Clean Line Energy Partners thought their idea for a series of gigantic HVDC overhead transmission lines to transport wind power across the U.S. was cutting edge back in 2009.  Now it's just more of the same old, same old centralized generation/long-distance transmission network that is fast being overtaken by locally-sourced renewables and distributed generation.

It should come as no surprise that Clean Line investor and executive Jayshree Desai tried to downplay the viability of distributed generation at the recent American Wind Energy Association Finance Conference in New York, while singing the praises of industrial-scale wind farms and thousands of miles of new high-voltage transmission.  It's where her bread is buttered, after all.
Large-scale wind farms paired with new transmission lines -- not distributed solar generation -- is the cheapest way for the US to decarbonise its electricity system, claims an executive at Clean Line Energy Partners.

Jayshree Desai, executive vice president at Clean Line Energy Partners, also believes that over the next few years the cost curve for wind will bend downward more rapidly than for PV, after solar’s spectacular price decline in recent years. Large-scale wind farms paired with new transmission lines -- not distributed solar generation -- is the cheapest way for the US to decarbonise its electricity system, claims an executive at Clean Line Energy Partners.
But Clean Line won't "decarbonize" anything because wind is a variable resource that cannot be depended on as baseload power.  Due to its variability, any power injected by a "clean" line must be backed up with baseload fossil fuel generators that must constantly ramp up and down to equalize variable generation with load.
Desai thinks her Plains & Eastern Clean Line will be under construction in 2016 (if only the U.S. Department of Energy steps up to hammer resistant landowners with federal eminent domain).  I don't think so.  Vocal, forthright opposition to the line in Arkansas and Oklahoma is just now taking off, after many years of Clean Line keeping its plans secret from affected landowners, and it's going to be a rocky road ahead.

When the question was posed at the conference whether we need new, big transmission projects in the face of distributed generation's meteoric rise to prominence, Desai was quick to criticize distributed generation and tout her projects at prices much lower than the company has admitted in other venues.  Clean Line keeps lowering the "expected" price of its product at the same time it is experiencing costly delays and setbacks in the permitting arena.  This doesn't compute.  The cost of building these lines just keeps getting more expensive by the day, and the lines themselves are Clean Line's only product.  Clean Line's estimate of the price of wind generation that it will not own or construct keeps falling as the cost of building the line rises.  Desai claims as yet unbuilt wind will be priced at $.02 kWh, however this price includes the federal production tax credit, which expired last year and has yet to be renewed.  The production tax credit is a taxpayer financed subsidy for big wind of 2.7 cents per kWh, therefore Desai's real generation price without the expired credit is 4.7 cents per kWh.  She believes that Clean Line can ship that wind to several midwest injection points for 2 cents per kWh.  That's a total of 6.7 cents/kWh delivered.  And that's delivered to a midwest substation -- if you're not there, you're going to need to pay additional transmission costs to get it to your load.

Someone needs to check her math -- just a few years ago, Clean Line's capacity cost estimate was 2.5 cents per kWh.  How did it get cheaper when the company has added several years of permitting snafus, thousands of resistant landowners who have dug in their heels for a contentious eminent domain battle, and a whole bunch of promises to use certain "local" vendors to build its projects in certain states, instead of putting labor and supplies out for bid to get a better price?  It doesn't add up.

Desai thinks distributed solar isn't viable:
“I’m a supporter – I have nothing against [distributed generation]”, she said, speaking this week at the AWEA Finance conference in New York. “But the math is just not right.”

Desai argues that the true cost of integrating distributed solar into the grid is not being accounted for – a line increasingly employed by electrical utilities keen to curb the growth of rooftop solar.

“It’s heavily subsidised, not only at the federal level, but at the transmission and distribution [level too],” she says. Given those subsidies, “of course DG looks so good”.
Well, isn't that the pot calling the kettle black by Miss Production Tax Credit Subsidy?

When is the true cost of integrating midwest utility-scale wind gong to be accounted for?  What is the true cost to each individual landowner crossed?  How many farm businesses will face increased costs and lower yields once Clean Line has tossed them a one-time market value land payment to "compensate" them for their losses in perpetuity?  How many homes will lose value due to proximity to a "clean" line?  How much future land use potential is foregone once a "clean" line is in place?

