EUCI and its stable of vacationing utility executives are going to be partying it up at the Roosevelt Hotel
in midtown Manhattan next month.
So, what pretense are they using this time? "Strategic Communication for Transmission Projects." Well, at least they have abandoned the charade that their public relations fabrications are about "participating with the public" this time.
Instead, it's all about manipulating public opinion, or so they think. Topics include:
How Utilities Effectively Manage the Media
Industry experts will discuss how to frame and "sell" transmission projects as the beneficial investments that they are on behalf of the customers. Attendees will learn how these energy executives keep messaging succinct, consistent and well-positioned. Panelists will discuss successful strategies and tactics for interacting with the media.
Does this include a lesson in gagging and tying opposition leaders up in the corner? Otherwise, they're only fooling themselves. The opposition also knows how to "effectively manage the local media," and they know how to do it better, without resorting to threats and lies.
Is this really about educating the public about the truth and reality of transmission, or is it about "selling" a fantasy version of transmission that doesn't include any detriments or drawbacks? Sorry, that ship has sailed. The public simply doesn't believe you anymore. And reporters hate you and all the smoke you blow up their ass.
And speaking of "selling," I'm starting to wonder if EUCI is more about selling the products and services of its "instructors" to conference attendees:
EMF: What the Public Wants to Know and Why It Matters to Your Project
Public concern about electric and magnetic fields (EMF) and related potential health effects began in the late 1970s in association with higher voltage transmission lines and desk top computers. While concern about the latter has largely diminished, concern about EMF from transmission lines and substations continues and is sometimes a major issue in the siting and permitting of these facilities. Our experience demonstrates that presenting technically accurate comparisons of exposures from existing and proposed facilities provides a good context for communicating with the public. Sharing the results of experimental and epidemiology research studies and the perspectives of national and international health and scientific agencies is an effective method to assuage public concern. This session will teach you how to get the science right in your public outreach messages about EMF.
William H. Bailey, Ph.D., Principal Scientist, Center for Exposure Assessment & Dose Reconstruction, Exponent
I think Dr. Bailey has no idea what the public really wants to know about EMF, but he probably does know why it matter$ to "you."
Here's what the public really wants to know about EMF:
The professional opinion of a local physician, not the opinion of a company-paid, industry-funded "scientist." Sorry, transmission developers, you just can't buy local credibility.
But, the real fun is at the "post-conference workshop" where the blind will lead the blind in this exercise:
Utilizing Mediation and Negotiation Skills to Diffuse Project Opposition
Inevitably, utility infrastructure projects draw some opposition, in person or through social media. This workshop is designed to identify the real issues behind project opposition, and to utilize mediation and negotiation strategies to gain support. Participants will explore the dynamics of conflict, perceived power imbalances, communication skills, and neutral positioning. Utilizing skill building exercises and strategies for reaching agreements, attendees will learn how to be an effective medium between the project owner and project communities. You will also learn effective strategies and tactics, and share in resolving real opposition issues from current and past projects. You are encouraged to bring your current project issues to develop a resolution strategy.
Identify the concerns behind opposition
Evaluate when and when not to utilize social media to counter opposition attacks
Demonstrate how to properly communicate your message through application and critique.
Knowing your demographics and what is important to your project community
Understanding how to communicate project needs
Utilizing data to create visuals showing system constraints, demand, growth
Educating the opposition through clearly understood messaging
Opposition Working Groups
Seeing your project from the view of the opposition
Working group structure
Using project benefits to the communities advantage
Formulating the strategy of "give and take"
Evaluating how to answer questions such as:
Why not go underground?
Will this harm my property value?
Should we be concerned about EMF?
Developing resolution strategies for your current project opposition
"Seeing your project from the view of the opposition?" And how many transmission projects has EUCI's instructor opposed? My guess would be none. There they go again, attempting to teach a subject they know nothing about.
I do like the new theme I see running through all EUCI's more recent transmission opposition workshops, though. The acknowledgement that opposition has changed, the public is more knowledgeable than before, and that transmission developers are embarking on a strange, new world where their opposition is increasingly organized, strategic and successful is a nice change of pace. Because the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right, EUCI?
1) Why would the school district get involved at all?
2) Did the district check with its constituents in the affected areas before endorsing?
