The St. Joseph News-Press published an editorial today stating:
Officials with Clean Line Energy Partners are complaining about Missouri and its set of laws, as if the company didn’t know what it was getting into when it proposed stringing a high-voltage power line across the state.
The editorial went on to say:
...the problem is Clean Line has not yet done enough to allay concerns of key decision-makers — in this case, county commissioners who by law have a big say in this matter.
And concluded with this:
Our preference is for Clean Line to continue to negotiate with the counties where it has met opposition. Short of that, both opponents and Clean Line should expect to be governed by the web of laws and regulations — both state and federal — that govern these matters.
Clean Line's insistence that Missouri law must be changed to accommodate its desire to be above the law and build its project without county assent doesn't seem very popular with Missourians. And it's not just project opponents anymore. It's now the editorial board of a large newspaper, too.
The sheer arrogance of these out-of-state interlopers will be their undoing.
The News-Press must realize that the only thing standing between Clean Line and its success is... well... Clean Line! During recent oral argument before the Missouri PSC, Clean Line begged the PSC to issue an advisory opinion on the merits of the project, even if the PSC denied the project. Clean Line's attorney told the PSC that it needed that advisory opinion to take to the counties in order to convince them to assent to the project.
CHAIRMAN HALL: Yes, I have a few. I want to start with your alternative argument that
But Clean Line has used the PSC's "concurrence" on the project's merits for everything BUT going to the county commissions. The county commissions haven't heard a peep out of Clean Line in months. Now Clean Line and its environmental friends from the big cities want to use it to change Missouri law for their own benefit.
And the people of Missouri perhaps think that's a step too far for a bunch of interlopers who want to use Missouri land and resources for their own gain. Clean Line is financed by deep pocketed investors from New York, Texas and the United Kingdom. None of these investors live or work anywhere near Missouri and won't have to suffer the consequences of their own actions. These investors have knowingly funneled around $200M into a very risky investment in Clean Line Energy Partners. When Clean Line goes belly up, these investors lose their entire investment in the company. I'll assume these sophisticated investors went into this transaction with their eyes wide open, so they must not have invested more than they could stand to lose. They'll probably hardly feel it. On the other hand, the damage to Missouri would now not only be a scar on its landscape and an obstacle to its productivity, but a long-lasting surrender of its authority through legislative change. I don't think Missouri is going to lay down willingly, and instead of winning the state's cooperation, Clean Line has obliviously lit a fire in Missouri's belly.
Perhaps Clean Line's executives don't really care if they ever build a project or not. Perhaps their only interest at this point is to continue their own personal gravy trains as long as possible, even though they realize this train is headed for a gorge where the bridge is out. As long as the investors keep handing them cash to engage in hopeless battles, like trying to get Missouri to legislate away its own authority, the executives continue to live high on the hog. That could be the only explanation for why Clean Line even wants to engage in Missouri when the fate of this project is currently in the hands of the Illinois Court system.
Did you listen to the oral arguments at the Fifth District Court of Appeals on the Illinois Commerce Commission's grant of a permit to Grain Belt Express under the wrong statute of Illinois law? If you haven't, you should. Based on questions from the justices, it isn't looking too swell for Clean Line, although the Court has yet to issue its opinion in this case. The opinion can come at any time.
As well, did you watch to the oral arguments before the Illinois Supreme Court on whether the Rock Island Clean Line can ever be considered a public utility? That didn't go so well for Clean Line either. An opinion could be issued at any time. And, if RICL isn't a utility under Illinois law, then neither is GBE. The Court's opinion can yank the rug right out from under both Clean Line's Illinois projects at any time.
And speaking of the Rock Island Clean Line, did you know that the Iowa Legislature legislated it's ability to use eminent domain out of existence during its last session?
May 12, 2017
And then let's take a peek at Clean Line's Plains & Eastern Clean Line that wasted more than $15M getting the U.S. DOE to "participate" in its project in order to usurp the laws of Arkansas. Despite DOE's decision to "participate" in this project 18 months ago, it's no closer to actually being built. In addition to being the subject of a lawsuit in federal court, Plains & Eastern has no customers to finance the project. No revenue, no project. Plains & Eastern is stalled out, making no progress whatsoever.
Honestly, I don't think Clean Line Energy Partners is ever going to accomplish anything, except to spend its investors' money tilting at windmills and engaging in hopeless and increasingly expensive battles at the state and federal level. How much longer must the party in Houston go on?
FirstEnergy's dog showed up to listen to the local ponies whinny and chomp at the bit last night in Martinsburg. It was all so predictable. How many times have we done this in recent memory?