The argument about grid fees for distributed solar does need to be solved, though.  And it's not going to be solved if both sides continue to dig in their heels.  DG fans who insist there is no value for them in being connected to the distribution system should try disconnecting for a day or two.  The value of being connected to sell excess and purchase power when needed would quickly become obvious.  Those who claim they should be charged nothing for using the distribution system as their own personal battery back-up need to get over themselves and get this done.  They're only hurting themselves the longer this debate goes on. 

But not everyone at the conference agreed with Desai.  In fact, her opinion pretty much got shredded.
Kris Zadlo – a multi-decade veteran of the transmission sector, and currently vice president at Invenergy – believes distributed generation will “take a big bite” out of the electricity transmission sector in the years ahead.

Zadlo says that being able to cut the transmission portion out of the picture entirely is a big advantage for distributed generation. “And it’s not only about cost, but also about control,” he says.

“We can’t underestimate that what DG allows people is their own peace of mind, control of their own destiny. What sort of premium is that worth to the customer?”
Indeed!  Let's cut transmission out of the picture.

I wonder what effect this debate had on Desai's efforts to find new investors for her Clean Line projects?  At the ICC evidentiary hearings in Illinois last year, it was revealed that Clean Line would be pretty much out of money by now.  Who's willing to dump more money down the Clean Line rat hole?  The company is making little progress, in fact, they seem to be regressing on a permitting level, with prospects of future eminent domain authority in several states getting dimmer by the day.

I guess we can't blame Jayshree for letting her desperation show.
 
 
If I had a buck for every journalistic comparison between the high voltage electric transmission grid and the interstate highway system, I'd be rich.  Uncreative and incurious journalists love to make this comparison, usually accompanied by a nighttime time-lapse traffic photo.  Ooooooh!

Stupid.

Back in 2006, AEP used comparison between the grid and the interstate system as a marketing gimmick so it could turn electricity into an interstate commodity and transmission into a profit center.

AEP's interstate transmission highway gimmick was even better using an Eisenhower, so it hired one.  And it pretended that a new "interstate highway" of transmission lines would provide reliable, efficient, affordable, and secure sources of power for everyone.

Oh, poppycock!

But it just never ends.

Here's why the electric grid is unlike an interstate highway:

  • The highway system was built using public money, for the benefit of the public.  The highways are operated by governments, and tolls for use are poured back into the highway system for the benefit of the public.  However, the electric transmission system is built using private money, for the benefit of investors.  The grid is operated by utilities, and tolls for use go into the utility's pockets for the benefit of stockholders.  Highways are not-for-profit enterprises.  Electric transmission is a for-profit enterprise.
  • The highway system "binds the massive country together into a single, integrated network" so that we may travel anywhere.  However, it is inefficient, costly and wasteful to "bind the massive country together into a single, integrated electric market."  Electricity is unlike other commodities because it must be used the instant it is made.  It cannot be stored for later sale or use.  Transporting it long distances is like transporting water through a leaky pipe -- much is lost along the way, simply wasted.  The longer the distance, the more electricity wasted.  While it may be useful to travel long distances via highways, it is not useful to transmit electricity long distances.  The most cost effective, efficient, safe and reliable electrical system is one where electricity is generated at or close to its point of use.
  • People were willing to make way for highways on their land because they could use these highways, and the government wasn't making a profit by operating the highway.  How come the media never compares transmission lines to highways with no on or off ramps for local use?  People are NOT willing to make way for long-distance electric transmission lines because they may not directly use the transmission line, and the transmission line is a profit center for its owner.  If a profit is to be made, the landowner should be paid appropriately in line with the continued profits, not tossed a one-time "market value" pittance for the use of his land in perpetuity.
  • Eminent domain was used to build the interstate highway system because it was for "public use."  Eminent domain was also used to build the transmission and distribution system that electrified our country because it was for "public use."  The key here is that both were for "public use."  But now transmission is proposed for other reasons such as economics, public policy, or simply as a way to make money shipping electricity to new markets.  Is this really a "public use," or is it a slide down a slippery slope?  Where does "public use" stop and "private profit" begin?
Renewables are ready for harvest near population centers.  We don't need a series of vulnerable "toll roads" to transport them coast-to-coast.  This is simply the utility industry's latest attempt to dig in a toe-hold that will keep you captive for many years to come. 