3) Was this a unanimous decision made by the board?
4) What analysis of the project did the board undertake to understand the need and impact of the project before endorsing?
5) What expertise did the board utilize to make this decision?
6) What meetings with Xcel and its representatives has the board (or school staff) held regarding Xcel's proposed plan, when were those meetings held and what was the substance of those meetings?
Ut-oh, Xcel! When are power companies going to get with the program and realize this ain't their Daddy's transmission line battle?
Opposition has evolved and the rules have changed. Forever.
UPDATE: Last night, the school board voted 4 to 2 to rescind the letter it had sent to the PUC. In its place, it will send a letter saying they don't want the power lines near schools. We believe this is a huge (and quick) victory!
Several Halt the Power Lines supporters were there and two spoke, including Colonel Curt Dale.
Board president (Kevin Larsen) reported that when he signed the letter in early May, he thought it related to a different matter and signed it without anyone else seeing it beforehand. He voted to let the letter stand as sent to the PUC. He said he likes and defended Xcel's proposal (as long as they keep the lines a safe distance from schools). We asked what about the kids in residential neighborhoods. Director Richardson, who was the second vote to let the letter stand as is, later said not having it close to schools (but close to residents) was a matter of density. I'm pretty sure, unbelievable as it is, that he actually used the word "density." Nettled, he also said he might personally send a letter to the PUC endorsing the project. (For what it's worth, he works for a gas pipe company that has many business dealings and business arrangements with Xcel.)
Voting to rescind the letter were directors Geddes, Reynolds, Robbins and Silverton. The four felt that the school board had no business in the matter, except ensuring the power lines weren't near schools. (Mr. Benevento was not at the meeting.)
Memorandum, schmemorandum. The only thing Clean Line's "Memorandum of Understanding" with the TVA
is good for anymore is wall papering the loo.
Clean Line thought they'd hit a sweet spot and found a quasi-governmental customer for their expensive 3500MW payload that was going to help them convince the federal government to go ahead with the worst abuse of federal eminent domain land takings in modern day history.
But, apparently the TVA is not the congregation of chumps Clean Line thought they were. The TVA is now making inroads toward a distributed generation future.
TVA has formed a new "stakeholder" group (get your stakes, folks, and hang on tightly!) to determine the value of distributed generation. The initiative aims to develop a methodology to gauge the value DG provides to the electric grid and the benefit the distribution grid provides to the DG owner.
Let's hope these "stakeholders" can drop the rhetoric and get the job done.
Updates and opportunities to comment will be posted on TVA's DG-IV page here.
Carol Overland, transmission slayer of the great north, brings us the story of an apparent transmission line routing goof that has transmission opponents all over wiping away tears of laughter. It seems that American Transmission Company's Badger Coulee 345kV transmission project got routed through the "back yard" of the CEO of Alliant Energy. The spouse of the CEO has intervened in the Wisconsin Public Service Commission case to try to save his million dollar property from having transmission nasties constructed on it.
Read more about it on Carol's blog here.
When will the utilities learn that springing a transmission fait accompli on a community dooms their project to failure?
Xcel has decided that it wants to build a new 345kV transmission line adjacent to an old 230kV line on existing right of way. Xcel purports that this new line is necessary to transport wind (and other) power from northern Colorado to the southeast Denver metro area.
The problem? The project snakes through numerous dense housing and commercial developments that have been built right up to the edge of the existing right of way in the towns of Parker and Aurora. Watch Xcel's route flyover video to understand the full madness of the plan. What were you thinking, Xcel? How did you expect the people who live in all those houses would react?
Introducing Halt the Powerlines. The affected residents have attempted to work with Xcel to find acceptable alternatives, but they have been met with stubborn resistance to change and spurious claims about property values and health issues in an attempt to convince them to accept the project as proposed and that there is no problem.
Apparently Xcel believes that getting into an entrenched public relations battle with the citizens' group is going to be less costly than working with the community to alter the design to be more acceptable, or bury sections of the line. I think they're wrong.
So does this guy, who has developed the concept of social ecology to get infrastructure sited and approved without costly community battles. Gary Severson proposes that a company actually get to know the community before dumping a project on it. I would take that one farther and suggest that a company get to know the communities BEFORE designing the project in the first place! Trying to get a community to accept a project that was not designed to be acceptable is like trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.