Utility proposes some scheme that will increase its profits. Regulators schedule the required public hearings and maybe one will show up in your locale. The regulator sits at the front of the room and "listens" to the public comments while trying not to look bored. Earnest public ponies put forth time and effort to attend and speak from the heart, hoping they can say something that gets through to the regulator. A court reporter transcribes the comments into a written record that can be read by the other commissioners, or perhaps used as evidence when a decision is issued. I seriously doubt that anyone at the WV PSC even reads the public hearing record, and I've never once seen anything from a West Virginia public hearing used as the basis for any decision. Why? Because the WV PSC is the utility's dog, captive and controlled like any good pet on a leash.
The WV PSC is a captured, reactive regulator who prefers to follow a utility's lead to set policy. The WV PSC isn't a leader, it's a follower. Without a clear vision of its own regarding how utility policy should work in the best interests of the state, the WV PSC allows utilities to chart our course by merely reacting to utility proposals. While other regulators have clear policy goals and demonstrate leadership to utilities by setting the standards that shape utility proposals, West Virginia prefers to let utilities shape the regulatory landscape.
It shouldn't come as any surprise, considering WV's regulatory leadership. C'mon, the WV PSC is lead by a former utility lawyer who took direction from utilities for his entire career. Why would anyone think he'd become a utility leader when sliding through the revolving door from regulated to regulator?
The WV PSC believes its mission is to "balance the interests of all parties." It shouldn't be. As a fully regulated state, the WV PSC should be a utility leader. Regulation is the price utilities pay for the privilege of operating a monopoly for a necessary public service. Regulation is supposed to serve as a substitute for competition where none exists. If a utility cannot perform in the public interest, then it should lose its franchise privilege, allowing others to compete for the privilege of serving the captive customer base.
Instead, the WV PSC behaves as if we must keep the utility happy and healthy, and puts the utility's interests first in any proposal before them. The captive customers the PSC is supposed to protect become nothing more than chattel, used to support utility profits. The WV PSC doesn't care what the customers want, nor what is truly best for the customers. The WV PSC has become completely detached from the public interest, only serving political interests that the utility purchases.
Commissioner Brooks McCabe presided over last night's public hearing in Martinsburg, looking like a brave little puppy, absorbing public scorn over FirstEnergy's proposal to sell a failing asset into West Virginia's regulated system in order to bail out the company. He began the meeting reading a description of the case and giving an overview of the proceedings thus far. He mentioned over 900 comments in opposition to the proposal, balanced by something like 35 comments in support. The audience laughed. If it were all about balancing the interests of all parties, this case would be over.
The few brave souls who made comments in support of FirstEnergy's proposal were all motivated by money, whether it was as a contractor whose income depended upon future operation of a failing power plant, or some political creature dependent on campaign contributions and quid pro quo. And then there were the unions, rightfully concerned about the future of the plant employees, however misguided they were in where funding for power plant jobs would come from in the future.
FirstEnergy has owned and operated Pleasants as a source of profit. The hardworking men and women who have kept this financial asset of FirstEnergy performing for many years have done an admirable job. FirstEnergy owes them a huge debt for their faithful service. But FirstEnergy doesn't care about them, FirstEnergy only cares about profits, and Pleasants is no longer profitable. FirstEnergy owes its workers a soft landing and transition into other jobs of equal pay and responsibility. But FirstEnergy wasn't squirreling away a tiny portion of its profits over the years into a soft landing fund for benefit of its workers. FirstEnergy spent every last penny of the profit these workers created on other important things, like naming rights to a football stadium, or a corporate jet and tax planning services for its over-compensated executives. Now that Pleasants is no longer profitable, FirstEnergy and the PSC believe captive ratepayers should pick up the burden of supporting Pleasants employees and the economic contribution it makes to its community. But the ratepayers never shared in the profits from the plant when times were good, it is only after the profits evaporate that FirstEnergy wants to pass the cost burden onto captive ratepayers. There's no "balance" here either.
A regulator who was a true utility leader might put an end to ratepayer-financed corporate welfare. It would make the utility responsible for the failure of its asset, including the economic impact to its workers and the surrounding community. A true utility leader would chart a clear course for a solid energy future in the public interest for our state, and require franchised utilities to adhere to it or forfeit their franchise privilege.
But we don't have a true utility leader. We have a corrupted and captive utility follower.
Thankfully, there are stronger, smarter, policy leaders in other regulatory venues who also have authority over FirstEnergy's proposal, because the WV PSC is a lost cause.
