On the eve of FirstEnergy's big stage show before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, here's a recent look at how this company hands out ratepayer-funded party favors to its supporters

The plot:

This ESP has been controversial. The reason is because FirstEnergy, as part of its plan, has asked the PUCO to pass a fee through to its ratepayers to support its subsidiary’s struggling coal and nuclear generation. The subsidy would be supported by all of FirstEnergy’s Ohio distribution customers, regardless of whether they acquire their generation from FirstEnergy’s subsidiary. The subsidy would be assessed through a rider that is based upon a power purchase agreement (PPA), pursuant to which the ratepayers would guarantee for 15 years a price for the electricity generated, regardless of market conditions.
The strategy:
What I want to focus on now is the tactic FirstEnergy has used to assimilate support for its ESP. In my January blog, I noted that FirstEnergy had assembled what Edward “Ned” Hill, the then-dean of Cleveland State University’s Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs, called a “redistributive coalition.”

A redistributive coalition, according to Professor Hill, exists when a small group of stakeholders band together to seek mutually favorable policy treatment at the expense of the public at large. Typically, the coalition incurs little cost in coordinating its efforts. However the public, being heterogeneous and widely dispersed, incurs great cost and difficulty in organizing a response.

FirstEnergy was able to induce companies to support its ESP by including special rates or programs for the coalition members — with the costs therefore borne by the ratepayers. In his original testimony, Hill pointed that the redistributive coalition was assembled to present to the commission (and the public) the appearance of not only broad support for the ESP, but also a broad range of benefits that would flow to varying classes of customers, including those with low income. However, Hill demonstrated that the benefits would only flow to the members of the coalition — a very small group.
The audience:  Mostly ignorant!
But what really caught my attention in Hill’s testimony was his discussion of another concept that FirstEnergy cynically exploits: “rational ignorance.” Rational ignorance is the term used to describe reasonable disengagement by a public unable to digest complex technical arguments set forth by more knowledgeable industry experts.

In this context, Hill noted that FirstEnergy looks to exploit the general public’s inability to understand the nuance of the coalition support. On its face, the coalition seems to be asking for policy that the public should support — things such as price breaks for the poor, energy efficiency programs for small businesses, and so forth.

But under close examination, it turns out that the programs are narrowly crafted to help only those in the coalition. Why, for instance, would we only support the city of Akron and no other urban areas in northern Ohio? And why only support the members of the Council of Small Enterprise and not other small businesses?
The critics:
Utilities AEP and Duke also sought PPAs. Yet neither sought to assemble redistributive coalitions for PPAs to try to fool or confuse the public. But then again, they were unsuccessful in their applications.
Break a leg, fellas (or any other parts necessary to enable quarterly dividends)!
 
 
Ever heard the idiom "qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent."  Probably not, but you must be familiar with its English translation, "when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas."  Clean Line has recently exposed its dirty underbelly by publicly scratching its fleas.

Clean Line is now a proud "member" of the Consumers Energy Alliance (#25 under "Energy Providers and Suppliers").

What is the Consumers Energy Alliance?  According to SourceWatch:
The Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) is a nonprofit organization and a front group for the energy industry that opposes political efforts to regulate carbon standards while advancing deep water and land-based drilling for oil and methane gas. The CEA supports lifting moratoria on offshore and land-based oil and natural gas drilling, encourages the creation and expansion of petroleum refineries and easing the permitting process for drilling. The group also says it supports energy conservation. CEO portrays itself as seeking to ensure a "proper balance" between traditional non-renewable and extractive energy sources and alternative energy sources. The group also supports construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

According to Salon.com, which obtained over 300 emails of personal messages between lobbyists and Canadian officials, the CEA is part of a sophisticated public affairs strategy designed to manipulate the U.S. political system by deluging the media with messaging favorable to the tar-sands industry; to persuade key state and federal legislators to act in the extractive industries' favor; and to defeat any attempt to regulate the carbon emissions emanating from gasoline and diesel used by U.S. vehicles.
So, the CEA is a well-known front group for the fossil fuel industry?  But, wait a tick, I thought Clean Line was all about "clean" energy and shutting down the fossil fuel industry?  Money makes strange bedfellows.