If Xcel truly knew the towns affected by its Pawnee-Daniels Park project, it would realize that its project is never going to happen as designed. It's too close to too many people. Educated opposition has developed that cannot be ameliorated by tossing defensive studies at the crowd. Xcel has already become the self-interested entity that is not to be trusted. The only way this project will ever get built is for Xcel to go back to the drawing board with the community members and an open mind to find an acceptable alternative.
As Severson concludes:
Project managers and regulators are well
aware of the effects of community issues on
project schedules, costs, and eventual success
or failure. Traditional public relations efforts
employed by project proponents and citizen
participation requirements of regulatory
agencies are often interpreted by communities
as what the proponent is planning to “do to
us.” There is a better way. Social ecology
includes the impacted communities into the
project so that citizens interpret proposed
actions as what the proponent is trying to “do
with us” to improve our quality of life.
When will the utilities learn?
We have just been told by an elderly landowner that they had been contacted by Clean Line and were told that the project was a done deal and that he has to come in and sign an easement. This could not be farther from the TRUTH!!!! If they ever get Public Utility Status, and they are a LONG way from getting that, then it would be crucial to consult with an attorney! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE share this with elderly landowners especially those in nursing homes. Please share, if we had not talked with this landowner, he would have signed with Clean Line!!!!!
Remember Grain Belt Express Clean Line's "Code of Conduct?"
We were discussing it just the other day. Serendipity!
The "Code of Conduct" was plagiarized from the former Allegheny Energy (now multi-state energy holding company FirstEnergy), who used it for their TrAIL and PATH projects as a placebo to deny responsibility for shady land agent conduct.
The company hides behind its "Code," pretending that its contract land agents are supposed to follow it. When a land agent is caught in a violation, the company acts all shocked and "fires" the land agent. Responsibility for the violation is pinned on the land agent, not the company. Therefore, the company is free to continue to violate its own "Code" as many times as necessary.
Land Agents are trained in psy ops. Landowners usually resist utility overtures to purchase land or right of way. It's all a psychological game by the land agent to trick the unwilling or unwitting into signing on the dotted line. Land Agents attend continuing education sessions where they learn:
Understanding Behavioral and Personality Styles for Negotiation Success
Using practical and personal exercises, this session will provide attendees with a framework for understanding the behavioral and personality styles used for negotiation. Attendees will develop a better understanding of behavioral styles and how they can recognize and relate to the diverse styles of people they deal with.
With 20 years of experience in the right of way and land management consulting business, Dr. Mazie Leftwich is a nationally known presenter and corporate trainer in the energy industry. Dr. Leftwich serves as Director of the CLS Professional Development Institute and has been the catalyst behind CLS's extensive employee training, project training, and team-excellence programs for supervisors and managers. In addition to her work at CLS, Mazie maintained a limited private counseling practice for over 30 years, specializing in organizational and personal relationships and executive coaching. Her education includes a Bachelor in Psychology, a Master's in Administrative and Clinical Social Work and a Doctorate in Applied Psychology.
Dr. Mazie works for Contract Land Staff
, the company Clean Line has been using for right of way acquisition
Land agents will say or do anything necessary to get their job done. The story from Missouri tells us that perhaps they will even lie and violate the "Code" of the company that contracts them. Perhaps the land agents even troll nursing homes, preying on the elderly. Nothing more despicable than that.
Remember, the "Code" was developed as part of a legal settlement between Allegheny Energy's TrAIL transmission company and the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate. The settlement was the end result of a vicious court battle over the reprehensible way landowners in Pennsylvania were lied to and manipulated by land agents.
The "Code" is not enforceable by any authority. It's a worthless piece of paper designed to give a false sense of security to landowners and regulators. However, please do document and report any violations to your state consumer protection authorities, such as your Attorney General, because any despicable tactics perpetrated will most likely be a violation of your state's consumer protection laws.
Just don't talk to land agents. There's no rush to enter agreements before a project has all its permits. If you sign early, the company will still have a right to your property, even if the transmission line is never approved or built. Do you really want that encumbering your property forever and making future sales or use difficult for you and your heirs?