Clean Line and its big city environmentalist friends want to change Missouri law for their own benefit. Changing Missouri law doesn't benefit Missouri.
The problem? A Missouri law that has been functioning for 100 years. Sec. 229-100 says
TITLE XIV ROADS AND WATERWAYS Chapter 229 Provisions Relating to All Roads
Missouri counties must assent to the crossing of their roads by linear infrastructure projects. Missouri counties are responsible for their roadways, so naturally they have control. Without that control, linear infrastructure projects could block, make useless, and destroy roadways that the county is financially responsible to maintain. A transmission company could cause all sorts of problems with county roads and skip off into the night, leaving repair costs to burden county taxpayers.
When the Mark Twain Transmission project was approved subject to future county assent, a Missouri court corrected by determining that county assent must come before PSC approval. Mark Twain found itself in a predicament. The counties would not give assent because the Mark Twain project proposed new rights of way over county roads. So, what did Mark Twain do? Did they have a big, sniveling tantrum and demand that Missouri change its law to allow crossing without county assent? No. Mark Twain went back to the drawing board to create a better project for which the counties could give assent.
The revised Mark Twain project used existing rights of way and road crossings for its project, adding new capacity and rebuilding an old circuit. Eminent domain for new rights of way was minimized. While not everyone was happy, the revised project was improvement enough to receive the assent of impacted counties. That's right... Missouri law worked as intended to allow impacted counties to have control over the crossing of their roadways, while still allowing transmission projects to be built.
The Mark Twain Transmission project is a MISO-ordered project. MISO thinks this project is important and needed. Perhaps it was important enough that compromise was the best path forward to achieving success. While MISO didn't get what it originally wanted, it did eventually get county assent to build a project that achieved its goal while also compromising to create a project that the counties could approve. This is the way the law is intended to work. Mark Twain changed its project to work within Missouri's law, instead of attempting to repeal the law in order to build its original plan.
Missouri law works to protect Missouri. There's no reason to toss the baby out with the bathwater and bow to out-of-state interests who don't want to follow Missouri law.
Clean Line's contention that no linear infrastructure projects can be built in Missouri with the 100-year old law in place is completely and totally wrong. Mark Twain is proof that infrastructure CAN be built in Missouri. It's testament that acceptable projects can be built.
The problem here is that Clean Line does not want to revise its project to become something acceptable to Missouri counties. Clean Line has cut off all communication with Missouri counties. Clean Line is not even trying to compromise for a win-win -- where counties are happy and projects get built. Instead, Clean Line wants to have its own way, building its project and leaving counties with the tax burden of caring for the roads Clean Line destroys. This is not in the best interest of Missourians. It is only in the best interests of Clean Line, an out-of-state company with foreign investors.
Just say no to Clean Line. Say no to its outside interference in Missouri's legislative process. Once Missouri cedes control of its fate to the hands of outside influence, it can never be regained.
Clean Line needs to go back to the drawing board and build a better project, one that doesn't require Missouri to cede control to greedy foreign investors or urban environmental groups. One that works for Missourians. Put Missouri first!
Say what? "Missing buyer syndrome?" That's not a "syndrome," that's a capitalism fail. If someone offers a product or service that nobody wants to buy, it's not a "syndrome" that can or should be cured. It simply means that the product or service offered is not marketable, not needed, and not beneficial to targeted customers.
Except what if the seller wants to force the purchase of its product or service because it sees an opportunity to make a lot of money if someone buys the product or service? Then it's a "syndrome" that must be cured through government intervention. That's absurd. Why don't we call it what it is... government-facilitated corporate greed?
"Missing buyer syndrome" is the bastard child of greedy corporations who want to make a bundle of money building new wind farms in the Midwest and huge new transmission lines to move the electricity generated to population centers.
The proposed Chokecherry Sierra Madre wind energy project could face challenges selling power in the desert southwest, officials told lawmakers in Casper last week.
Ah, sweetcheeks, if your buyer is "missing" then there is no market. There is no need. There is no "limbo." It's simple supply and demand. Economics 101. It's not up to Wyoming, or Chokecherry Sierra Madre Wind, to determine what energy suppliers in other states buy. Nobody cares what you think, especially because you're driven by greed.
And here's another "missing buyer" for a greedy company that also found there was no demand for its service.
Clean Line Energy Partners, a Houston-based company that proposes to bring wind-generated power from Oklahoma and Texas to the Southeast along a $2.5 billion transmission line, says it could deliver power to TVA at less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour.
