Everything will be back to normal in a couple of weeks.
Happy spring! Go watch the grass grow!
Hi! You've reached StopPATHWV Blog. Your visit is important to me. I'm sorry I can't come to the website right now. Please leave your name, email address and a brief message and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.
If you're a friend, you know how to reach me. If you're not... guess I'll see you in person soon enough.
Everything will be back to normal in a couple of weeks.
Happy spring! Go watch the grass grow!
Second big Sunday story to blog about today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's examination of Clean Line as "a new kind of transmission developer."
This "new kind" of transmission developer is attempting to build transmission based on a "merchant" model. Under this construct, the transmission developer shoulders all project risk. In traditional transmission development, a project is ordered to be built by a regional planning entity to meet some reliability, economic or public policy need. Because the project is undertaken to supposedly benefit regional ratepayers, a developer charges its project costs to ratepayers. Ratepayers absorb the risk of successful development. Clean Line's merchant projects chose not to proceed through this traditional process, therefore there is no determined need for its projects. They are proposed completely as a speculative, profit-making venture, supposing that if they build it, a need will develop. If Clean Line fails, its investors lose their investment. There's no ratepayer-guaranteed regulated return. Clean Line accepts all risk for its market-driven projects.
However, Clean Line has told state regulators that it may "have to" apply to regional planning authorities for cost allocation of its projects in the future. In fact, Clean Line has been busy behind the scenes in the past, trying to drum up support for cost allocation of its projects. Clean Line's "build it and they will come" strategy may also extend to getting its projects permitted, customers signed up, and then dumping the entire thing into the regional planning process as a needed "can't fail" project. Beware, the enemy is at the gate!
So, Clean Line must shoulder all market risk of its voluntarily-undertaken projects. However, Clean Line also wants state public service commissions and the U.S. DOE to grant it the power of eminent domain to take private property for use in its projects. Eminent domain authority provides compensation to property owners for their property taken for use in public projects. It also ensures that holdouts cannot derail a project, and that property is acquired at a reasonable price so public projects aren't burdened by the expensive land acquisition costs that a developer would be faced with if land acquisition wasn't forced on property owners. There's a huge disconnect here! If the privately-funded Clean Line is shouldering all market risk of its projects, that includes the cost of voluntary land acquisition. Further examination of Clean Line's business model notes that the rates it may charge customers include all project costs, plus profit. Cheaper land acquisition allows lower rates and/or higher profits -- Clean Line's choice. Assuming all market risk for its project should also include the financial risk of voluntary land acquisition.
Clean Line's request for eminent domain authority is the driving force behind the huge rebellion of landowners, citizens, and local governments in seven target states. Clean energy advocates and environmental organizations have unwisely chosen to involve themselves in the debate. The Post-Dispatch talked to a representative of one such group, the National Resources Defense Council, who showcased his disconnect with the grassroots opposition groups:
“Clean Line’s not asking everyone within the region to pay for the line,” Moore said. “That’s the piece that sometimes causes state utility commissioners to pause, because the commissioners haven’t seen this kind of truly competitive business plan before.”
Clean Line's business plan isn't "competitive," it relies on a government-granted right to condemn and take property. If Clean Line's compensation package was so great, landowners would be falling all over themselves to sign on. Instead, the company is looking at condemnation rates north of 80%. 80% of needed land condemned through eminent domain! Never going to happen.
Moore is also completely WRONG in his contention that opposition will recede if public service commissions (or the U.S. DOE) make decisions favorable to the project. Perhaps Moore doesn't want to acknowledge that Clean Line's "approval" in Illinois for its RICL project was conditioned on land acquisition being voluntary. That's right... no eminent domain authority for Clean Line in Illinois. Why? Because those resistant 80% of targeted landowners number in the thousands and the political price would be too great. Decisions favorable to Clean Line's land grab will actually drive increased opposition and public revolt. The opposition numbers in the thousands and extends across seven midwest states (double in Illinois because it is a target of both the RICL and GBE projects). And it's increasing every day. Moore knows nothing about the Clean Line opposition and doesn't care to. He's just pontificating in a most revolting way. Maybe he should get to know an opponent or two before telling the media how they're going to react to PSC decisions?
Clean Line has no customers and is facing increased public and political opposition. It's the poster child for a "new kind" of transmission development failure.
Lots of big, interesting Sunday news stories this week!
First, the front page Washington Post story about utilities' campaign against rooftop solar. This issue has been swirling about since 2012. In June of that year, several consumer groups got together to file comments on FERC's transmission incentives docket in reply to Edison Electric Institute's holier-than-thou bullying to get its own way to continue, and even increase, incentive (subsidies) for new transmission builds.
Because transmission is such a long-term asset, we must be extremely mindful of
Nothing like a wake-up slap across the face, eh, EEI?