What is a front group?

A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned. The front group is perhaps the most easily recognized use of the third party technique. For example, Rick Berman's Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) claims that its mission is to defend the rights of consumers to choose to eat, drink and smoke as they please. In reality, CCF is a front group for the tobacco, restaurant and alcoholic beverage industries, which provide all or most of its funding.

Of course, not all organizations engaged in manipulative efforts to shape public opinion can be classified as "front groups." For example, the now-defunct Tobacco Institute was highly deceptive, but it didn't hide the fact that it represented the tobacco industry. There are also degrees of concealment. The Global Climate Coalition, for example, didn't hide the fact that its funding came from oil and coal companies, but nevertheless its name alone is sufficiently misleading that it can reasonably be considered a front group.

The shadowy way front groups operate makes it difficult to know whether a seemingly independent grassroots is actually representing some other entity. Thus, citizen smokers' rights groups and organizations of bartenders or restaurant workers working against smoking bans are sometimes characterized as front groups for the tobacco industry, but it is possible that some of these groups are self-initiated (although the tobacco industry has been known to use restaurant groups as fronts for its own interests).
Front groups are formed and managed by well-paid public relations/lobbying firms.  They are paid for by the industry.  The CEA is managed by HBW Resources.  The group has been "conducting a grassroots operation" in "target states" that would "generate significant opposition to discriminatory low carbon fuels standards" that were created to address climate change.

The term "grassroots" means ordinary people with no financial interest in the proposal at hand.  CEA is not a grassroots organization.  It is funded and directed by the corporations that pay HBW to run it.

But now the CEA  has a new "initiative" to support Clean Line Energy Partners.  The "initiative" supports Clean Line's Plains & Eastern Clean Line.
“Unfortunately, virtually all energy projects face at least some level of opposition. But, in most cases, the opposition comes from the vocal few who stand in the way of the silent majority who see these necessary projects providing tremendous job and economic development opportunities on many levels. The EDJ Alliance will help taxpayers, energy consumers, landowners and businesses to voice their opinion to elected officials so that they embrace the opportunities associated with energy development.”
Vocal few?  Silent majority?  You mean landowners and consumers who object to the Plains & Eastern project vs. Clean Line Energy Partners?  CLEP is hardly silent (paid mouthpieces like HBW stand in evidence) and it's certainly not any kind of "majority" in Arkansas.  In addition, CEA does not represent any actual "consumers" or other "grassroots" interests.  It simply pretends to speak for them.

Like this:
Support landowners in Arkansas and Oklahoma!  Support energy infrastructure!  Support the Plains & Eastern Clean Line!

We need your help!

America's energy infrastructure needs your help!  Lobbying efforts at the white house level have inhibited the passage of an energy infrastructure project beneficial to citizens and landowners in Arkansas and Oklahoma!

........

Support energy infrastructure, land owners, and the Plains and Eastern Clean Line project by simply clicking the link below to sign the petition!  Every click makes a difference!

It is absolutely imperative to demonstrate support as a citizen!  The future of America's energy infrastructure is in your hands!!
When a couple of the landowners CEA claims to represent questioned the group's claims, HBW promptly removed the claims from its facebook page.

How stupid does HBW think the American people are?  Do they ever type a sentence that doesn't end with one (or two!!) exclamation points?  This is ridiculous, ineffective drivel.  C'mon!!!!!!!!

What "lobbying efforts at the White House level" have inhibited "passage" of an energy infrastructure project?  Do you mean the DOE's consideration of Plains & Eastern's Section 1222 application to "participate" in the project in order to override state authority to site and permit transmission?  That decision won't be made until next year.  And it's supposed to be made by DOE secretary Ernest Moniz, not the "white house."  Does HBW and Clean Line know something about some dirty dealings that the rest of us aren't privy to?