But yet environmental groups continue to sing and dance at each quarterly TVA board meeting, and certain news outlets continue to eat it up and present it to the public as if environmentalists are better at planning and running the TVA system than the slate of professional economists and engineers employed by TVA. Unlike urban environmentalists, TVA professionals plan its resources based on need and economics, not some pie in the sky environmental goals. TVA is "pro consumer." Environmentalists are "pro environment," no matter the cost. Clean Line and other wanna be transmission developers are "pro profits." The only one in this menage a trois who is looking out for consumers is the TVA.
And how do these greedy corporations think they can cure "missing buyer syndrome?"
The Trump administration could help by pushing for an infrastructure package that would see the government “buying down a portion of the capacity” on big transmission projects so they can enter construction more quickly, or perhaps through an investment tax credit, Skelly suggests.
This one wants to force the federal government to take the place of the "missing buyer." And if the federal government became the "missing buyer" then its customers would be forced to shoulder economic risk and financially support corporate greed through higher electric rates.
The Anschutz Corp. wants state governments to force "missing buyers" to purchase its product and service through legal mandates. It's all the same corporate greed looking for a government bailout for bad investments in renewable energy and electric transmission.
While these investors thought they saw a financial opportunity to use government tax credits to build something that's only needed through forced mandates, their gamble has not paid off. The government mandates are shifting and there's a new call to keep energy local. While the industrial wind industry thought it could exploit windy states to produce energy for export, the target importing states have a greed of their own to keep their energy dollars in state. This creates the mythical "missing customer."
If a state can choose between local economic development and sending those same dollars out of state to develop the economy elsewhere, the choice is simple. But what about those states that think they can develop their own economy becoming an exporter? They're selling themselves short. Instead of becoming an industrial wasteland in exchange for a few jobs and tax dollars, those states should be marketing themselves as a cheap energy mecca. Instead of exporting energy, perhaps they should try importing energy-intensive businesses?
And what about all those "fly over" states caught between states that want to export renewable energy and their "missing customers?" They're getting nothing in the deal and they're not going along with it.
Dozens of developers are competing to offer Massachusetts the best price for long-term contracts to supply clean energy to hundreds of thousands of homes. But many of the projects face a challenge: convincing residents of northern New England that it's in their interest to host the Bay State's extension cord.
I think it's pretty clear. Those corporations who gambled that they could make a lot of money developing remote generators and transmission lines to connect the generators to demand centers made a bad investment. It was a bad idea fueled by greed. We've all made bad investments in our lives, from huge market-crashing bad deals to the weekly waste of buying lottery tickets that never win. But when we lose, we realize we can't demand a government bailout to save us from our own bad decisions. And that's the difference between us regular folk and the one percent, who aren't used to taking responsibility for their own losses. Nobody cares how many millions Philip Anschutz, National Grid, or the Ziff brothers have poured into these bad renewable energy ideas. They made a bad decision and they no more deserve a government bailout than the guy on the corner who is holding a worthless lottery ticket.
Remote renewables are dead. Stop throwing good money after bad. Local renewables are on the rise. Quit wasting the remaining years of the production tax credit on bad ideas. Here's the next great thing:
Offshore wind is still a relatively costly technology, but here's one advantage: You can build ocean-based windmills pretty close to the demand centers, and avoid all those long transmission lines.
Because aerial transmission lines on private property are the problem. There would be no need to "work closely" with regulators, governments, or landowners if you were creating partnerships and providing value for customers. "Working closely" is another euphemism that needs to go. "Working closely" means "we're lobbying them intensely but they're not buying our bullshit."
Instead of trying to beat everyone into submission, perhaps you should offer a product or service that people like, want, and need? That would turn your "missing customer" into "eager customer." Unless you just really like swimming upstream, against the current. There are smarter and easier ways to make money. Some days I wonder how you rich people got that way in the first place...
Remember back in April when the new Secretary of Energy issued a memo calling for a report "including an assessment of the reliability and resilience of the electric grid and an overview of the evolution of electricity markets"? Environmental groups and Trump-haters panicked and screamed about the report being the first step to reviving coal.
And these fools blared on and on for months about the people working on the report, and what it would say. Someone "leaked" a draft of the report before it was released. The Sierra Club wasted time and resources suing DOE before the study was even released.
And guess what? The report didn't do any of the things these prognosticators whined about.
So, the report was released last week. In its wake, every special interest group claimed how the report provided support for their agenda.