There's plenty of time to negotiate a deal, with the recommended help of your own attorney, AFTER a project has all permits to begin construction. In fact, if you wait to negotiate, chances are that the price you will receive may be greater than folding early in the process. The longer you hold out, the more powerful your bargaining position becomes.
Don't be victimized by any possible Clean Line Grain Belt Express strong arm tactics that may be used. Get educated, and more importantly, educate your friends and neighbors!
Big article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, Assault on California Power Station Raises Alarm on Potential for Terrorism, that reports on a coordinated attack at a California substation that sounds like a scene from an action film.
According to the article, the information came from former FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff, who has taken up lurking around substations in his dotage. Apparently Wellinghoff was horrified at the substation attack last April and the subsequent realization that our grid is astonishingly vulnerable and there's not much FERC can do about it.
I know what FERC can do about it... Stop promoting centralized generation and an increasing network of high voltage transmission lines to trade electricity like a commodity from coast to coast!
If you think substations are vulnerable, spend a few minutes pondering the thousands of miles of high voltage transmission lines strung everywhere. True, an attack on one remote tower may not have much effect and could be easily fixed, but what about a coordinated attack on hundreds of towers that supply our cities at the same time?
Our military isn't dumb enough to rely on a power supply this vulnerable, so why should we? As far back as 2007, the U.S. military was studying electric grid vulnerability and concluded that "distributed generation" (yes, they used quotes, like Dr. Evil with his "laser") was our best defense.
And so it is - our military is practicing distributed generation.
So, when is Congress going to put a stop to the transmission feeding frenzy and start protecting the rest of us?
The target of their legislation is the Rock Island Clean Line, a $2 billion, 500-mile overhead direct current transmission line.
Rogers called private property rights “critically important to our way of life.”
“Many farmers in my district live and work on land that has been in their family for generations, and they want to allow their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to continue to farm that land and feed the world,” Rogers said. “Our laws must adequately protect their property rights.”
requires that any power line project requesting eminent domain authority must deliver at least 25% of its power to consumers in Iowa. RICL intends to export power from northwest Iowa direct to eastern Illinois, where it will be interconnected with PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator for mid-Atlantic eastern states.
The second bill requires legislative approval of any request to bifurcate an application for a transmission project in order to separate the determination of need from the request for eminent domain authority. RICL tried to use bifurcation to force landowners into a weak negotiating position for rights-of-way, but was rejected by the Iowa Utilities Board.
Be sure to check the lobbyist declarations on both these bills. Clean Line doesn't appear to be happy about them. I suppose fair is fair though... Iowans don't seem to be very happy about RICL, either.
I wonder if our Clean Line heroes envisioned this kind of opposition when planning their get-rich-quick power line scheme back in 2011? I've heard it said that they gleefully dismissed any possibility of trouble, expecting nothing more than "a couple of ticked off farmers." Personally, I'd never want to tick off any farmers. They have pitchforks. And I like the food they grow.
And speaking of eminent domain, legislators in Missouri are livid over the Arkansas Public Service Commission's approval of a SWEPCO transmission route through 25 miles of Missouri. Within 10 days of the APSC decision, legislators had proposed:
The bill states that “the Missouri Public Service commission shall lack jurisdiction to approve the construction of any electric facilities to be built in accordance with Arkansas Public Service Commission Order 33, Docket Number 13-041-U, authorizing Route 109 as a ‘reasonable route’ for the construction of new three hundred forty-five kilovolt electric transmission lines.”
The overbuilding of new transmission of questionable necessity as a utility or investor profit center has finally gone too far. The people have had enough of this nonsense and their elected representatives are taking action. This transmission craze is now making it difficult to build ANY transmission, even that which may actually be needed. Their cash cow is down and slowly bleeding to death, and it's their own fault. Ooops.
Here's one for the "what not to do" transmission developer files.
AEP subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Company ("SWEPCO") has been trying to get approval from the Arkansas PSC to construct a 345kv high voltage transmission line through the scenic Arkansas Ozarks region.
SWEPCO has met stiff opposition in the form of Save the Ozarks, a grassroots opposition group that produced thousands of public comments and presented a formidable opposition during evidentiary hearings before the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
Earlier this month, the judge issued her ruling recommending that the Commission issue a CPCN (permit), and selecting one of six routes submitted with the application by SWEPCO. Save the Ozarks has vowed to continue the fight through appeals.
