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.
 
 
"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.
 
 
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.
 
 
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.
 
 
And opposing testimony is filed in Clean Line's Grain Belt Express permitting case in Missouri!

Read it here!  Enter case number EA-2014-0207

The citizens of Missouri scored a huge, definitive victory over Grain Belt Express at the recent series of public hearings sponsored by the MO PSC.  Thousands of citizens showed up at the hearings, decked out in neon green, and spoke from the heart (transcripts of the public hearings are also available on the MO PSC docket).  This is reality.

This is fantasy.  In the wake of its public spanking, Grain Belt's super spunky and personable project manager, Mark Lawlor, sent what he characterized as a "press release" to the Caldwell County News.  The "press release" contained Mark's revisionist version of the public hearings, to make it seem like Grain Belt didn't get its butt kicked so hard.

The Caldwell County News printed Mark's "press release" in the opinion section as a "Letter to the Editor," where it rightly belongs.

And Clean Line toady Sierra Club came out with its own press release to attempt to make it seem like its members made more of a showing than they really did.  This ridiculous article downplays the reality of the crowd in favor of the fantasy of a just a few speakers.  This isn't balanced "news," it's one-sided propaganda.  The comments on the story expose the fantasy and replace it with reality.  Grain Belt's intention to use eminent domain to take private property from Missourians so that it can ship electricity from Kansas to Indiana is "DOA."

But that's not even the half of it.   Sierra Club's claims about the wonders of Grain Belt Express are also fantasy.  Grain Belt will do little to "move Missouri away from its reliance on coal" when the majority of the electricity on the line will simply pass over Missouri's head on its way to other states.  The converter station is called a "token" by Missourians who realize that in order to even be built in the first place this converter station requires Missouri customers to buy the power.  There are none.  No customers, no converter station!  *poof*

Here's a better plan for Missouri:  Development of in-state renewables located close to point of use.  Increased energy efficiency.  Both of these options provide more jobs and economic benefit to Missouri than importing electricity from another state.  Importing Clean Line's power EXPORTS Missouri energy dollars to Kansas and other states.

Keep it clean.  Keep it local.  Keep it smart!


 
 
They're not fooling Len Chidester of Montrose, West Virginia.  He's heard some nasty rumors about the shoddy way FirstEnergy treats its linemen, neglects maintenance of equipment, and fails to read electric meters.  Apparently this is all being done under the mandate of some company named PJ+M. 

Mr. Chidester believes PJ+M is in bed with FirstEnergy.  If they breed, the child would probably behave a lot like this one:
Mr. Chidester concludes that FirstEnergy bought Mon Power and Potomac Edison.  FirstEnergy is bleeding these companies for every nickel they can squeeze by their phoney meter reading process, doing minimal repairs, and who knows what other practices.  And he advises that a very major investigation be launched into exactly what the power companies, FirstEnergy, Mon Power, Potomac Edison and the company PJ+M have been and are continuing to do.

He's exactly right!
 
 
A good friend of mine came up with an apt acronym for the few diehard fans of the Clean Line Energy projects.

MIMPSY:  Money In My Pocket, Screw You!

The MIMPSYs are in high gear in South Dakota, eagerly salivating at all the money they will rake in if the states of Iowa and Illinois allow their people and their land to be used to build Clean Line's money-making "road to market."

For years, Clean Line has been telling Iowa's economic development types how much money will flow into Iowa if it only forces approval of its Rock Island Clean Line project.

But, it now appears that at least a third of the riches promised to Iowa in exchange for its sacrifice will flow to South Dakota instead.

Dakota Power Community Wind has been pumping itself up in the media lately, trying to raise enough capital to build a wind farm of up to 1,000MW in eastern South Dakota.  This is nearly one-third of RICL's proposed 3,500MW capacity.

A recent article claims the benefits South Dakota will reap from the building of RICL:
"The economic potential for our area is tremendous and uses South Dakota's renewable resources to help solve our country's energy needs," said Beresford Mayor Jim Fedderson.

Based on a study done for a similar project, Dakota Power says the potential revenue from turbines to landowners could be between $6 million and $7 million annually. State gross production annual tax receipts could reach more than $4.5 million and the county nameplate tax revenue could equal $3 million per year. Statewide direct economic effect could be more than $200 million.
But, wait, all that money is flowing directly out of the money RICL has promised to Iowa in exchange for allowing RICL to be built as a closed highway through the state.  South Dakota's windfall is coming directly from the pot of money RICL promised to Iowa!  How much more of RICL's economic promise to Iowa is going to evaporate if RICL is permitted?

Pure and simple greed can turn even the finest men and women into blinded fools.

Or MIMPSYs.  A handful of South Dakota landowners hosting turbines are expected to rake in $6 to $7 MILLION dollars per year if RICL is built.  What are the thousands of landowners hosting the line in Iowa and Illinois expected to be paid for their contribution to the effort by hosting the line?  I think I heard something like $500 annually for each tower, if the landowners accepts less than fair market value for the easement and opts for the annual payment scheme. 

Why the disparity?  Why are just a few landowners in South Dakota going to rake in $6-7 million annually, while the rest of the host "team" must settle for $500?

Stop.  Think.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Don't let greed blind you.
 
 
Mountain Party candidate for the 66th District seat in the WV House of Delegates, Danny Lutz, had great success with a petition against Potomac Edison's recent request for a 17.2% rate increase when he circulated it at the Jefferson County Fair a couple weeks ago.

Danny presented a sweet 500 signatures of protest to the PSC last week!

Miss your chance to sign the petition at the fair?  Danny's got you covered!  He's made copies of the petition available for you to sign at several supportive local businesses.

Visit these establishments and ask to sign the Potomac Edison rate increase petition:

Roger's Tire and Auto               Martinsburg
Orr's Farm Market                    Martinsburg
D&D Meats                              Inwood
Mountain View Diner                Charles Town
Hampshire's Body Shop           Kearneysville
Cantuta Cafe                           Charles Town
Needful Things                        Charles Town
Weber's Store                         Shannondale

And be sure to attend the Public Service Commission hearings on the rate increase in Shepherdstown on October 6 to watch Danny present his handiwork to the Commissioners.

If you'd like a blank copy of the petition to circulate at your business, with your friends, neighbors, or family, just askUnless you're that other guy who works for the utility... he can't have my petition... or my vote.
 
 
The WV Public Service Commission issued an Order today scheduling public comment hearings on Potomac Edison's proposed 17.2% rate increase.

Two local hearings will be held in Shepherdstown at the Shepherd University Frank Center on October 6, 2014.  The first hearing begins at 1:00 p.m. and will be followed by a second hearing beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Customers are strongly encouraged to attend and sign up to speak briefly about how the proposed rate increase will affect you.  If you can't make the start time, that's okay, late arrivals will still be permitted to speak as long as they arrive before the hearing concludes.

This hearing is also the place to tell the Commission how you feel about its decision to make you pay the $7.5M cost of Potomac Edison's monthly meter reading ordered as a result the General Investigation into the company's meter reading and billing practices.

See you there!