Just say "no" to electric "highways" and uninspired journalism.
 
 
I got an email yesterday from DOE's Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE) with a link to DOE's new Section 1222 FAQ.  FAQ stands for "frequently asked questions."  This is supposed to be a list of the questions about Section 1222 that you all have sent to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz lately.  Instead of actually answering your specific questions though, Ernie's staffers first sent out a form letter response.

The form letter encourages the hoi polloi and affected landowners to make comment on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).  It insinuates that the public's only avenue for participation in a process that could ultimately condemn and take their property via eminent domain is through the EIS.  This is preposterous. 

The EIS simply decides where to put the transmission line to cause the least environmental damage.  It does not prevent environmental (or historic, cultural, and socioeconomic) damage.  Damage is allowed, as long as the company perpetrating it makes payment for "mitigation."  In other words your land and environment is for sale to the highest bidder.  Confining your comments to the EIS is a losing, feel-good way to contain you and stop you from causing a ruckus until after the decision is made.
  By that time, it will be too late.

During any state jurisdictional transmission permitting process, affected landowners may intervene and participate in the hearing process, providing evidence and pleading their case to the Public Service Commission who will ultimately make the decision on permitting and siting.  The DOE's Section 1222 "program" doesn't provide you landowner stakeholders with any due process to participate in the decision making.

Instead, companies standing to profit from Sec. 1222 were having their own little private party with DOE, urging DOE to hurry up and sign up to be Clean Line's land agent.

Due process?  No.  Landowners were being excluded.  So, the landowners crashed the party.  And the best DOE could offer them is this unhelpful FAQ?

A couple of affected landowners who looked at the FAQ last night has more questions than answers.  Everything from "what is OE?" to "what ever happened to Clean Line's Grain Belt Express Sec. 1222 application?"

What are the statutory requirements for a project under Sec. 1222?  DOE skips over this while patting you on the head and telling you not to worry about all that complicated stuff:
The DOE will conduct a thorough review that includes making all required statutory findings as well as consideration of the proposed project’s environmental impacts, the project’s technical and economic feasibility, and whether the project is in the public interest.
What are the decisional guidelines?  Or is DOE just making this crap up as they go?

What is "other due diligence?"
DOE will decide whether to participate in the proposed project, a decision which would include route selection, once all environmental reviews and other due diligence have been completed. The earliest a decision could be made is at least 30 days after issuing the Final EIS, which is not expected before 2015.
How can you participate in the decision making process outside the EIS?  How should landowner stakeholders be consulted in this process?  Where's the due process?
Issues Not Addressed in the EIS: Before DOE conducts its review of all of the factors discussed above, the applicant will be required to submit further information and update its original application. Once DOE receives the updated information, and deems the application complete, it will provide notice that the application is available for public review through a notice in the Federal Register and an announcement on the OE website. Publication of this notice in the Federal Register will begin a 45-day public comment period. The notice will describe how to comment on the application for the proposed project. All comments submitted during the comment period will be considered in the DOE’s ultimate decision as to whether to participate in the proposed project under the Section 1222 program.
Oh, now I know they're just making the rules up at they go.  Updated application?  Why?  So that Clean Line can address any shortcomings and make its application a little more legally bulletproof?  A "do-over," as we used to call it on the playground.  Where is this 45-day comment period written into the statute (hint:  it's not -- they just made it up!)

So, what to do?  Keep asking questions!  Submit your additional questions here and encourage Angela to flesh out her confusing FAQ.  And be sure to ask her... "Where's the due process for affected landowners?"
 
 
"It's evident that the mandatory capacity markets are not delivering benefits to electricity customers. They are not even markets," said APPA President and CEO Sue Kelly. "Billions of dollars are flowing from the pockets of bill-paying customers to generators and capacity providers, and our study shows that the vast majority of these dollars are being spent to prop up a market structure that does not work. At some point, we just have to stop the music."
APPA has been issuing reports for years attacking the capacity markets in PJM, and other east coast RTOs.

The capacity market makes payments to generators to ensure their availability to meet demand.  It's supposed to supplement the earnings of generators to act as an incentive to build new generation to supply a robustly competitive market that saves consumers money.