In September of 2012, EEI held a pow-wow to talk about how they were going to manage this strange, new world where their control of the electricity-consuming public was going to erode with alarming alacrity. Instead of approaching the problem honestly, EEI preferred to use its power, money and influence to try to find ways to kill distributed generation, instead of getting on the wagon and finding a way to turn it into a profitable business model.
In early 2013, EEI produced a white paper addressing what it termed "disruptive challenges" heralding doom and gloom for their stable of investor owned utilities.
And the battle lines were drawn.
Solar advocates have created their own issues, with polarized insistence that their use of the distribution system to sell their excess back to the utilities should be free, and that they provide so many benefits to the system that they should actually be paid more for avoided costs.
Because utilities are so bloated and focused on building more infrastructure from which they derive their profits, a shrinking pool of ratepayers increases the costs to the ones who don't install solar. Utilities crying about the burden placed on "the poor" is ludicrous and hard to stomach.
There has been no middle ground, and messaging on both sides is pretty ridiculous. Too much rhetoric causes increased polarization that stymies progress and the eventual realization of our energy future. Can't we get it together here, and effect a reasonable compromise?
Otherwise, the utilities can continue their self-destructive initiative to have it all, while solar advocates can disconnect from the public utility grid and build their own system to share their excess. Seems kinda silly, doesn't it? Where's King Solomon when you need him?
If you want to get a really good picture of just how much trouble the Plains & Eastern Clean Line is in in the states of Arkansas and Oklahoma, you should download and browse the comments that have already been submitted to the DOE's EIS contractor.
I had occasion yesterday to download a few of the public comment collections (gathered by week submitted), and I gotta say how impressed I am at the well-written knowledgeable comments that have been submitted. They are original and they come from the heart, and most importantly, they are nearly devoid of the infamous "misinformation."
The Block leaders in Arkansas and Oklahoma have done an amazing job disseminating accurate information, which shines out from each and every individual comment. Congratulations, well done! There's nothing a volunteer transmission opposition leader values more than to hear their message repeated over and over again by complete strangers without losing anything in the translation. When Clean Line created that information void by failing to adequately notify affected communities, the people filled it quite nicely.
After downloading and reading 3 weeks worth of comments, I noted that I only came across 4 comments in support of the project -- all from what we've termed MIMPSYs (Money In My Pocket, Screw You!) A MIMPSY can't see the transmission line from his house, and is more concerned with his own immediate financial prospects than the future of a community. A MIMPSY has no empathy for others. A MIMPSY is only interested in how much he can profit from the project in the short term. Some MIMPSYs gleefully toss their neighbors under the bus on the mere promise of future wealth, that may never materialize. These are the saddest of the bunch.
Three of the MIMPSYs whose comments I read yesterday did nothing but copy & paste Clean Line talking points into their own comments. I'm sure they will be given appropriate weight against the hundreds, thousands, of individually-written, heart felt comments of the people. The fourth MIMPSY-missive used faulty grammar and faulty logic to assure the DOE that the folks opposed to the line will "get used to it."
Clean line energy is apart of America's future. Many people came from other parts of the
I don't think he'll be convincing any affected landowners, who refuse to accept Clean Line's "change," some even advising DOE that they will not hand over their land willingly as long as they draw breath. The landowner comments are some of the fiercest I've ever seen. Arkansans and Oklahomans have an incredible attachment to their land and little use for government outsiders showing up to take it away from them. It also doesn't help that Clean Line is crossing the Cherokee Nation and taking away land that was given to the citizens by the government at the time it stole their native land. Apparently the government can just show up every couple hundred years and take Cherokee land and give it to others? Shame on you, Clean Line! Shame on you, Department of Energy!
The comment period is open until April 20th. Be sure to become a part of this incredible uprising of the people by submitting your own comment here.
Have you been getting random mailers from "Potomac Edison," "Mon Power," or another FirstEnergy distribution affiliate trying to sell you an "Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan from HomeServe?"
Just say no.
Go outside and look at your electric meter. You are responsible for some components of your electric service connection. The utility is responsible for the meter components and any underground service lines. You are responsible for maintaining the rest. Is your service drop overhead, or underground? Read the fine print:
The meter that measures the amount of electricity used, any underground service entrance conductor, and the meter base (materials only) are not covered under this plan, but are covered by your local FirstEnergy Company. Your local FirstEnergy Company will supply the materials to repair or replace the meter base...
So, what is covered? An overhead connection to your house (cost estimated at $200) and the labor to replace the company-supplied meter base (estimated to cost another $200), if they ever need to be replaced! So, how much will FirstEnergy's insurance cost you? $5.49/month. Forever. You'd be better off putting that $5.49 in a mason jar every month, on the off chance that you ever do need these unusual electrical repairs, so that you can hire a local electrician to fix them. FirstEnergy's literature claims that your homeowner's insurance won't cover these repairs. Know why? Because the cost of repairs is usually lower than your deductible!