DOE Throws Down Red Flags on Unreliable Wind and Solar
Top Three Takeaways From DOE's Grid Study - AWEA
What to Watch in the Wake of the DOE Grid Study
Energy Groups Push FERC to Make Changes Recommended in Grid Study
Could anyone write an impartial article that could serve as CliffsNotes in lieu of reading the whole boring study? Give a gal a break? Sorry, no. I had to read it myself. Warning... don't attempt in the evening, it's a real snooze fest. Best tackled bright and early with lots of coffee. Lots.
Just like everyone else who read the study (and even some reporters and talking heads who only pretended to read it before trying to write about it), I'm only going to concentrate on the parts that interest me. Because just like a tub of vanilla ice cream, this "Grid Study" is so blah that you could make anything you want out of it if you sprinkle in your favorite ingredients. Therefore, I proclaim that this report cautions against building a gigantic new electric grid to support remote renewable development. Don't like that? Go read the report and write your own article about it.
And here's how I support my opinion.
The report used a quote from NERC, made when the Clean Power Plan was a thing:
"Because the system was designed with large, central-station generation as the primary source of electricity, significant amounts of new transmission may be needed to support renewable resources located far from load centers.216"
But then the report said:
The studies (see Appendix B) that look into the distant future are exploratory only and represent initial investigations into how to implement high levels of VRE. They do not look into all the operational aspects of reliability due to the needed complex and computationally challenging modeling. Typical assumptions (sometimes implicit) include successful siting of (at times long multistate) transmission lines and new generation, sufficient new and existing economically viable conventional generation and other resources to support the VRE, institutional and market changes, and relevant grid modernization-type spending at both the transmission and distribution level. One study, for the ease of modeling, even assumes the nation’s 66 balancing authorities, including their governing boards and member states, would agree to one national joint dispatch). Some of these assumptions are non-trivial. These studies recognize that given enough time and money, power system engineers can make any resource and configuration reliable, as long as the laws of physics are not violated; whether the changes needed are indeed affordable, doable, and desirable may be a different question. Also, affordability was typically not in the scope of these studies.
So, yes, engineers can make things work. That's what they do. They're great problem solvers. But making "VRE" (code for distant renewables) work is likely not going to be affordable. So why aren't distant renewables affordable?
Most of the contiguous United States’ wind power plants are installed in the center of the Nation, which has the best wind resources.
There's also problems with permitting and siting new transmission for renewables (wind).
The challenge for building transmission continues to revolve around the three traditional steps involved, each of which can be time-consuming, involved, and complex: (1) demonstrating a need for the transmission project, also known as transmission planning, (2) determining who pays for the transmission project, also called cost allocation, and (3) state and Federal agency siting and permitting. FERC has taken steps to help with the first two, with reforms such as Order No. 1000, which remains a work in progress.258 259 260 261 262 Transmission planning entities, as well as regional state-based groups, are also contributing to improving these three necessary process steps. The current and past administrations, aided by various new Federal laws, have issued various Executive Orders and other initiatives to improve the processes involved in siting and permitting of transmission when Federal lands or waters are involved.
That's right, there's nothing a federal agency can do about state jurisdictional transmission permitting and siting. I'm a bit puzzled by DOE's footnote referencing this vomitrocious opinion piece from Public Utilities Fortnightly. Umm... this is only an industry opinion, not science, engineering or any other "data source." Don't be fooled by this guy's use of his former job to try to pretend his opinion holds any weight. He's a shill for WIRES, and WIRES is a trade organization for transmission owners, builders and suppliers. Of course they want to build lots of transmission right now, that's where their paychecks come from!
So, are renewables causing baseload generators to retire? This is where the vanilla gets flavored. On the one hand, no, coal's economic problem is caused by low shale gas prices. On the other hand, yes.
Fuel neutrality is essential for both monopoly-utility resource planning and competitive markets to manage risk and achieve reliability efficiently. Interventions to promote specific fuel types—such as bailouts for coal and nuclear or mandates and subsidies for renewables—skew investment risk and can undermine incentives for reliability-enhancing behavior (e.g., a public intervention to finance pipeline expansion removes incentives for the private sector to invest in fuel security). Fuel-specific subsidies and mandates replace individual choice with collective choice. This one-size-fits-all approach to risk mitigation ignores variances in individuals’ risk tolerances, results in high-cost risk mitigation, and creates perverse incentives for market participants by transferring risk and costs from the private to the public sector.
And speaking of natural gas, the report attempts to pit the "no gas pipeline" folks against the "no electric transmission line" folks. Personally, if I had to have one or the other, I'd go with the gas line. Once constructed, it's buried (but hopefully not forgotten). And pipelines are easier to build because they are not state-jurisdictional. There's a lesson here for transmission opponents... never let the Feds usurp state electric transmission siting and permitting authority.