Capacity payments are a part of your electric bill, albeit a small part, but collectively they cost consumers millions.

Regional transmission organizations cannot order new generation to be built in order to supply needed capacity.  Instead, they created this screwball market that is supposed to provide financial incentive for new generation to develop where electricity prices are high.  It doesn't work, says APPA.
The APPA study underscores a central flaw in the mandatory capacity markets -- they do not support the stable long-term financial arrangements required to build new power plants. As the electricity industry faces new challenges from environmental regulations, baseload retirements, and an increased reliance on natural gas, it is crucial that the RTOs and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) revisit the mandatory capacity markets paradigm, APPA says.
So, are capacity markets just a consumer funded give-away to for-profit generators?

Look at what happened when an oversupply of cheap gas generation flooded PJM's market.  Capacity prices tumbled and a lot of old, inefficient generators were retired because they could no longer compete.  Some plants that couldn't compete were "sold" into the generator's regulated affiliate distribution companies, such as FirstEnergy's Harrison or AEP's Mitchell, where ratepayers will pick up the tab for the plant's operating costs and become speculators in PJM's capacity market.  In the Harrison case, the WV PSC conditioned its approval on the market price of Harrison's excess capacity being high enough to cover the merger acquisition premium being charged to customers in West Virginia.

PJM pretends its capacity market encourages development of sufficient generation but hedges that bet by ordering new transmission lines to supply electricity to constrained or expensive load pockets long before local generation even has a chance to develop.

So, what's APPA's solution?
APPA encourages approaches to resource development that incorporate long-term planning, bilateral contracting, utility ownership, and demand-side approaches, and continues to advocate that the FERC mandate a transition from mandatory capacity markets to voluntary residual markets, where states and local public power and cooperative utilities will be able to procure the capacity they need through bilateral contracts -- allowing states and utilities to determine the optimal mix of resources and structure their portfolios to lower costs, maximize reliability and be good environmental stewards.
Not sure how I feel about all that, but it's gotta be better than this.
 
 
Don't you just love it when a transmission company's thoughtless drawing of a line on a map creates new energy activists?

I do!

When a transmission developer considers routes for its new transmission project, it's like playing Russian Roulette.  Drawing a line on a map selects a random cross-section of society to sacrifice their property and well-being for benefit of the rest of us.  Because transmission developers favor paralleling existing transmission corridors to expand rights of way, the same individuals are often forced to sacrifice again and again.

In the random cross-section of society are all sorts of people with all sorts of personalities, experiences and skills.  This random group of people, who may never have met each other but for the transmission project, come together.  Personalities mesh, and a shuffling takes place that creates a hierarchy. And the opposition group is born.

New leaders who may have never spent more than a moment thinking about energy wade boldly into the confusing, acronym-laden world of electric transmission. 
Each member of the opposition finds their niche.  Someone becomes the blogger, the information clearinghouse, the internet Paul Revere.  They share the information they find.  Their thirst for information is constant, because, in this game, information is power.

And now Clean Line's Plains and Eastern transmission project, a 750-mile merchant line from Oklahoma's panhandle to Memphis, Tennessee, has become the star of the new Block Plains and Eastern Clean Line: Pope, Johnson, Newton, & Conway Co. Blog.

The blog will feature news and updates about the project and its opposition, along with thoughtful commentary and opinion.

Great writers, great thoughts!  Check it out!
 
 
I've been away for the past week.  No emails, no blog posts, no piles of electronic files, no transmission whatsoever.  So, what has transmission being doing while I wasn't paying attention?  Same old, same old.

SNAFU

A browse of news I missed:

The Sierra Club is still trying to plan the transmission grid and getting it wrong.

PJM despot Steven Herling sent a nasty-gram to NJ Sierra Club's Jeff Tittel, claiming that he was spreading misinformation.

The chief planning official for PJM Interconnection Inc., the grid operator, said in a letter to New Jersey Sierra Club director Jeff Tittel that continued operations of the B.L. England power station in Cape May County would not create reliability problems, but that the plant's shutdown would.

