and reasoned:
...the issuance of the Certificate will enable Rock Island to gain access to the property to conduct surveys and related activities, which are steps characterized by Rock Island as important ones in which to engage in the near future.
The P.O. proposes that RICL be granted authority to trespass upon, enter, and damage private property, although prohibited from taking that same property by eminent domain. Yet, it's clear that RICL at this time does NOT have any dedicated funds, so how would landowners be compensated for damages incurred in the surveying process? What protections are in place for landowners in the likely event that funds are not acquired to build the project and the company goes bankrupt?  At this time... none!

But, remember, this is only a PROPOSED Order, subject to more legal filings and alternative proposed language.  What the Commission actually approves may be radically different.

Meanwhile, keep up to date on all the RICL news and action alerts by liking BlockRICL on facebook or visiting their website.
 
 
Yesterday, Sierra Club announced that it opposes PPL's "Project Compass," at least the parts that it thinks will carry "dirty" energy.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said his group "will definitely oppose" the section in that state.

Tittel said the Sierra Club's opposition is "absolutely" a challenge to the existing business model for utilities, which often rely on far-off plants to send power into populated areas.

Tittel said the PPL proposal is like "frack by wire" because the proposed route across northern Pennsylvania would encourage new power plants fueled by hydraulically fractured Marcellus Shale gas.
But what about the sections that environmental NGOs think will carry "clean" wind energy from the Midwest?  How is Sierra Club going to support the western parts of this project without connecting them to the eastern parts that deliver the load?
Tom Schuster, a regional Sierra Club representative, said the group hasn't taken a position on the entire project because there are still too many unknowns.
Meanwhile in Midwest states, Sierra Club is supporting new transmission lines intended to move electricity hundreds of miles across multiple states.  Aren't those also transmission lines that rely on far-off plants to send power into populated areas?  Yes, they are.
Environmentalists who testified said they support the [Grain Belt Express] plan. James Harmon of Kirksville, a member of the executive committee of the Sierra Club’s Missouri Chapter, said it would help Missouri and other states meet the new federal goals for reducing carbon emissions.
DILEMMA!

This is what happens when your policies are hypocritical.  Either you like big new transmission "for wind" (and everything else they carry), or you don't.  There are no "electron police" standing by to keep dirty electrons off new transmission lines.
Hello, left hand... let me introduce you to right hand.  May you two have a long and hypocritical life together!

So, how does Sierra Club want to plan our electric grid?  This is what happens when you let a bunch of "public policy" wonks have a seat at the table.  It doesn't sound like there's any real plan at work here.

Meanwhile, equally silly arguments about "mine mouth" gas plants hijack
the reporter's attention:
Jay Apt, director of the Carnegie Mellon University Electricity Industry Center, said that enormous natural gas production from the Marcellus Shale has led to significantly cheaper wholesale prices in areas of drilling. In other words, a power plant could produce electricity cheaply in Pennsylvania and a utility could transmit it to places with higher electric prices, such as Maryland, New York, and New Jersey.
Ever heard of a gas pipeline, Jay?  Gas can be transported to plants that burn it in places with higher electric prices.  You're going to have to transport something somewhere, and what's easier to get permitted?  A FERC-jurisdictional gas pipeline, or a state-jurisdictional 725-mile high voltage transmission line that meanders through four very urban states?  We all know that FERC has never met a gas pipeline it didn't like.
PJM says what it always says -- because when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  PJM never changes, no matter how many new rules get made.  PJM simply finds a way to bend the new rules to continue to support its generation and transmission incumbents.
PJM Interconnection of Audubon, Pennsylvania, which oversees wholesale electric demand for 61 million customers in a 13-state mid-Atlantic region, has said that the electric grid is "undergoing an extraordinary transformation" as coal-fired plants retire.