Why would you want to give a bunch of money to the utility for "insurance" against an unusual problem that only costs a couple hundred bucks to fix? It doesn't say "stupid" on my forehead. Oh, but wait! If you sign up you will receive a "special" phone number to call to get your service. If you remember what you did with that phone number and the rest of your paperwork when you have an outdoor electrical line issue, then you could avoid the hassles of looking for an electrician in the yellow pages and "waiting" for service (because service dispatched through Akron, Ohio, is much quicker than calling an electrician in your own town).
Sounds like a scam to me!
So, I've been a Potomac Edison (or Allegheny Power, when that name suited them) customer for nearly 30 years. How come I'm just now being bombarded with these junk mailers? Because the West Virginia PSC recently sold me out to the company, going against the advice of its own Staff, the Consumer Advocate Division, and the findings of one of its own Administrative Law Judges.
Say what? Take a look at WV PSC Case No. 13-0021-E-PC (look up "Case Information" here). Two years ago, FirstEnergy asked the PSC for permission for its two West Virginia distribution companies (Potomac Edison and Mon Power) to market these useless "services" and products to their customers and to add the cost of any purchases to the customer's electric bill.
The Staff of the PSC and the Consumer Advocate objected to FirstEnergy's plan, which, in addition to the "Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan," will soon be offering you:
1. Other Home Solutions maintenance and repair plans (i.e. insurance) for other appliances you own, your natural gas service lines and even your plumbing.
2. Surge suppression service (which they already separately offer as part of their regulated service activity in West Virginia).
3. Customer Electrical Services Program that allows your electric company to "arrange" electrical service work to be performed in your home. You still pay for all the work they do, your monthly fee just alleviates your "hassle" of finding your own electrician and negotiating a reasonable fee for service with him.
4. Online store - where you can buy all sorts of useless crap and energy-wasting space heaters, and pay for it all on your monthly electric bill.
A hearing was held, and the PSC's Administrative Law Judge recommended that the Commission prohibit this kind of promotion. However, FirstEnergy didn't like that decision, so they filed exceptions to the Judge's Order and the Commission disregarded it and made a new finding that FirstEnergy could continue to promote these useless "services."
Remember, none of these services are regulated, so if you have an issue with service or billing of these add-ons, the PSC can't help you. You're on your own to solve the problem with the company (and it's not even the utility you'll be fighting with, but some third-party "insurance company") or through the court system.
So, how much money does FirstEnergy make off these products? Is the company really that desperate that it needs to peddle space heaters and worthless "insurance" to its customers? It's not about the few pennies in kickbacks FirstEnergy receives from these third-party companies for selling you a "service," it's about the half a million bucks FirstEnergy was paid by one of these third-party companies for "licensing rights and utility bill access fees" to access Potomac Edison's or Mon Power's customer records and to have your utility bill you for their services. FirstEnergy is essentially selling an asset -- its customer base and monthly billing system -- to a private company that hopes to make money selling things to the customer base. There is a commercial value to a customer base of 500,000 customers. When the customer base is acquired through a regulated monopoly, should the utility be able to sell it for private profit? Your WV Public Service Commission says they can.
Tell your legislators to ask the PSC why they have allowed Potomac Edison and Mon Power to sell you out like that. And think twice about jacking up your monthly electric bills with "insurance" you'll probably never need and overpriced lightbulbs from FirstEnergy's online store.
And want to have some fun right now? All those junk mailers they're sending you have postage paid return envelopes to "Plan Administrator." The envelope instructs: "Include only your form and nothing else." If you don't sign up for the plan, you won't need a "form," so go ahead and stuff them with "nothing else" or whatever you want and return them. See how much scrap paper you can fit into the envelope! Or perhaps your child would like to draw a picture for "Plan Administrator?" Go ahead, have some fun!
And then, get serious. The fine print instructs:
If you would prefer not to receive these solicitation from HomeServe, please call 1-888-866-2127.
Tell them you don't want to receive any more offers for their services from Potomac Edison or Mon Power and see what happens. Of course, this won't stop the other offers from the other vendors mentioned above, but it's a start. I'd like to know who's really controlling the mailing list here -- is it FirstEnergy or is it HomeServe? Let me know what you are told in the comments section of this blog post...
About the Author
Keryn Newman blogs here at StopPATH WV about energy issues, transmission policy, misguided regulation, our greedy energy companies and their corporate spin.
In 2008, AEP & Allegheny Energy's PATH joint venture used their transmission line routing etch-a-sketch to draw a 765kV line across the street from her house. Oooops! And the rest is history.