"Recent media statements attributed to you about reliability and cost impacts associated with the B.L. England generating units' remaining in service are based on a misunderstanding of PJM Interconnection's planning process," Steven R. Herling, PJM's vice president of planning, wrote Thursday to Tittel.

"Our transmission-planning process is very complex, dynamic, and - as a consequence - can be misunderstood," Herling said in his letter to Tittel. "I would have been very happy to explain the process and underlying facts to help you avoid confusion, and would be willing to clarify PJM's study results at any time."

Transmission developers held their "public input" open house dog & pony shows on lines they want to build.  The "public" showed up en masse to participate, but the real decisions have already been made.  Here's one example from Wisconsin, where ATC plays coy about its preferred route, hoping to foment discord among community groups that wish to foist the transmission line on someone else.  The media helps out by framing its story as a NIMBY issue, and failing to examine the need issue.
“I have no doubt, in the long run, we need power and we need power transmission lines, and they’re going to go somewhere,” said Don McKay, general manager of Tyrol Basin Ski and Snowboard Area.

“Nothing here is very negotiable,” said McKay, who also is a Vermont town supervisor.

Robert and Danuta Pyzalski said it was too preliminary to get answers about their town of Middleton home, in the study area.

“My concern is how close the lines would be to residential areas,” Robert Pyzalski said. “To say there would be no danger would be naive.”
Dominion has begun blowing smoke up the behinds of communities in Virginia, pretending to pioneer new ways to work with communities to site transmission lines.
Members of a new resident-led work group created to grapple with Dominion Virginia Power’s plans to run a transmission line through Alexandria did not mince words following the utility’s first presentation on the project.

“I’m just looking at statements here with nothing to back them up.”

Both officials and work group members are growing more suspicious as Dominion’s application date creeps closer.

“There’s some healthy skepticism,” Smedberg said. “While Dominion says they don’t know what a final route would be, many people in the community find that a little hard to believe. They know exactly what they want to do and have known for a while.”
Use of the Delphi technique really isn't new, Dominion! 
Energy companies fight over building new transmission to import power to a big city vs. building new centralized generation in or near the city itself.  How about you folks in Houston cutting back on your conspicuous consumption and slapping some solar panels on a roof or two?  That would certainly be cheaper for the poor ratepayers these companies pretend to care about.  Energy efficiency and local renewables are within reach.

Same stuff, different day.  Energy company greed to invest capital for big returns never changes.  The only thing that has changed in this scenario is the opposition of the people to big energy projects.  It's getting more organized, more knowledgeable and more successful.  Try building big energy anything anywhere and there's guaranteed opposition that increases costs and delays projects.  Finding new ways to neutralize the NIMBYs is a losing game.

But, what if there were no NIMBYs?  Underwater and underground transmission lines are sailing through approvals with little to no opposition.  The Champlain Hudson Power Express project is a go, and the New England Clean Power Link isn't far behind.  If you're going to build new transmission, this is the way to do it.
With permits to build an underwater and underground power line from the Canadian border to New York City all but fully in hand, the developer is turning its attention to a similar proposal for a 1,000-megawatt power line that would run down Lake Champlain and then across Vermont to feed the New England electric grid.

Once out of the water all the cable will be laid in public rights of way and the company TDI New England has been working with the state of Vermont and local communities along the route on the minutiae: Everything from how to be sure the under-road conduits don’t worsen spring frost heaves to how the cables cross beneath bridges or how to ensure that once the cables are buried they aren’t disturbed.

Benson Selectboard member Sue Janssen said TDI New England has worked hard to meet the concerns of her community of just over 1,000. They are even paying a lawyer of the town’s choosing to represent the community in the detailed discussions that are coming.

“I have the impression if we’d said we wanted our dirt roads painted pink they’d have done it,” she said.

So far there has been no significant opposition to TDI New England’s major electrical infrastructure project such as has faced plans to build ridge-top industrial wind projects, extend a natural gas power line from the Burlington area to Rutland or build a 180-mile above-ground power line between the Canadian border and northern New Hampshire.

“I think that one of the key differentiators of other proposed projects is that we are all buried,” said TDI New England CEO Donald Jessome.
That's right... people can support transmission projects proposed by companies willing to work with communities to lessen a project's impact.

Opposition has a cost.