So, who are the faces of CEA's "initiative?"

Ryan Scott, Outreach Director

Since 2005, Ryan has provided strategic advice to clients across a number of industries with a focus on the oil and gas sector in particular.

While working as an attorney, before joining HBW, Ryan focused on commercial litigation, often representing business clients in contract disputes.  Prior to practicing law, Ryan worked at Deloitte & Touche’s Strategy & Operations Consulting practice.  While with Deloitte, he worked with clients such as Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS), developing and delivering Financial Reporting & Legal training to a BMS executive team.  Ryan evaluated Finance function processes to improve and transform them leading up to a major SAP implementation for Wal-Mart.

Ryan received a B.A. in Economics from the University of Southern California, and a JD – MBA from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.  Ryan is licensed to practice law in Illinois and is a member of the Illinois State Bar Association.
Here's Ryan Scott trading papers with Clean Line public relations "manager" Amy Kurt at the second Mendota Illinois Commerce Commission public forum in the fall of 2013:
And here's Ryan Scott interacting with the ICC judge at the forum:
Here's what Ryan Scott had to say about the Rock Island Clean Line at the forum:
MR. SCOTT: My name is Ryan Scott;
R-y-a-n, S-c-o-t-t. I'm here as a resident of Illinois and representative of Consumer Energy Alliance. We're a trade association representing virtually every sector of the economy from trucking, to organized labor, to energy producers. The reason I'm here to speak in favor of Rock Island is simple. Consumer Energy Alliance and I support this project because it represents an important piece of the energy puzzle to supply consumers with affordable and reliable energy.  Anyone who plugs in their smart phone into an electrical outlet, fires up their television to watch the Bears or perhaps a better football team or just uses their air conditioner will benefit from this project. The bottom line is in the United States demand is increasing. As one of the previous speakers stated, according to the Department of Energy and Energy Information Administration, forecasts of 25 percent increase in demand for electricity over the next three decades are expected in the United States. At the same time, the supply of electricity is expected to decrease due to aging plants and tightening Federal regulations. Many coal-fired power plants will be shuttered in the coming decades. In Illinois coal, which we expect to be decreasing in production, actually makes up approximately 40 percent of the State's energy base level. So that's an important piece of the puzzle that will no longer be available to Illinoisans. For all the reasons stated above and in order to meet Illinois' energy needs, the Consumer Energy Alliance and I support the Rock Island Clean Line project. Thank you.
That's funny.  Ryan didn't mention that Clean Line Energy Partners is a member of the CEA.

Who does Ryan Scott work for?  It's not CEA or its "initiative," it's HBW Resources.  HBW doesn't do anything for free, so I believe that Ryan was paid to appear at the ICC forum and make that statement.

Didn't Clean Line have the opportunity to present its case to the ICC as the applicant?  Why, then, did Clean Line feel it necessary to have paid speakers posing as third party "consumer" interests supporting its project at the forum?  Did Clean Line think it was fooling the ICC into believing that consumers supported RICL?

And now Ryan, HBW, and its new "initiative" think they're fooling a whole new bunch of folks at the "white house" and in the Mayberry towns of Arkansas and Oklahoma?

I wonder what Clean Line's big green supporters think about its getting into bed with fossil fuel interests in the CEA?  At what point are these environmental fools going to conclude that Clean Line isn't about "green" energy, but a different kind of $green$?

And, as far as Clean Line's attempted deception about the "benefits" of the Plains & Eastern Clean Line?  Report to your battle stations, Mayberry!  We're going to have some fun!   You've got to get up pretty early in the morning to fool a farmer.  Also an idiom you've probably heard.  Not translated into Latin.
 
 
In response to "stakeholders" following the trail of breadcrumbs that lead to 888 First Street, N.E., Washington, DC, FERC's Office of Energy Projects has come out with a "Suggested Best Practices for Industry Outreach Programs for Stakeholders."

