Not even the residents of those cities, apparently.
For the last 100 years, faraway cities have depended on the sacrifice of rural America to power their progress. Appalachia has been plundered for its natural resources, and the people who live there have sacrificed their health and welfare to mine coal, burn coal, and ship the electricity it produced to faraway cities via gigantic electric transmission lines. All the profits from doing so ended up in the pockets of mining and energy companies located in other faraway cities. The people of Appalachia have been left with nothing. And so it is that we stand poised to repeat the same mistake.
Faraway cities have developed a sense of entitlement. Entitlement to cheap, plentiful energy without any of the nasty infrastructure that comes along with it. And what's worse is that politically connected legislative and regulatory bodies continue to perpetuate the myth that faraway cities are entitled to continue to receive benefits without any skin in the game.
Bloomberg distributed an article recently that proclaimed the benefits of "Tapping the Power of the Great Plains to Light Up Faraway Cities." But it forgot to chronicle the costs of its bright idea. Tapping the power of the Great Plains causes sacrifice to those who live there. Gigantic wind farms that cover the horizon as far as the eye can see, along with proposed new transmission lines, remove farmland from production. They burden those who make their living off the land with increased production costs, decreased land value, and encumber their traditions and sense of place with industrial blight. And Bloomberg didn't think balancing its article with the thoughts and opinions of those who must sacrifice for its great idea was relevant.
But it is. Thousands of rural Americans across eight states* have joined forces to protest the approximately 3,000 miles of new "Clean Line" transmission touted by Bloomberg as a $9B "opportunity" for the transmission industry. These transmission stakeholders don't want to sacrifice to light up faraway cities, and they will continue to oppose Clean Line's get rich quick transmission scheme and hold on to what is theirs.
Bloomberg says that transmission lines to ship energy from Great Plains wind farms to faraway cities are "missing." That's just not true. Regional grid operators plan and order necessary transmission for reliability, economic and public policy purposes. An electric provider that wants to buy wind energy has numerous opportunities to do so. What the regional grid operators don't do is build transmission lines for generators that don't exist and customers who have not expressed a need. Enter, Clean Line. Clean Line purports that if the company builds it, they will come. And since Clean Line's fanciful notion is not backed by any demonstrated need, it is not included in any regional transmission plan. Therefore, Clean Line must shoulder all financial risk of its own business plan.
Except it doesn't want to. Clean Line wants to transfer its financial risk to rural landowners and public power providers like Hannibal, Missouri. Clean Line wants states to grant it the power of eminent domain reserved for utilities building infrastructure planned to satisfy an electrical need within the state or region. This is because landowners have resoundingly rejected Clean Line's purported "market leading compensation package" to secure easements. Obviously, if Clean Line's compensation package was so wonderful, it wouldn't need eminent domain to secure easements. Using eminent domain to secure easements from landowners who reject Clean Line's compensation package keeps Clean Line's land acquisition costs lower than they would be if the company had to negotiate with landowners in a free market. In this way, Clean Line is foisting a portion of its financial risk onto landowners.
When the State of Arkansas rejected Clean Line's application for public utility status to acquire the power of eminent domain, Clean Line requested that the U.S. Department of Energy get involved to use its eminent domain authority to override the State of Arkansas and enable the taking of private property. It's not about the federal government issuing a permit for a transmission project after determining a need for it, it's about the federal government overriding state authority in order to own and enable a speculative transmission project that will pay financial return to its super-rich, foreign investors. This is picking winners and losers in the energy industry. And it's not a done deal.
Bloomberg supposes that "these projects are seen as essential to helping states comply with President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan." Seen by whom? Clean Line is not part of any state's Clean Power Plan compliance. Adding insult to injury, the Clean Power Plan itself has been stayed by SCOTUS pending judicial review. This only adds an additional layer of uncertainty -- shall Clean Line be built as "essential" to a state's plan for compliance with a rule that could be vacated by the courts? Should states, utilities, and regional transmission organizations continue to spend taxpayer and ratepayer funds on plans to comply with a rule that may later be invalidated? That seemed to be the basis for SCOTUS's decision to issue the stay in the first place. It's only a matter of time before the complaints about wasting money on compliance plans begins. We can start with Kansas.
Not that anyone sees the fate of the CPP as changing the migration away from coal. The CPP is but an unnecessary motivation to complete what market forces have already begun. Cheap gas has gutted coal. Do we really even need the Clean Power Plan anymore? Maybe just to fuel statements that projects like Clean Line are seen as "necessary" for compliance. And that's picking winners and losers in the energy biz, not any economic necessity for ratepayers.
The first step for the faraway cities is to take responsibility for their own needs. If they need to light up their cities all night to bolster their own tourism and sense of place, they should look a little closer to home. There is a vast, untapped renewable resource in their own backyard. The elephant in the room is offshore wind and wave energy, something that gets forgotten in articles like Boomberg's. The faraway cities are only falsely convincing themselves that rural America is eager to provide for their needs. It's just not true, and the quicker faraway cities are to build their own clean energy infrastructure, the cheaper it will be, and the quicker they will get there.
*See Block RICL
Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance
Arkansas Citizens Against Clean Line Energy