 PJM could approve all, part, or none of the PPL plan, but regulators agree that the region needs transmission upgrades to ensure reliable and affordable electric service. Allentown-based PPL said the line would take about a decade to build.
Dotter goes... doddering... on making silly analogies:
PJM spokesman Ray Dotter said it's like a huge version of the dilemma many individuals face: Is the most effective thing to buy a new car, or fix the old one you have?
The PPL plan is like the new car choice. PJM will review the proposal and is likely to vote on it in November or December, and is also considering numerous smaller projects from other utilities.
So, if PJM decides to buy PPL a new car, are they planning to trade in the old car?  Or do PJM and PPL intend to continue driving that old, inefficient car AND the brand new one?  New transmission that ignores current inefficiencies and outdated equipment simply adds to the problem, it does not solve it.

Then Tittel says something sensible:
"We have better places to invest our energy money" in or near in New Jersey, Tittel said, such as offshore wind, solar, and energy efficiency projects. He added that if money was spent in those ways "you wouldn't need the power line."
I hope this means that Tittel will now be supporting smart, new local transmission projects in New Jersey!

But, just in case the Sierra Club simply continues to flap its arms ineffectually and contradict itself, the citizens of the affected states will most likely be the REAL opposition that kills PPL's transmission project.

The citizens have each other's back, because they can't count on organizations like the Sierra Club to deliver a coherent message about new electric transmission.

We always show up to get the job done!

So, with that in mind, PJM wants to hear your comments about "Project Compass."  Tell them what you think.
 
 
Bees pollinate.  Bees make honey.  Bees can sting, too.  That hurts.

Spiders are scary.  But they also eat harmful insects.  Sometimes they bite, and some of the bites are painful, and poisonous.

Vultures are gross.  They eat dead things.  Nature's cleaning crew.

Sharks eat things.  Mostly other sea creatures, but sometimes they eat people who venture into the shark's dinner buffet line.

Traders trade.  They're supposed to make money doing it, but sometimes they lose money making risky investments.

Do we blame bees for being bees?  Do we blame spiders for being spiders?  Do we even want to think about vultures eating carrion, much less damn them for doing it?  Do we blame sharks for eating the occasional person?  (Well, unless you're Captain Quint and are convinced sharks eat people with menace and forethought, but that was Hollywood fiction.)

Then why do we want to villainize traders for trading?  The object of trading is to make money.  Traders don't go to work every day hoping just to break even, or take a loss that produces money for some other entity.

A recent article in the New York Times scandalizes profitable electric market trading and blames traders for "making consumers pay more."

When the regulators and legislators decided to create a competitive electricity market, they spread a bunch of financial chum in the water to attract investors to come buy the products the market created and shoulder some of the risk of wild price swings in order to shield utilities and consumers.  The NYT article puts it this way:
The contracts were intended to protect the electricity producers, utilities and industries that need to buy power. The thinking was that the contracts would help them hedge against sharp price swings caused by competition as well as the weather, plant failures or equipment problems. Those lower costs could reduce consumers’ bills.
So, the traders came.  They ate the carrion.  But, the nature of risk means there's a balance between reward and loss.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  The NYT article concentrated on a winner, without mentioning any losses.  The NYT article lambastes DC Energy for being successful.  What do the NYT reporters think would happen if DC Energy, and all other traders, stopped buying these electric market products?  Could we do away with competitive markets?  Would consumers pay more or less if we did?

When a trader buys one of these products they are assuming risk that they may lose their investment.  If they lose, should consumers make them whole?  Of course not, the trader assumed the risk when he bought the product.  But, when they win, people like Mayor Margot Garant think the trader should give the money they made back to the consumers.
“Why aren’t we getting that money?” said Margot Garant, mayor of Port Jefferson.
Because you didn't take the risk, Margot!

Traders serve a purpose to keep competitive electricity markets functioning.
Trading firms like DC Energy say they ultimately benefit consumers by bearing financial risks and fostering competition. They argue that power companies can hedge only if someone else is willing to speculate. Market forces, they say, can also help power companies determine where to invest in the grid.