Natural gas-fired generation has grown nearly continuously since the late 1980s (see Figure 3.19) for several key reasons. These plants have low capital costs and are, in general, relatively less expensive than some competing technologies.108 They are also much less land-intensive than many other types of generation, and thus often can be more easily sited in urban areas near electric demand.109 Similarly, natural gas pipelines can be built more quickly than electric transmission lines (in most states) because they have a comparatively streamlined permitting process, which often has made it easier for a plant developer to build a new gas-fired plant near a large electric load than to build a power plant farther away and transmit its electricity to large load centers by wire.dd
And let's hear from another former FERC Commissioner who isn't a spokespuppet for the industry and trying to line his own pockets:
Former FERC Commissioner Tony Clark summarizes today’s changing demands on centrally-organized markets: “Affordable power was the goal when markets were created. The current markets are still procuring affordable power, but many state public policy makers no longer see that as the only goal [...] other public policy goals [include...] incenting in-state jobs, promoting ‘green’ energy or other politically favored resources, preserving carbon-free resources, and retaining substantial tax revenues to state and local government.” Clark goes on to say, “[Markets] were never designed for job creation, tax preservation, politically popular generation, or anything other than reliable, affordable electricity.”
States that use public policy goals to determine whether or not a transmission project should be permitted are using the wrong numbers, and that's screwing with electricity markets and making electricity too expensive.
Therefore, states should stop relying on public policy goals like jobs, taxes and economic development, as well as freebies like new transmission headquarters or below cost transmission contracts, to justify approving huge new transmission projects that will only increase the cost of electricity in the long run.
And while we're at it perhaps DOE could start closer to home and take a fresh look at its decision to "participate" in the Plains & Eastern Clean Line under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act. The decision to "participate" relied wholly on public policy goals and the desire to play resource favorites and promote a certain type of new generation (wind). But will the DOE take its own advice?
You need to let them know that you've reviewed their report and that their own recommendations say DOE should end its troubled participation in the Clean Line projects as soon as possible.
The DOE wants to hear your comments. No, they really, really, really do! Submit your comments here.
Do it now!
Ut-oh, Transource! Or, let's be real here... Ut-oh, AEP! Your Transource shell company is in big, big trouble!
I traveled to York County, Pennsylvania, last week to attend an informational meeting about AEP's "Independence Energy Connection" put on by the York County Farm Bureau. The meeting was held at 1:00 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, and it was packed. Two hundred people took time out of the middle of their day and reserved a spot to attend this meeting. And only pre-registered attendees were allowed in, it wasn't an open meeting for Transource and its advocates to undertake "opposition research." Attendance required forethought and determination.
The York Dispatch sent a videographer, who created a couple of excellent videos of the event here and here. The speakers were knowledgeable and interesting and provided excellent information for landowners and others interested in participating in the case (or forced to participate after finding themselves in Transource's siting bulls eye).
The land is beautiful, the area bucolic, the citizens informed, determined, and forthright. These are not people who are going to meekly accept this transmission line plowing its way through their community in order to make power cheaper for people in Washington, DC. It's not like these landowners don't already make a sacrifice to serve the needs of large cities to the south. They've been feeding the urban areas for generations, as well as living with large power generation stations that produce more power than the local area uses. Independence Energy Connection is just one transmission line, one sacrifice, too far.
PJM Interconnection and AEP made a grave error in evaluating the "constructibility" of this project. It's not sited on "undeveloped land" that no one cares about. This land is fully developed to its highest and best use and its owners, and the community surrounding them, are completely committed to keeping the land in its current "undeveloped" state. In its current state, the land is highly productive as a food factory for urban areas, where patio tomato plants are considered "farming."
We're talking 15 miles of new greenfield transmission rights of way for this section in York County. But yet the number of people opposed to this project numbers in the hundreds or thousands, only two months after being announced to the public. It's a run away freight train of vocal, organized opposition that cannot be turned around, no matter how much money AEP spends on big city public relations firms with "crisis communications" and "grassroots organizing" capabilities.
Stop wasting time and money on this project, AEP. You just can't win this one. Remember, there is no such thing as "undeveloped land" in the eastern interconnect. All land is used and useful to its owner and its development density is not an indicator of whether or not a transmission project may succeed.
Ut-oh, AEP! You're done for this time!
Any good grandparent knows what happens when you fill a toddler with sugary snacks and drinks... they turn into short-attention span race cars... zooming through your house at breakneck speed, harassing the cat, jumping on the bed, and dumping out every puzzle and game in the house in 30 seconds flat.