Meanwhile, as more buried projects are proposed, traditional overhead transmission builders are whining about the cost of buried lines.  Funny position for companies that make money on transmission investments -- the more they spend, the more they make.  Why not bury the projects?  Oh, right, they don't know how.  They're still living in the horse and buggy days, telling the same lies about how the technology doesn't exist to bury lines, or that the cost will be 10 or 20 times an overhead line.  That just isn't true.
Matt Valle’s solution to energy shortages in Eastern Massachusetts eschews the usual approach of running miles of new transmission lines on unsightly towers. Instead, Valle proposes to bury 50 miles of high-power cable in the ocean floor, using an underwater robot that resembles a lunar rover.

The robot would dig a trench 4 to 6 feet deep in an arc from Salisbury to Lynn for a power line that would bring 520 megawatts of electricity from the Seabrook generating station into Greater Boston.

If approved, the so-called SeaLink line would be the first underwater transmission line in Massachusetts, and Valle argued that it would be more reliable than high-voltage lines that are exposed to New England weather.

“It’s a buried system. It is protected against extreme weather — high winds, flooding, icing,” said Valle, president of New Hampshire Transmission, a subsidiary of NextEra Energy, one of the country’s largest power companies.

But there is one major drawback: With a price tag of more than $1 billion, SeaLink looks on paper to cost about $350 million more than a competing project, which includes a new 25-mile transmission line running from Londonderry, N.H., to Tewksbury, as well as upgrades to the existing high-voltage power network.

“Ours is the most cost-effective solution. That’s a fact,” said Rudy Wynter, president of the transmission business at National Grid, which is partnering with Northeast Utilities on the project. It would feature a combination of high-voltage 115 kV lines and extra-high-voltage 345 kV lines constructed on rights of way that are already held by the two companies.
SNAFU.

Is it really all about the cost to ratepayers?  Anyone thought of asking ratepayers if it's worth a few extra cents in their power bill to bury high-tech transmission projects in order to make them more reliable?  I think the people would overwhelmingly support buried lines from a reliability standpoint alone.  A majority would also probably support more expensive buried lines in order to get lines built quicker and with less burden on host landowners, viewsheds and the environment. 
 
 
Around 100 townsfolk managed to find out about and invade the PSC's "public" hearings on Potomac Edison's proposed 17.2% rate increase in Shepherdstown yesterday.  Several dozen made public comment to Commissioner Jon McKinney, who was the only one to show up to listen.  Of course, that's really not remarkable, since there are currently only 2 commissioners and Commissioner Albert seems to fear for his own safety where townsfolk gather with their scary torches and pitchforks out here in the real world.

Despite announcing that the hearing wasn't a two-way conversation where he would directly interact with the commenters, Commissioner McKinney sure was argumentative with a handful of the people who gave testimony.  He took offense at comments that he believed were not factual, instead of simply listening.  I wonder why he thought it was his job to defend FirstEnergy like that?  The first thing Commissioner McKinney began to argue with a commenter about was the percentage of the proposed rate increase.  McKinney insisted that it was a 14% rate increase.  After much confusion and back and forth, PSC staff attorney John Auville managed to prevail on the fact that the rate increase for residential customers will be 17.2%.  This is the number Commissioner McKinney kept denying.  However, it is also the number listed on the rate increase pamphlet that FirstEnergy sent out in recent bills to customers.  I find it rather alarming that Commissioner McKinney refuses to admit the true magnitude of this rate increase on residential customers.  Commissioner McKinney's 14% increase figure included the average increase among different customer classes (residential, commercial and industrial).  Residential customers pay the highest rates, so their increase will be much higher.  Yesterday's public hearing attendees were all residential ratepayers.  Commercial and industrial customers hire lawyers and directly intervene in these kinds of cases.  Residential ratepayer participation is limited to public hearing commentary because the Commission believes residential ratepayers may only be formally represented by the state's Consumer Advocate and cannot protect their own interests in rate cases.  Therefore, the only number that mattered at yesterday's public comment hearing is:

17.2%

But this isn't the only "fact" Commissioner McKinney felt compelled to correct in his defense of FirstEnergy.... there were many other commenters who were informed that their public comments were incorrect as they made their way back to their seats.

Here's a nice summary of the comments made at the afternoon session.