“We believe this type of activity should cause prices to better reflect true costs and thus create a more efficient electricity infrastructure that should better serve the retail customer,” Andrew J. Stevens, a co-founder of DC Energy, said in an email.
A trader made this very apt analogy to me:

"Traders should perform a valuable role -- they absorb risk that other market participants don't want to take.  Kind of like insurance companies, which can be wildly profitable too. It's like asking: what would happen to home prices if we disallowed insurance companies from selling homeowner's insurance? If people couldn't insure their home and had to assume the risk and liability of it burning down, people would be less likely to buy homes, would be more worried when living in their homes, etc.  In general, insurance companies provide a stabilizing effect on the housing market.  As a society, we accept this even though we know that insurance companies generally collect more in premiums than they pay out in claims. In other words, they are profitable, yet that doesn't seem to irritate people so much because we like going to bed at night knowing that our homes are insured."

So, why do we revile all traders, even ones making money legally?  Is it because taking down successful traders makes big headlines for regulators swaggering through the OK Corral with their market manipulation magnum drawn?  It's nice to think that some really smart guys are keeping us safe from bad traders doing things that are illegal, right?

But, the regulators aren't that smart.  If they were, we wouldn't have electricity markets with money-making loopholes big enough to drive a truck through.  When a trader makes a bunch of money making legal trades, we ought to punish the regulators, or the market monitors, or the RTO personnel who created these badly designed market products.  Why do we want to punish the trader for doing what traders do?

Maybe it's because those not-so-smart regulators want to drive all the traders who are smarter than they are from the market.  That may be the only way to stop traders from making money in our competitive electricity market.  Only then will the regulators be the smartest guys in the room, but our competitive electricity market won't survive it.

WANTED:  Really stupid traders to assume electric market risk and take losses.  Must be dumber than regulators and market monitors/designers and have an endless supply of cash to give away to consumers.  Apply at FERC or your regional transmission organization.
 
 
The Missouri PSC held its first two public hearings concerning the highly controversial Grain Belt Express on Tuesday. The company is seeking to become a public utility in Missouri with the hope of building a mega high voltage DC power line through the state that would originate in Kansas and terminate in Indiana and provide power to the east coast. The company has promised that they will build a substation that would make less than 1% of Missouri’s annual energy usage available for purchase by local utilities.

Opponents of the project were mostly Missouri landowners and farmers who are determined to block the company from receiving public utility status because it would allow them to use eminent domain to force landowners to host massive power lines on their property. The Missouri PSC will ultimately decide if the private, speculative company from Texas should be granted such power over Missouri citizens.

The PSC is holding a series of public hearings in each of the eight impacted counties. The first two of them were held August 12th, in Hannibal and Monroe City. The hearings were extremely well attended. Over 700 attendees made the drive to have their voices heard. The vast majority were in complete opposition to Grain Belt.

Group spokesperson Jennifer Gatrel commented, "We were really hoping that opponents of the project would wear green to make their opposition known. We were not disappointed. The audience was a sea of green! We were also very happy that the PSC allowed the audience to show their support with applause. It soon became very apparent to all that the project was firmly opposed. We are so grateful to the many articulate, intelligent, passionate people who showed up to make extremely compelling arguments. We find it impossible to believe that the commissioners were not deeply moved."

Some of the highlights of the hearings included Missouri State Rep. Jim Hansen making an impassioned plea for property rights and liberty. Landowner Louis Meyer drove 1,000 miles to attend the hearing and spoke for 15 minutes, laying out an implacably researched and deeply moving argument against Grain Belt. He presented a literal stack of evidence to the commission to back up his statements. Mothers got up and spoke plainly about their fear of having their kids and grandkids near the lines. Farmers like Kent Dye spoke to the technical reasons why having giant obstacles in the middle of fields makes farming much more difficult and dangerous, and lowers profits.

