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.

Progress?

 
 
Great news out of Iowa yesterday!  Legislation targeted to restrict the use of eminent domain by private companies not serving Iowans advanced as hundreds of landowners and other stakeholders gathered to speak out at a subcommittee meeting at the Capitol.

NPR has the story.  Listen to the audio, it's better than the print version.

Several landowners spoke out about abusive practices of land agents attempting to secure right-of-way.

“I've heard this from other landowners being told the same thing,” Murray says. “Right-of-way agents are saying this is inevitable so you better take the easement deal before you.”
A spokesman for Bakken crude pipeline company Dakota Access said what the companies always say when faced with the transgressions of their shifty land agents:
“If anybody knows of anyone who’s been dealt with unfairly,” Boeyink says, “get the names to me and we will deal with it swiftly.”
Yada, yada, yada, we will fire any land agent who violates the "code of conduct."  Tell me, if land agents were regularly subjected to firing for using abusively coercive tactics to secure easements, why does it still happen with such regularity?  I don't think I believe it.  I think it's merely window dressing for instances where a land agent is caught by a landowner in a pack of lies.  I think that companies routinely look the other way when violations occur, as long as easement agreements are being filed.  Because for every one unscrupulous land agent that gets reported in the media, there are probably hundreds of others that got away with it.  I have heard numerous horror stories about transmission right-of-way land agents, continuing up until the present.  Where there's this much smoke, there is certainly fire.

The Sierra Club seems to be backing off its hypocritical support of Clean Line transmission projects, while simultaneously opposing pipelines as an abuse of eminent domain.
Wally Taylor of Cedar Rapids, a lawyer for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, said his organization is worried about an "extreme risk to property and the environment" if the pipeline project proceeds. There is no doubt that oil spills will occur and it will be many years before the land can be farmed again, he added.

It's also clear that if Bakken crude oil is transported through Iowa, it will be shipped from Illinois onto the world petroleum market via the Gulf of Mexico, Taylor said. "This is all about private property. It isn't about benefiting Iowa or the nation," he said. Similarly, the Rock Island Clean Line would not provide a way for Iowans to connect to the line or to obtain energy from the transmission facility, he added.
That's right, Sierra Club!  Clean Line does not provide a way for pass-thru states to benefit from its projects!   The projects also destroy the environment and economy of pass-thru states and won't actually shut down any coal plants.  Not one!  Sierra Club should really get its act together here and stop worshipping at the alter of grant funding and renewable energy make-believe.

Clean Line's spokesperson tried to get the committee to believe the company plans on acquiring more than 90% of the easements it needs voluntarily. 

Paula Dierenfeld, representing Clean Line Energy Partners, said her company currently has obtained voluntary easements from about 15 to 20 percent of property owners and has a goal of obtaining "well in excess of 90 percent" voluntary easements. But she questioned the proposed requirement to obtain 75 percent voluntary sign-ups before eminent domain can be requested. She said a company could spend millions of dollars on obtaining easements without even knowing whether a project could move forward. She asked whether any businesses would support that idea.
Paula must be new.  Clean Line has obtained all the voluntary easements it's going to get, even with the hard sell tactics reported by Mr. Murray.  15%.  That's it.  The rest is a fairy tale.  The  people of Iowa aren't buying what you're selling.  You know, Paula, risk is a big, big part of being in the merchant transmission business when you don't have an order to construct the project from a regional transmission authority.  Maybe you should ask your bosses at Clean Line why they're supporting the company spending millions of dollars on obtaining easements without even knowing whether their project could move forward?

Way to go, Iowa!
 
 
UWUA Local 304 recently shared a heartfelt tribute to West Virginia energy activist Bill Howley, who passed away last week.

You can get the details here.

My condolences are also with the Howley family at this difficult time.

To honor Bill, I'm going to tell you all a Bill story.  It's a little insight into his wicked sense of humor and the fun we managed to have even when the PATH transmission line was breathing down our necks.  And it's a story Bill liked to tell often, with a chuckle and grin on his face.

In early 2011, just before the PATH project was put into abeyance, I was browsing PATH's website looking for something or other.  I happened to notice that one page had a link to see what others were saying "in the news" in support of PATH.  The link was supposed to click through to PATH's "Coalition for Reliable Power."

The "Coalition for Reliable Power" was a front group Allegheny Energy had created to build the appearance of public support for its TrAIL project.  It consisted of a tri-state "coalition" of supporters, with subgroups for each affected state (Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia).  The "Coalitions for Reliable Power" had a website, created by PR spinners Burson Marsteller. 
This is the link new PR company Charles Ryan had designed into PATH's website
to see what others are saying about PATH "In the News."