However, the route selected by Judge Griffin, dubbed Route 109, was not SWEPCO's recommended route. SWEPCO's recommended route was a direct Point A to Point B route that remained wholly within the state of Arkansas, but marched through local scenic treasures like Godzilla on the way to Tokyo. However, the judge-selected route also begins in Northwest Arkansas, but makes a quick beeline for the state border, where it meanders through 25 miles of Missouri before dipping back into Arkansas to connect with SWEPCO's new substation. Judge Griffin's selected route avoided some of the damage to Arkansas by pushing it over the border into Missouri.
And here's where the fun starts... SWEPCO is not a public utility in Missouri and has not filed an application for its project in that state. But now it will have to...
Should the Arkansas Public Service Commission approve Griffin’s order, Route 109 presents an unusual challenge, according to Brian Johnson, an employee of American Electric Power who testified on behalf of SWEPCO last fall. Johnson said the choice introduces an additional, unprecedented regulatory process because it crosses a state line.
“The permitting process for Missouri anticipates that any petitioning entity will already be a Missouri Public Utility — which SWEPCO and (American Electric Power) are not. It is unprecedented for a non-public utility to construct a line through Missouri, particularly without directly serving any Missouri customers. The likely regulatory delays and complications that arise from the line route in Missouri are of substantial concern,” Johnson testified.
What's that you say? "Substantial concern?" I think that's the understatement of the year. Missouri isn't looking fondly on the prospect of hosting a transmission line that doesn't benefit its citizens.
Sen. David Sater, who is from Cassville and represents Barry, Lawrence, McDonald, Stone and Taney counties, said he is angered by the chosen route. He, Lant and Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, of Shell Knob, met with commissioners last week.
“We encouraged MPSC members to act on behalf of Missourians and not on behalf of people from Arkansas. I think we made our presence felt there, and hopefully they’ll reject this,” Sater said.
Why, AEP, why? Why did you toss in a route that crossed into a state where you don't do business? That was pretty stupid, wasn't it?
Lesson for transmission developers: Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.
Mr. Akins said he wants to avoid the bruising battles that delayed or doomed big projects in the past, like the 275-mile Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline project from West Virginia to Maryland. AEP and partner FirstEnergy Corp. dropped development plans for the complex project in 2011.
"Sometimes, we were just dreaming" that the companies could get enormous power lines built across multiple states, Mr. Akins said. He said AEP now is focusing on shorter projects blessed by federal regulators that eliminate grid bottlenecks. "It's where you want to put your money," he said.
The transmission investment gravy train has also left the station. The sheer number of new transmission projects proposed combined with today's ease of online information sharing and social media tools has led to an explosion of knowledgeable, interconnected transmission opposition groups who are combining resources across the country to delay or stop unneeded projects altogether.
Instead of embracing innovation and new technology to make the existing grid smarter
, some utilities are intent on merely building more of the same old dumb grid, or actively attempting to stifle innovation by forcing us all into an historic "consumer" position where we must funnel money to incumbent utilities in order to survive
. Ultimately, this plan will also fail, because technology marches relentlessly on
How we produce and use electricity is also changing. Not only is producing our own electricity locally better for our economy, it's also much more reliable. Hurricane Sandy was one of the biggest wake-up calls we've had recently, and the inevitable Monday morning quarterbacking of that disaster reveals that increasing long distance, aerial transmission from remote generation is simply dangerous.
Making our grid more reliable isn't about building more transmission. It's about change:
This includes traditional tactics, such as upgrading power poles and trimming trees near power lines. But it also encompasses newer approaches, such as microgrids and energy storage, which allow operators to quickly reconfigure the system when portions of the grid go down. Implicit to such plans is the need to ensure uninterrupted power to critical sites such as oil and gas refineries, water-treatment plants, and telecommunication networks, as well as gasoline stations, hospitals, and pharmacies.
Some of the nation’s leaders seem receptive to such approaches.
Elected officials, progressive regulators, energy producers, energy consumers, and innovative companies embracing new technology are also increasingly joining forces to move our energy economy forward and away from the dated centralized generation and transmission business plan of the past. Companies who continue to deny the inevitable will ultimately be the ones left behind in irrelevance.