A recurring theme at both hearings were the unsavory tactics and broken promises made by Grain Belt. A local business owner testified to the commission that his business was falsely added as a supporter of Clean Line on list created by the company. Two gentlemen, Macy Rotenburg and former state Representative John Cauthorn, testified that they had determined that many businesses were erroneously put on the supporters list. There were also many people who testified that they were told that they would get answers to their questions, but have not. One woman submitted a recording of Grain Belt Project Director of Development Mark Lawlor making promises that he later broke.

Like a night of great theater, there were tears and laughter from the crowd. One spirted lady brought a giant extension cord to the podium. She stated that one end represented Kansas, and the other end Indiana. The cord itself represented the Midwest it would pass through. She then presented the commissioners with a night light to represent the power that Missouri may purchase from Grain Belt Express. Both the officials and the audience were tickled. As she left the podium, the judge asked her with a smile, "Do you want your nightlight back”?

Block GBE recently became aware of how little progress Grain Belt Express has made with land acquisition. In July, Grain Belt stated that, to date, it has signed easement agreements from approximately 179 landowners for approximately 61 miles in Kansas. In Missouri, it has received approximately 9 easement agreements for approximately 2 miles.

"Grain Belt is proposed to cross 370 miles of Kansas, but currently only has the land rights to 16 percent of it. I guess the reports I read that Clean Line has all the land in Kansas they need for the project couldn’t have been farther from the truth,” said Matthew Stallbaumer, whose family farm near Seneca, Kansas would be impacted.

Block GBE president Russ Pisciotta remarked, "We are thrilled! We honestly don't know how the hearings could have gone better. Thank you to all who have sacrificed so much to protect private property rights. Those who came out yesterday certainly set the bar high for the upcoming hearings, but I have no doubt they too will be a rousing success!"

To find out more about this issue and to get a schedule of the upcoming public hearings please visit BlockGBEMO here.
 
 
Yesterday marked the first two Missouri PSC public hearings on Clean Line's Grain Belt Express project.  Additional hearings will be held later this week, and in early September.  Get dates, times and locations here.

Missouri showed them!

Hundreds packed the two public hearings and dozens spoke out against the project.
I think Clean Line infused spokeswoman Cari VanAmburg with a little too much perky.

"500 megawatts of clean wind power for the state!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
  You're going to be seeing this in your nightmares for years.

You believe her, don't you?


 
 
Clean Line just did something amazingly inept.  It tried to shout down the medical opinion of a well-respected, local Missouri physician with canned studies from a Clean Line public relations woman.

In response to a very interesting article in the Missouri Moberly Monitor where Dr. Dennis Smith was quoted regarding possible health effects from EMF and ELF, Houston-based Clean Line PR gal Adhar Johnson submitted a letter to the editor where she gave her best medical opinion that Dr. Smith's medical opinion was "misleading."  Johnson's letter starts out:
As a project manager at Clean Line
Energy and someone who is passionate
about moving the wind industry
forward, I would like to address some
of the misleading statements made in
the recent article published in the
Moberly Monitor, "Line's health problems
brought to light."
How does being a project manager at Clean Line qualify this woman to analyze medical information and make recommendations about people's health?  It doesn't!

After blathering on citing a whole bunch of studies that she thinks refute Dr. Smith's opinion, Johnson closes with this:
I strongly urge folks to gain a full understanding of direct current technology
from nationally and internationally trusted sources. At Clean Line Energy, safety is among our chief concerns as we strive to treat landowners with the utmost respect.
Trusted sources?  Who's more trusted than your doctor?  Some corporate creature with a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Missouri and a Certificate in International Affairs from Washington University whose company stands to make huge profits from building a transmission project?

I strongly urge Adhar to gain a full understanding that she's not a medical professional, and EMF is an issue of perception.  If people perceive that there is a medical risk from living in close proximity to high voltage transmission lines, then that's the end of the debate.  No amount of additional studies tossed at a fearful public is going to change the mind of a worried mother, or a concerned father.  Adhar should have just let it go instead of trying to out-doctor the doctor and question his professional expertise.