However, shortly after the PATH applications were filed with the state agencies in 2009, Charles Ryan and PATH redesigned their whole coalition organization.  Instead of one coalition with state-specific subgroups, PATH created three individual websites, one for each state, and attempted to pretend there was grassroots support for the PATH project.  New websites were created for these "coalitions."  The original "Coalition for Reliable Power" website was eventually abandoned, when its registration expired.  However, Charles Ryan never updated the link on PATH's website.

So, in early 2011, PATH's website link to see what others were saying about PATH "In the News" was clicking through to a dead link -- the domain name was for sale!

And an idea was born!

Working with Bill and fellow PATH opponent and domain name queen Shelly Channell, we concocted a plan to buy the "Coalition for Reliable Power" web domain name and slap up a website touting competitor Dominion's Alternative One.  Shelly did the buying and pointing of the domain name, Bill built the website, and I registered the business name "Coalition for Reliable Power" with the WV Secretary of State.

Then, when someone browsing PATH's website clicked on PATH's link to see what others are saying about PATH "In the News," they ended up at our new Alternative One site.  Alternative One was a plan by Dominion to simply rebuild several transmission lines in West Virginia in order to increase transmission capacity, and cost one-third as much as PATH.  Ultimately, Alternative One is what caused the cancellation of PATH, and has since been built with little fuss and opposition.

So, we chuckled and waited.  How long would it take PATH to notice that it was now hosting a link to an opposition website?  I guess we had a little too much fun with that and the increased traffic must have sounded some alarms at Charles Ryan Associates, because someone at the agency clicked through to our Alternative One site about a week later and then removed the link from PATH's website.

We figured it wouldn't be long before our friends at PATH found the Alternative One site.  But, that's not what happened...  apparently Charles Ryan didn't mention the whole incident to PATH.  I mean, why admit your failures, right?

We thought it was important for Charles Ryan to tell its client what had happened, and that it was made possible by Charles Ryan's failure to monitor and update PATH's website in a timely fashion, a task it was being paid handsomely to perform.  Charles Ryan seemed to be keeping a secret from its client!

We did the only thing a parent would do when a sneaky child wasn't being honest... we set out on a journey to make Charles Ryan fess up.  "Charles Ryan has a secret" went viral!  People from all over started following along, and learning about PATH in the process.  We even created a sort of scavenger hunt, with clues, and encouraged followers to help uncover Charles Ryan's secret.  And, of course, PATH was also dying to know what the secret was, but couldn't figure it out either.  Only after a reader used his/her noggin to puzzle this out from the clues and post it on the blog, did PATH manage to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to the Alternative One site.  PATH was cancelled just a few short weeks later.

And how we laughed! 

This is how I will remember Bill.  Rest in peace.
 
 
Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Regional Transmission Organization!
Is it PJM?
No.
Is it MISO?
No.
Is it SPP?
No.
Which Regional Transmission Organization is it?
It's merchant transmission wanna-be Clean Line Energy Partners!
Go away, Clean Line, you're not a Regional Transmission Organization!

The U.S. Department of Energy has finally published Clean Line's third "application" to have the DOE "participate" in its Plains & Eastern Clean Line transmission project in preparation for opening a new 45-day public comment period on non-NEPA issues.  The only thing missing on this pile of make-believe is the golden binding.

This supplemental application is Clean Line's third chance to cure defects in its prior two applications, such as the fact that Sec. 1222 requires that an eligible project:
(2) is consistent with--
(A) transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.]), if any, or approved regional reliability organization;
None of Clean Line's projects are included in a RTO/ISO plan.  In fact, Clean Line hasn't even bothered submitting its projects into any regional planning process for consideration.

So, what did Clean Line do when the DOE asked that it prove its project met the statutory requirements under Sec. 1222?  Clean Line pretends to be a Regional Transmission Organization!
2.2 The proposed Project must be consistent with transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.) if any, or approved regional
reliability organization

In establishing this criterion, Congress sought to ensure that projects undertaken through Section 1222 are appropriately planned to meet identified transmission needs. The Plains & Eastern Project meets this requirement. On an  interregional basis, numerous planning
initiatives and reports have identified the need for new West-East transmission lines to move
wind power from the central United States to load centers. On a regional basis, SPP and MISO (the two RTOs with which the Project interconnects) have also identified the need for new transmission facilities to accommodate wind generation. Further the Project has been planned and developed in a manner that is consistent with ISO/RTO planning assessments. Namely, in planning and developing the Project, Clean Line performed a series of studies and evaluations that are consistent with how the ISOs and RTOs generally identify needs and solutions for transmission system development. A final measure by which Clean Line meets the statutory requirement is its consistency with reliability standards issued by the approved regional reliability organizations (“RRO”) as envisioned under Section 1222. In light of these multiple areas of consistency, further detailed below, Project meets the criterion for consistency with planning and identified transmission needs.
That's right.  Clean Line says that it planned its project using the same studies that RTOs use to make regional transmission plans, therefore Clean Line's findings that its project meets identified transmission needs are just as good as any RTO determination.