And a TV news story.

It seems that The Journal is the only outlet that covered the evening session, where the Commission heard sharp criticism from Delegate Stephen Skinner.  Senator John Unger was understandably dismayed that neither the PSC nor the company bothered to notify him of the public hearing and he was unable to attend.  Senator Unger will follow-up with written comments.

Where were the rest of our legislators?  Better check those campaign finance reports for big FirstEnergy donations...

After listening to several dozen articulate and energetic commenters at both sessions, I've gotta say my favorite speaker was Robert Whalen, UWUA Local 102 President.   He spoke at length about FirstEnergy's many failures, from its skimping on maintenance to its refusal to hire enough workers.  He said that FirstEnergy only wants to spend on capital projects that earn a return, while attempting to avoid maintenance projects.  FirstEnergy is paid a fixed amount for maintenance work.  If the company doesn't spend all it collects, then that extra can be used to inflate earnings.  Whalen even voiced suspicions that work reported as maintenance is changed to capital by corporate management.  Is that sort of like cooking the books?  Whalen made many very constructive suggestions for ways that the Commission could work with the union to improve service.  As he succinctly put it... if you want to know the truth about FirstEnergy, you should ask the workers.

The Commission will hold formal evidentiary hearings on the rate increase later this month.  Your rates will go up next spring... it's only a matter of how much.

If you missed the public hearings, you can still file a written comment with the PSC here.
 
 
Hint:  It's not the Sierra Club or their inexpert volunteer leadership.  It's not merchant transmission developers operating outside the regional planning process, either.

It wasn't too long ago that I suggested that Sierra Club should stick to hugging trees and quit trying to engineer the power grid.
  Although they were soundly rebuffed by the TVA in that instance, it appears that the Sierra Club isn't done trying to engineer the power grid yet.

A member of the Arkansas Chapter of the Sierra Club has decided that he can proclaim a transmission line "needed" if, in his opinion, it's in the public interest.

That's not the way it works.  Need for transmission lines is determined by regional transmission organizations in most parts of the country.  This is done through a pretty extensive and technical process.  It's not done by a gaggle of arrogant know-nothings sitting around a campfire getting high and dreaming about creating a green utopia.  It's not done by Sierra Club volunteers, either.
 

Sometimes, even real grid planners get a determination of "need" wrong.


The Clean Line projects have not been determined to be "needed" by any regional transmission organization.

  Instead, the RTOs have selected other projects "as a way to reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce the risk of the damaging effects of global warming."  But they have not selected Clean Line, therefore, Clean Line is not needed.

Because Clean Line is not needed, it is a venture in "capitalism."  Capitalism is a "free market" system, where trade and industry are controlled by private owners.  In a capitalistic society, no one may be forced to sacrifice his or her private property solely for the profit of another.  Capitalism would mean that Clean Line would be required to negotiate to purchase the private property it needs for its unneeded project.  It is in a communist state that private property rights do not exist.

When an infrastructure project is determined to be "needed" and in the public interest by a qualified entity with the knowledge and authority to approve it
, private property may be taken for the public use.  Clean Line has not been determined needed, nor granted authority to condemn private property, in Iowa, Missouri, or Arkansas.  Eminent domain, need and public interest is not determined by the Sierra Club.  None of the Clean Line projects has been fully permitted and are not "in progress" anywhere.

Clean Line has no customers, either generators or load serving entities.  It is not needed.  It will not shut down any coal plants.  Not one.  It also won't do anything to meet EPA regulations in importing states.  The credits for wind generation may only be taken once, not multiple times by exporting states, and every other state on the way from generator to load.  Clean Line will NOT speed up any carbon reductions.  It's simply a plan for a transmission line that could carry energy produced by any type of generator.

Clean Line is greed masquerading
as green.  Because the Sierra Club knows little about electric transmission, some clubs have made the short-sighted decision to endorse it.  An arrogant, confrontational, scorched earth path to a "cleaner" society will never succeed.

Sierra Club should be doing its transmission homework, instead of jumping on the first "clean" trojan horse that rolls by.