Dr. Smith's wife strikes back with this recently penned letter:
The recent editorial by Adhar Johnson, Clean Line Project manager has been expected, and her bias should be obvious.  The information provided in the June 6 article,  Transmission Line Health Problems Brought to Light, by Connie Duvall, was very careful to address ONLY the types of fields produced by high voltage lines.
My reputation is on the line in the community in which I live and serve, and the information used was carefully screened for accuracy.   Since the June 6th article, additional studies have been uncovered which directly name HVDC lines as the culprit in adverse health effects.  The information  from the studies repeatedly questions the "trusted" sources quoted by Clean Line Energy's advocates. This technical information will be used in November to testify before the MO Public Service Commission in Jefferson City.
(Above Statement by Dr. Dennis Smith)  

Clean Line managers and land developers have been flooding papers in would-be affected counties with their propaganda, touting their passion for wind energy.  These power lines have little if anything to do with wind energy as they are not needed to utilize it.  Clean Line execs typically implore the public to turn to trusted sources, which is exactly what we want them to do.
 
After all, the area of education of the Grain Belt Express (GBE) pushers is business and communications; their expertise is in the art of the deal, how to manipulate statements to their advantage, and how to turn a fast buck.  Is this reason to trust them?

They have determined to discredit Dr. Smith because his research threatens their venture.  Along with discounting him, they must also take down the numerous scientists, electromagnetic experts, and doctors who have done countless studies pointing to the harms of this type of EMF exposure.

Adhar Johnson, Clean Line manager, attended the Randolph County commissioner public meeting where a gentleman emotionally testified of his wife’s oncologist’s admonition that such a power line would necessitate their relocation.  In a meeting at Rothwell Park, Adhar told me  that the doctor had no business saying that, and then she handed me Clean Line’s go-to documentation of the one out-dated statement made by the World Health Organization (WHO) that there were no known health risks.  Much more recently, the WHO has revised their statement and has classified the emissions from these lines a class 2B carcinogen, as has the Environmental Protection Agency.  HUD has ruled the lines and towers “a hazard and a nuisance”, and FHA appraisals have to be adjusted to address the effect these lines have on marketability of properties near the lines.  The highly respected, non-partisan, U.S. Government Accounting Office expressed many of the same concerns voiced by citizens regarding HVDC lines in its report to Congress in 2008.

Dr. Smith also discovered the following statute:

Exercise of eminent domain over private property for economic development purposes prohibited--definition.
523.271. 1. No condemning authority shall acquire private property through the process of eminent domain for solely economic development purposes.  2. For the purposes of this section, "economic development" shall mean a use of a specific piece of property or properties which would provide an increase in the tax base, tax revenues, employment, and general economic health, and does not include the elimination of blighted, substandard, or unsanitary conditions, or conditions rendering the property or its surrounding area a conservation area as defined in section 99.805.
Missouri Revised Statutes
Chapter 523
Condemnation Proceedings
Section 523.282
Our Randolph County Commissioners have welcomed Clean Line GBE to our county for the exact reasons that the statue prohibits and have voiced at public meetings their support for those reasons prohibited in the statute.
 
Dr. Smith is trusted in this community as he has been in all communities in which he’s lived.  I make no apologies in stating that he has had a stellar medical career, having graduated in the top 5% of his medical class and having received multiple awards and accolades for his single-minded service to his God-given mission in Public Health.  He maintains excellent rapport with former hospitals where he has been employed and would be whole-heartedly welcomed back to any of those facilities.  Consider also the editorials that have been submitted by the many respected members of the community, your long-time friends and associates who oppose this line. Shall we then trust some wealthy business people whose real passion is increasing their profits, or should we trust scientists and doctors who are devotees to public health and safety?  It’s not a difficult choice.

Sincerely,
Laurie Smith
Moberly, MO
 
 
Interesting article yesterday about the retirement of a coal-fired generation plant in Tennessee.  The TVA is planning to retire its Allen plant by 2018 to comply with earlier agreements it made with the EPA and "clean air" groups.  The TVA is now debating a source of replacement generation for this plant.