Idiots.
Here's what it takes to be a Regional Transmission Organization:
(j) Required characteristics for a Regional Transmission Organization.
A Regional Transmission Organization must satisfy the following characteristics when it commences operation:
(1) Independence. The Regional Transmission Organization must be independent of any market participant. The Regional Transmission Organization must include, as part of its demonstration of independence, a demonstration that it meets the following:
(i) The Regional Transmission Organization, its employees, and any non-stakeholder directors must not have financial interests in any market participant.
(ii) The Regional Transmission Organization must have a decision making process that is independent of control by any market participant or class of participants.
(iii) The Regional Transmission Organization must have exclusive and independent authority under section 205 of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. 824d), to propose rates, terms and conditions of transmission service provided over the facilities it operates.
Get it, Clean Line?  You can't be a Regional Transmission Organization that identifies transmission needs as long as you have a PECUNIARY interest in a project under consideration.

Clean Line is not a Regional Transmission Organization.

Just one more thing to fight about in federal court?  Any determination by DOE that Clean Line's project(s) qualify under Section 1222 is sort of like one of those Monopoly "Go To Jail" cards.  Go to Federal Court.  Go Directly to Federal Court.  Do Not Pass "Go."  Do not collect... any money at all. 

Do you suppose Clean Line is also going to be on the hook for DOE's legal bills, or is the American Taxpayer going to end up funding this courtroom showdown?
 
 
Silly!  But that's exactly what Grain Belt Express expects the Missouri Public Service Commission to do -- issue a permit for the project and then trust Grain Belt Express to later meet all the requirements for a permit.  In the words of the attorney for one of the intervening landowner groups:
Even though the Commission gave GBE a second chance to provide the additional information the Commission said it requires in order to make a decision in this case, GBE did not provide the requested information. Much of the requested information—for example, the RTO interconnection studies—will not be available for some time, perhaps years. And, GBE may never be able to get the required consents from all of the county commissions. GBE’s general attitude is summed up thusly: Trust us—we will give you the information only after you give us our CCN.
As you may recall, instead of making a decision on the application of Grain Belt Express for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity after going through all the motions of a contested case (discovery, testimony, evidentiary hearing), the MO PSC issued an Order demanding more information from the applicant.  This would be additional evidence submitted after the hearing record had closed.  This generates due process concerns, and the PSC had asked the parties how they wanted to deal with this submission of additional evidence.

The response of of Show Me Concerned Landowners points out that Clean Line didn't actually submit the information ordered -- in many instances, it submitted excuses for not providing information, claiming that it would provide the necessary information AFTER the MO PSC issued the CCN.  Clean Line seems to overlook the fact that much of this information is REQUIRED in order to issue the permit in the first place!  No information, no permit.  It's as simple as that.
The Commission should not allow GBE to play this “which comes first—the chicken or the egg” game. Show Me recommends that the Commission deny GBE’s Application without prejudice. GBE is free to refile its Application after it obtains all of the relevant information and documentation that the law and this Commission require.
The Missouri Landowners Alliance, another landowner group, took a different approach to this permitting circus:  Asking that the entire legal process be repeated in order to allow this new evidence to be examined and rebutted by the other parties.  That should only add... oh... another year or so to the permitting process?

But wait, Clean Line is whining about the amount of time this is taking!  It's already been more than a year! 
The Commission’s supplemental procedure should be scheduled with consideration given to the time that has already elapsed in this case. The Company filed its Application for a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity on March 26, 2014, over 12 months ago. Staff and other parties conducted extensive discovery regarding the Company’s Application, testimony, and schedules. The Commission held eight local public hearings, which occurred on August 12 and 14, and September 3 and 4. Three rounds of pre-filed testimony occurred, and the Commission conducted five days of evidentiary hearings (November 10, November 12-14, and November 21).
...and then the Commission ordered GBE to submit new evidence after the record had closed.  Return to "Go!"