 
 
Americans for a Clean Energy Grid sounds like a grassroots uprising of ordinary "Americans" who support  building electric transmission.  This group's website says it:
supports policies that will modernize the nation’s electric power network and unlock clean energy and economic opportunities across the country. Smart state and federal policies that improve the way the grid is developed, planned, and paid for will help it become a more robust, reliable, and secure network that supports expansion of renewable energy, competitive power markets, energy efficiency, and lower costs for consumers. The backbone of a clean electricity system and a strong economy is a resilient and reliable transmission grid.
But the organization's true purpose is to support the policy goals of its environmental group funders for the profits of its transmission and generator developer members.


Ordinary Americans DO NOT Support Transmission, even if it's "clean!"
Remember this guy?
He knew there were children around somewhere because he could smell them.  It's easy to smell a front group, and this one has all the telltale signs.

Creating fake public support in order to influence someone to do something isn't anything new.  In Act I, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar, Cassius schemes up his own plan to make Brutus think the citizens of Rome love Caesar:
I will this night,
In several hands, in at his windows throw,
As if they came from several citizens,
Writings all tending to the great opinion       
That Rome holds of his name; wherein obscurely  
Caesar's ambition shall be glanced at:    
 And after this let Caesar seat him sure;    

 For we will shake him, or worse days endure.
It makes me as giddy as a Child Catcher to watch this silly front group struggle and fail under the weight of its own treachery.  Today, I got an "invitation" to this front group's "Electricity Transmission Summit."

Real business conferences are planned months in advance, speakers invited, attendance confirmed.  And then there's ACEG.  Their "agenda" for their October 16 "summit" is a laugh riot!

18 out of 25 speakers or moderators for this conference have yet to be invited or confirmed.  Only 7 people have confirmed their role at this "summit."  Just like the Child Catcher's wagon, the agenda looks good, until you look beyond the decorative fluff and notice all the names with (invited) after them.  I also like the multiple Moderators "Journalist/Reporter/Blogger" whose identity has yet to be determined.  October 16 is 3 weeks away and these clowns have yet to invite and confirm the vast majority of their speakers? 

HAHAHAHAHAAAAAAA!

And the pinnacle?  Even Farmer Jimmy Glotfelty isn't yet confirmed for their "summit"!

Thanks for the laughs, fellas!  As long as you know you're not really fooling anyone, no harm done, right?  ;-)

P.S. I'd fire the public relations company that screwed this up so badly.
 
 
FERClitigation.com has published a new letter to the U.S. Department of Energy's Inspector General from Senators Collins and Barrasso.

The Senators are asking the same questions that have been stinking up the FERC's aura for months.

1.    Are parties who "do not otherwise appear frequently before FERC" held to different standards than the utilities who are part of the daily scenery at FERC?

2.    Are there clear rules about what constitutes market manipulation?  Are market participants given adequate notice about what constitutes a violation and treated fairly during an investigation?  Is FERC pursuing "market manipulation" that was perfectly legal when it occurred?

3.    Are deals made with utilities that could be construed as quid pro quo enforcement settlements in order to receive FERC approval for a different transaction?

Tough questions.  Where are the answers?

You don't have to be one of the "white shoe" FERC regulars to think that something's off here.  There's been enough written to make even common consumers question whether our recently politicized FERC plays favorites with its incumbent utility friends while saving its scary investigations and worst punishments for energy "outsiders" that dare to venture into its lair.

The Wall Street Journal gets right to the point:
Ad hoc settlements win political plaudits, but because companies usually neither admit nor deny wrongdoing, the settlements set no meaningful or coherent legal precedents.
Does FERC's mindless pursuit of settlements really serve consumers?  Or is it all about the occasional big headline to draw the passing attention of the common consumer and give him a false sense of security that regulation is working to protect his interests? 

Does FERC play footsie with gigantic utility holding companies?  Case in point:  FirstEnergy's 2012 scheme to drive up capacity prices in ATSI, which cost consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.  Regulators didn't bat an eye because what FirstEnergy did was legal when they did it.  But, not so for some of FERC's red-headed step children that aren't regulars at the Sunrise Cafe.  Their ignorance of FERC's mysterious enforcement methods has cost them dearly.

Will DOE's Inspector General shake some of the political rot and decay out of 888 First Street and restore the public's respect and trust in the important work of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission?

I hope so.