The TVA has proposed replacing it with a new gas-fired plant.  The TVA's analysis has determined this to be the cheapest option, and TVA is obligated to select the cheapest option.

But Sierra Club doesn't like that option because, in addition to being anti-coal, Sierra Club is now anti-gas, too.  Sierra Club has decided that TVA should replace Allen with the "wind" power Clean Line purports that it will ship to the TVA via a 700-mile transmission line cutting a slash through Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.  Clean Line has not yet proposed a fixed price for its "wind," saying only:
“We think we can provide green power at an attractive, fixed-rate price for TVA and other utilities in the region,” Clean Line Energy Executive Jimmy Glotfelty told TVA last year. “Having a guaranteed price for 20 years is a great hedge against volatile natural gas prices.”
What good is a "guaranteed price" when it's guaranteed to be higher than other options?  Why should the TVA commit to a speculative transmission line project that may never be built?  It's not responsible planning to depend on a fantasy to keep the lights on.  Clean Line is not part of any regional plan and is not guaranteed to be built.  No authority has "ordered" it, or determined an in-service date.  Clean Line has little in the way of permits to construct the project.  Meanwhile, Allen must stop supplying power in 2018.

Quite aside from the dilemma of planning its resources on speculative projects at undetermined costs, the TVA has stated multiple times that a replacement for Allen must be physically located in the same area.
The existing three coal-fired units at ALF provide both real and reactive power for the Memphis area. To continue to reliably serve the area, generation resources must be located at or near ALF.
This is an engineering problem that also cannot be solved by a "clean" wind power fantasy.  Loss of reactive power can cause voltage drop resulting in blackouts.  Read more about reactive power and why it's necessary here.

Sierra Club doesn't want to hear any of that nasty reality.  It has embarked on an expensive advertising campaign in certain parts of Tennessee
, advising people to send comments to the TVA asking them to "turn, not burn."  Sierra Club wants to have its clean energy hopes and dreams satisfied right now by bullying the TVA into committing to a wind power fantasy, instead of a rational reality that will ensure the lights stay on at the lowest possible cost.  Because, at the end of the day, that is the TVA's mandate -- to keep the lights on.  Sierra Club's resource plan for the TVA is uninformed and unworkable.  How many Sierra Club electrical engineers does it take to plan for the TVA?  The correct answer is none, because they don't exist!

Sierra Club is selling pure fantasy under the cover of "green is good."  Environmental organizations are so hellbent on "clean energy now" that they are grabbing at straws and hoping an uneducated public will support their misguided efforts.  Yes, we can transform to a cleaner energy future, but it's going to happen gradually, not all at once, and certainly not with bulldozers clearing a 3000 mile path for "clean" energy
from coast to coast.

Sierra Club says it has gathered 50 comments to the TVA supporting its
efforts.   Only 50?  How much did this ad campaign cost, and what's the cost of each comment?

The TVA will be meeting August 21 to make its decision about how it will replace the Allen plant.  You can send your own comments here.

 
 
That big revolving door at FERC keeps spinning.

Today, Commissioner John Norris resigned, three years before his term was up.  One out.

Last week, returning Commissioner Chery
l LaFleur was sworn in to a new term, and will temporarily act as lame duck chairman of the Commission.  Her chairmanship only lasts until next April.  One in.

Controversial
new Commissioner Norman Bay was sworn in earlier this week for his new term, and will advance to the chairmanship when LaFleur gets demoted next April.  One in.

The day after Bay was sworn in, FERC finally did what it had been threatening to do for the past 4 years and issued a Notice of Alleged Violations to Powhatan Energy Fund and its trader Alan Chen, officially accusing them of market manipulation.


Powhatan has been very publicly and aggressively
fighting FERC's attempt to eke out a settlement before formally charging them, and had been critical of Office of Enforcement Director Norman Bay's nomination as commissioner.  Powhatan's website has lots more information about the case.