United for Missouri, another citizens' group, thinks the whole idea of asking for more evidence after the record is closed isn't legal in the first place and the PSC should just deny GBE's application outright:
UFM recommends that the Commission reject the Grain Belt Express Response and deny Grain Belt Express’ application because the Commission misapplied its rules in its March 11 Order. The Commission’s order, therefore, was unlawful, arbitrary and capricious. Further, a review of the Grain Belt Express Response shows that there is very little additional relevant evidence to be adduced in additional proceedings. As a result, further proceedings would be inappropriate and a useless exercise. Finally, a review of the Grain Belt Express Response confirms UFM’s argument in its briefs previously filed in this case, that the proposed facilities are a private enterprise not devoted to the public convenience or necessity, and therefore are not qualified to receive a certificate of convenience and necessity.
And the Missouri Farm Bureau can't resist pointing out how futile this whole exercise has been:
Another initial point pertains to the information provided on the number of voluntary easements Grain Belt Express has obtained from landowners on the proposed route. According to Supplemental Exhibit 1 of Grain Belt Express’ Response, out of 724 tracts of land, Grain Belt Express has acquired only 45 easements voluntarily—about 6.2%. Grain Belt Express has been aggressively pursuing voluntary easements from landowners for a year. Given Grain Belt Express’ lack of success in convincing landowners that this is a good project for Missouri, granting Grain Belt Express the power of eminent domain would be inappropriate.
Really?  Would the MO PSC really grant eminent domain to a company that's going to need to use it on 93.8% of the properties?

Perhaps the MO PSC should have just denied the application in the first place, instead of opening this can of worms.  It's not too late!
 
 
Yesterday marked the official conclusion of the FERC hearing that's taken up so much of my time over the past month or so.

I'm sure numerous celebrations occurred.

Some were more fun
than others
For those who remarked that the second celebration didn't look like much fun, I offer that the beer was picked up off the table, the light turned out, and the room vacated.  Instant fun!

Now, where did I leave my life?  Anyone seen it?

First, I offer this article from WSJ* (I admit it, the world has been revolving even though I paid it little attention).  It's finally been recognized that utilities may be investing in infrastructure as a cash cow.  Ya think?

The way the regulated rate world works is that the more they invest, the more $$ they make.  Although utilities have a built in O&M component in most stated rates, if they don't spend it all, they can use the money for something else, such as increasing shareholder dividends.  And they did.  But, as less power is sold, profits go down and the utility must turn to other profit centers, such as increased capital spending on long-neglected maintenance, or new transmission lines.  And rates go up.

And they wonder why we drink...

*If you can't read the article, google the headline "Utilities' Profit Recipe:  Spend More" and you should be able to access it directly.
 
 
Hi!  You've reached StopPATHWV Blog.  Your visit is important to me.  I'm sorry I can't come to the website right now... et cetera.

I'm off again, this time until it's over (a week?  two weeks?)  I predict another 6 days.  Too bad there's not some sort of football pool going on.  I might actually make some money that way.

If you're in possession of a call-in phone number to listen in to the festivities live, enjoy it.  Or just show up... it's a public hearing.

If not, transcripts have begun to be posted on the docket.  Go here.  Enter Docket No. ER09-1256 and list sub docket 002 in the correct fields.  Read.
Meanwhile, remember to play fair and be nice, everyone!  Sleep the sleep of the righteous.  A guilty conscience can be like a lead weight attached to your ankle.  Ain't nobody got time for that...
 
 
Philanthropy.  It's a good thing when it supports the public enjoyment of the arts, history, or nature.  But where does the line get drawn between philanthropy and tossing money down the toilet?

Do you suppose that the Clean Line executives sing and dance for their investors?  They ought to, since I believe that's all the investors are going to get in exchange for their philanthropy.

It's been a while since we've gotten a look at who's supplying the money that keeps this rickety boat afloat.  During the ICC RICL hearings in December of 2013, we heard that Clean Line was going to be out of money by mid-2014.

But, here they still are... being a nuisance to Mayberry.  Looks like National Grid had to up the ante and kick in another $15M.  And since a 40% share seems to have increased in value, does this mean that other investors have also flushed some more money down the Clean Line potty?  And what about Bank of America?  Didn't one of Clean Line's spinners say the company was getting cash from Bank of America?

If we can believe Clean Line's Grain Belt Express application to the Illinois Commerce Commission, here's a listing of who's to blame for funding this fiasco:

GridAmerica Holdings (National Grid) has invested $55.7M and currently owns 40% of the company.

ZAM Ventures (Ziff brothers) has invested $73.8M and currently is the majority owner, with a 53% stake.