That's sort of what happened with Clean Line's Mark Lawlor after the Missouri PSC denied Grain Belt's application.
It took a while for Clean Line to stiffen its upper lip and say anything. The first words were Michael Skelly casting aspersions on Missouri, its institutions, its government, its people. And then he said:
“We will review the order in detail to determine next steps for the project,” adds Skelly. “We are currently assessing all existing authorities available to move the Grain Belt Express project forward, including but not limited to legal appeals.”
Clean Line executives said Wednesday that they were weighing their options for the Grain Belt Express power line, though they acknowledged that the “legal and regulatory conundrum” could add many months or years to the project if they decide to keep trying.
Right, vague talk about appeals. Blah, blah, blah. Sort of sounds like a whipped puppy, doesn't he? *snort* *sniffle* *wahhhhhh* Have a lick or two of Clean Line's delicious lollipop and dry your tears...
And remember, GBE's attorney promised the PSC that a dismissal would mean the project is dead and that a separate but ineffective favorable opinion would only be used to convince the counties to grant assent. Unfortunately, some of the PSC Commissioners took him at his word.
Sometime later Wednesday afternoon Mark Lawlor got ahold of that lollipop and went on a sugar-fueled romp among the media, supposing all sorts of things he could do to move a dead and denied GBE project forward. Each comment got more outrageous until Mark's pinnacle with a Fox News station out of Illinois, where he said,
"So, the Grain Belt Project will deliver enough power for over a million homes, and will do so at costs that are extremely competitive with wind energy that is clean and renewable.”
No, really, that's exactly what he said, listen to the recording on the video here. What is it that Clean Line will be delivering that will be extremely competitive with clean wind power? It can't be clean wind power, so it must be dirty coal power? Gas? Nuclear? All of the above? I think the sugar was running amok by that time and Mark's brain and mouth were running in different time zones.
What other stupid things did he say?
“We absolutely want to do the project,” said Mark Lawlor, development director for Grain Belt Express. But he added: “Unfortunately, the message that we’re getting from Missouri is that investments of these kind might be better spent in other places.”
Wow, that was pretty impressive, for a company that seems to be out of money.
Lawlor's false bravado seems to have rubbed off on Clean Line president Michael Skelly the next day. Skelly says:
“It’s impossible if you’re building a multi-state transmission line to get agreements from all 30 counties that you might cross,” said Michael Skelly, the president of Houston-based Clean Line, which is planning about $9 billion of power lines across the Great Plains, Midwest and the Southwest.
And then he passes the lollipop to Clean Line's PR lady:
Clean Line’s other options, said spokesperson Sarah Bray, include asking the PSC for a rehearing, working with the state’s legislature to revise pertinent laws or seeking U.S. Energy Department approval under Section 1222 of the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The latter would authorize the department to take part in “designing, developing, constructing, operating, maintaining or owning” new transmission.
That sugary lollipop the PSC handed them has done nothing but fuel delusions of grandeur that the company can't accomplish. And it's going to waste a bunch more time and money. Instead of being "toast," like it promised, the company wants to add years to its project schedule pursuing the impossible dream.
And what are Clean Line's options?
None of these sound like workable options. They would add years and hundreds of millions of dollars to the project. Clean Line doesn't have years. The big wind farm building boom is waning with the federal production tax credits that will sunset in just 3 years. When the PTC goes, so goes any economic advantage for big wind. Because the PSC denied Grain Belt's application the other day, all those contracts between GBE, MJMEUC and Infinity Wind are void. The contracts were contingent upon PSC approval. All that would have to be rehashed at a later date. Pricing would change without the PTC. Any opportunity and savings attached to those contracts during the recent PSC application will have to be completely re-done. And that's the thing, unless appeal is granted (highly unlikely) Clean Line will have to prosecute a fourth application before the MO PSC with no guarantee of a favorable result. The MO PSC swings wildly from side to side.
And then let's talk about Illinois, where the Supreme Court has taken up the issue of whether or not Clean Line is a public utility that should be granted eminent domain authority. Even if Clean Line spends all this money trying to bust through Missouri's brick wall, eventually the Illinois Supreme Court is going to issue a ruling that can nullify it. All of it. It doesn't matter what Missouri thinks if the Illinois permit is vacated. Why waste a bunch of time and money in Missouri when it can all be for naught once Illinois rules? I thought Clean Line put spending money in Iowa on hold pending the Illinois outcome. But yet they want to do that exact thing in Missouri?