Powhatan's response: 

“Your preliminary findings make no sense.  Should you choose to proceed with a public notice against Powhatan and/or Huntrise, please be advised that they will respond publicly and forcefully.”
So, just when FERC manages to get all its commissioner seats filled, a major public relations battle and search for a politically suitable commissioner starts all over again.  Here's a better idea:  Since FERC is all political now, maybe we should just start electing FERC commissioners, since they're supposed to regulate in the public's best interests?
 
 
Silly schemes and misleading names were in high gear during yesterday's FirstEnergy Q2 2014 Earnings Call.  You know you're in for a treat when Tony the Trickster opens the festivities with another one of his *heavy sighs*.

FirstEnergy announced its new plan to make Ohio consumers assume all the risk of its unregulated, competitive generation fleet and called it, "Powering Ohio's Progress."  But, let's get real here, FirstEnergy should really call it "Powering Our Profits," because that's its purpose.

And I blame the birth of this ridiculous scheme on the West Virginia Public Service Commission, who set up West Virginia's consumers to absorb the company's risk on its Harrison power station last year.  In that scheme, West Virginia customers took on the burden of paying the operating costs of the Harrison power station by purchasing all its generation.  In turn, FirstEnergy would sell any excess power into regional markets and return the profit it earned doing so to the consumers.  Sounds great, right?  However, the cost of owning and operating Harrison is greater than any profits that may be derived from selling excess power into the market, therefore, consumers would end up paying more.  But, the WV PSC added one important term to its crazy plan that required the company to use the profits from market sales of power to pay down the "acquisition adjustment" fee of acquiring Harrison that was added to rates.

It is because the WVPSC allowed FirstEnergy to foist the risk of owning and operating Harrison onto its consumers that FirstEnergy got so encouraged to attempt to foist the risk of two of its other competitive plants onto Ohio consumers. 

But, the big difference here is that West Virginia is a fully regulated state, while Ohio is a competitive state.  In Ohio, electric customers can choose their generation supplier, but not their distribution provider.  The electric distribution system is owned and operated by the utility who traditionally served the customers.  Even deregulated states cannot change that, unless they allow other companies to construct their own separate distribution system to serve customers, and that's neither economic nor logical.  Therefore, even in deregulated states, customers are still served by, and receive a bill from, their regulated distribution provider.  Where generation is competitive, the distribution company simply adds the charge from your generation company to your bill and passes the costs through to you.

FirstEnergy's Powering Our Profits surcharge would be tied to its regulated distribution affiliates in Ohio.  The charge is non-bypassable, which means that it would be part of your distribution service and you would pay it no matter who your generation provider is.

So, let's look at this...  FirstEnergy Solutions is the FirstEnergy subsidiary that owns the competitive generators.  As the owner, FES must cover the entire cost to own and operate the plants, and in return it keeps any profits or absorbs any losses that result from selling the generation into the competitive power market.  But, market prices have been low and are not expected to recover any time soon.  This means that FES has been subject to more losses than profits from the generators it owns.  So, FirstEnergy's scheme will force its regulated distribution companies to enter into a contract to purchase all the power generated by FES's plants at a set price that will cover FES's costs and pay it an 11% profit.  Suddenly, FES's generators are profitable and risk-free!  But the distribution customers have a bunch of very expensive power they have purchased.  Can they use it?  No!  FirstEnergy's POP plan requires the distribution companies to sell the generation they have purchased into the competitive power market at whatever price it can get.  FirstEnergy says that in the first three years, where prices can be predicted, the distribution companies and their ratepayers will take a loss on the sale of power.  However, FirstEnergy says that its crystal ball predicts that power prices will rise in the remaining years of the 15 year contract and that a profit will be made selling purchased power into the market.  Gotta ask... if FirstEnergy is so certain there's a profit for these competitive generation plants just over the horizon, why don't they hold on them?  Because there isn't.  It's all smoke and mirrors, hopes and dreams.

FirstEnergy wants to hand the risky hot potato of owning uncompetitive generators to its Ohio distribution customers so that they can absorb the risk of market prices.

What a bunch of crooks!