Michael Zilkha has a piddling $2.8M invested, which gives him a 2% ownership interest.

The remaining 5% (or $6.7M) is owned by "Clean Line Investment" which is some vague investment vehicle owned by "service providers and employees of Clean Line."

Total investment:  Around $140M

That's a lot of green that is simply going to disappear when Clean Line's circus tent folds in the middle of the night and the company slips out of town.  But that's okay, I'm sure these savvy investors wouldn't invest money they couldn't afford to lose.


$140M invested and the company still doesn't have even one of its projects fully permitted and ready to build.

In addition, all the interest in the project is coming from non-existent generators.  It really doesn't matter how much Clean Line talks about how much its project is needed by other states in the east, without any contracts, Clean Line will fail.

Dance, Clean Line, dance!!!

 
 
Drama, drama, drama.  I'm pretty sure the media over-dramatized the outages in DC yesterday.  Maybe not a bad thing to raise awareness, but they've missed the real message.

OMG - like this outage affected IMPORTANT people doing IMPORTANT things!  Like Pepco is sooooooo bad!

This article covers the basics, and with a few additional details from WaPo's more dramatic version, here's the story:

A hot 230-kV transmission line (conductor) just randomly fell off its tower in Southern Maryland.  No storm.  No damage.  It just broke for no apparent reason.  Live, uninsulated transmission line on the ground started a grass fire.  Lucky it didn't fall on any people, vehicles, etc. that happened to be in the right-of-way at that time.  The fault caused a bunch of other lines and generators to trip offline in self-defense against resulting voltage swings.  And the lights went out many miles away in Washington, D.C.

So, no big deal, faults happen.  But the grid is supposed to be designed so that other lines instantly spring to life and take the load of the one out of service and the fault ends up being nothing more than a barely-noticed blip.  But that didn't happen, it started to cascade to other lines and generators.  Comparison was made to the 2003 northeast blackout, when a fault on a transmission line in Ohio cascaded into a regional blackout.  The concept is quite the same, but the effect not as far-reaching.  Do you suppose we'll need a multi-million dollar government task force to examine the incident?


What's the real problem here?

Lack of maintenance and upgrades to existing transmission lines.  The industry is so busy chasing the big profits that come from building NEW transmission that they aren't investing their money in maintaining the assets already in service.  Perhaps our federal regulatory agencies need to start encouraging maintenance and rebuilds of aging lines with financial incentives?

And then there's the problem of parasites like DC that have no generation of their own and depend on transmission lines from distant generators.  The more transmission lines we build, and the more centralized the system that supplies electricity, the bigger this problem becomes.

Stop it.  Stupid.

Distributed generation and less transmission lines = reliability.

 
 
Disturbing news out of Colorado this morning.  The Denver Post reports that the legislature is playing games with funding of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) for the next 10 years.  Without funding and authorization, the OCC will simply cease to exist under Colorado's "sunset" law.

A concerned legislator likened the refusal to deal with the re-funding of the OCC to "Washington, D.C.-style politics."
"If people disagree on the policy, the substance or the process, that's fair; that's what we're each here to do," Garcia said. "But what we're seeing here is Washington, D.C.-style politics where you put something off to the side, and the committee chair doesn't give it due regard until it's too late."
Why is consumer counsel so important?  Because it is the utility consumer's only defense against high rates and utility policy that compromises their interest.  Only the consumer counsel is looking out for residential and small business interests during utility rate cases.  Without the OCC, residential consumers would have no choice but to represent themselves in every utility case before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.  Who can afford the time or expense of that?  Nobody, therefore consumers would be unrepresented.  It's just not true that outside consumer groups, contingency-based lawyers, or class-action lawsuits can take the place of an independent, governmental advocate that defends the interests of all residential and small business consumers.

According to a report prepared last fall, the OCC regularly saves this class of consumers between $40-50 million per year in increased rates.  The cost of this representation is a mere $1.5M/year.  The funding for the OCC comes from fees paid by regulated utilities, not out of the state's general fund.  It costs consumers nothing, and it consistently saves them money.  The report recommends continuing the OCC until 2026.  However, the legislature is ignoring it, and without their nod, the OCC will sunset.

Don't let the Colorado legislature rob you of the representation that keeps your utility bill in check.  Without the OCC, out-of-control rate increases could have you lamenting that "someone" should do something about that.  The OCC is the consumer's "someone," even though most consumers don't even know they exist.  Get educated and take an active role in the processes that control your utility costs -- support the re-funding of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel. 

Halt The Power Lines makes it quick and easy to do your part!  Visit them here to find out how to take action!