Honestly, these guys are dumber than a box of rocks. It sounds to me like they're just spewing out a bunch of empty threats and big talk that they can't accomplish. Perhaps they'll come down off their sugar high soon? Because Clean Line is dead. Go away, Clean Line. You will never succeed.
In the wake of the Missouri Public Service Commission's denial of Clean Line's Grain Belt Express project today, fingers were pointing everywhere.
Clean Line's Michael Skelly blamed the PSC.
“The PSC’s decision to deny approval of the project, despite the clear public benefits, sends a clear message that investors contemplating new infrastructure projects should not come to Missouri. Today’s ruling is inconsistent with good government and sound public policy and it is our hope that moving forward Missouri will work to remove barriers to building new critical infrastructure projects.”
The PSC blamed the courts.
Instead, the commission said it was bound by a court opinion rendered earlier this year on the Mark Twain Transmission Project. That case involved the issue of assent — or permission from counties to use right-of-ways to construct the project.
Screwball environmental fringe group Renew Missouri blamed the governor.
"...the decision on the Grain Belt Express today shows our new Governor’s administration isn’t serious about economic development and household budgets as promised. Just more talk with no action.”
Let's pause here and put on our thinking caps, shall we?
What's the problem?
Grain Belt Express did not have necessary county assents.
Whose fault is that?
It's Clean Line's fault, of course! None of this would have happened if Clean Line had produced county assents.
And why couldn't Clean Line produce county assents?
Because it treated county commissions and affected landowners like they didn't matter. Instead of offering something landowners could accept, Clean Line thought it prudent to ignore landowner concerns and request eminent domain to take their property against their will. If Clean Line had truly worked to find a way to get landowner support, the county commissions may have granted assent.
But Clean Line didn't.
The denial of Grain Belt Express is only Clean Line's fault.
Citizens across Missouri are celebrating today in the wake of the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) denial of Grain Belt Express’s (GBE) application to build a high-voltage transmission line across the state. The application, GBE’s third, was unanimously denied at a PSC meeting this morning. The Commissioners stated that they are constrained by a recent court opinion that requires local county assent before the PSC can grant a permit.
Block GBE-Missouri President Russ Pisciotta stated, “This is a huge victory for the impacted property owners and property rights. We are so thankful to all that made this possible.”
Key to the landowners’ victory is the steadfast opposition to the project by County Commissions. A transmission project must receive the assent of the commission of each county crossed prior to approval by the PSC. In Ralls County, where support of the project was rescinded, Presiding Commissioner Wiley Hibbard says he will continue to stand with his constituents.
“I am very pleased that the local control of county commissioners was upheld by the PSC. Local officials have much better insight on how these projects will affect their counties. Please know Ralls County is not against green energy, in fact our Ralls Co. Electric Co-op has over 500 megawatts of wind energy currently available. Anyone interested in taking advantage of this clean energy opportunity without taking our land by force is welcome in Ralls County,” said Hibbard.
Caldwell County Presiding Commissioner Bud Motsinger said he has tried to reflect the opinions of voting constituents.
“I am very pleased that the PSC has listened to the public comments and public opinion. It is very important for local citizens to express opinions on issues that concern them and their county. This is an example of community involvement protecting the future of Caldwell County,” said Motsinger.
Block GBE-Missouri believes that offshore wind is a viable option for the east coast, without disrupting and clear cutting thousands of acres halfway across the country in the Midwest. Offshore wind is a reliable and consistent supply because it blows during peak times, when terrestrial wind often cannot produce. Block GBE believes distributed and locally sourced renewables provide economic development to the area that will use the energy produced, and keeps energy dollars at home, where they provide local jobs and tax benefits.
Block member Jennifer Gatrel stated, “It was never about whether or not the energy was renewable, but about disruption and loss of production for the many family farms, as well as reduced property values and permanent hazards for landowners in GBE’s path. Use of eminent domain to coerce cooperation, and poor compensation, did little to convince landowners to sacrifice their wellbeing for the benefit of consumers in Missouri cities and other states far away.”
During oral arguments on the issue earlier this month, GBE’s attorney shared with the Commission that if the project was dismissed, it was dead.
“Farmers are long term thinkers. We plan in decades, not years. We will fight this as long as it takes. Property rights are worth protecting,” said Block GBE spokeswoman Jennifer Gatrel.
BACKGROUND: Grain Belt Express was a 780-mile high-voltage direct current transmission proposed to run from Kansas to Indiana to move wind energy from the Great Plains to the East Coast.
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.