*sigh*  Reads no better than any industry propaganda, beginning with its title.  Was FERC really attempting to mollify the public and prove that it's acting in the public interest with this?  FERC staff needs to take this brochure home to grandma and ask her if she thinks it was written in a conversational and informative manner.  She'll probably buy you some gigantic, ugly, 1940's-style underwear next Christmas in response.  Or knit you a suit jacket and pop into the office with cookies at random intervals to make sure you're wearing it.

FERC realizes that landowners are "stakeholders!"  Yay!  But it's all downhill from there.  While FERC recommends involving "the public" early in the process on the first page, venturing further shows recommendation that the company involve local elected officials before landowners, in order to "sell" them on the project (while making campaign contributions?).  In this way, the company can head off landowner concerns by indoctrinating the public's representatives in the "company way" so that when landowners find out about the project and turn to their local elected officials for help, there is none to be had.  Of course, this is easily turned around with enough landowner (voter) pressure, making early elected official notification sort of useless.

There's also recommendations for a whole bunch of "stakeholder" meetings, where only selected "key stakeholders" are invited to participate.  Landowners aren't invited to these, they only get to participate in public "open house" meetings, where they are presented with the project as a fait accompli.  FERC supposes involving "key stakeholders" can "result in developing partnerships with special interest groups, municipalities, and community business organizations."  Holy back room deal, Batman!  Is FERC suggesting that a company buy cozy relationships with certain community groups that can benefit from the project so that they can throw the impacted landowners under the bus for their own profit, or for the simple benefit of making sure the project is not constructed in their own back yards, but in the back yards of others who are politically powerless or not participating in this process?  Wrong approach!

This whole brochure fails because it's based on the "information deficit" model
.  It presumes that the only reason people oppose projects is because they lack enough information.  It supposes that if a person is bombarded with enough "information" (propaganda) that they will acquiesce to having their lives turned upside down for benefit of others.  It doesn't work.  Never has.  Never will.  It actually increases the potential for entrenched opposition and local political battles.

FERC obviously doesn't notice that it has placed itself squarely in the corporate camp.  Maybe they didn't intend to, but this brochure reveals who FERC identifies with... and it's not landowners.  FERC presumes a proposed project must be built as proposed.  FERC could use a crash course in how and why opposition develops.  Come out of your ivory (city soot coated) tower!  There's much to be learned!

Presenting the public with a project as a fait accompli is the first crucial mistake.  Nobody likes to learn that a company, or their elected officials, or the Sierra Club, or the Chamber of Commerce, or the "good ol' boys" in their town (or even FERC... especially FERC) have been secretly developing a project that takes their property.  People's property is sacred to them.  You might as well show up with a plan to conscript our children.  You'd never do that, right?  But it's the exact same punch in the gut feeling when a landowner learns others have been conspiring to take what belongs to him.

If you really want impacted landowners to get on board with a project, you need to involve them in the decision making from the start.  Instead of saying, "we need to build this," how about saying, "we have a problem and here are several ways to solve it, but we're open to suggestion"?

Only when the public gets some ownership of the decisions made are they likely to work cooperatively toward a solution.  This is a still a democracy, right?

 
 
Well, isn't that cute?  FirstEnergy has mated with itself and given birth to MAIT, Mid-Atlantic Interstate Transmission, LLC.  Who thinks up these stupid names?  This one rolls off the tongue with as much excitement and pleasure as the phrase "hand over your wallet and nobody gets hurt," or perhaps the descriptive "hot turd."

So, FirstEnergy needs to create another "independent" transco in order to energize its balance sheet by creating the world's sweetest investment account that will pay lucrative double-digit returns for many decades to come?  Well, that's good for everyone, right?  No, it's not.

FirstEnergy proposes that its "eastern" retail distribution companies "sell" their transmission assets to the newly formed "MAIT" in exchange for a backseat interest in the company and annual "lease" payments for right-of-way and other real estate interests that the retail companies will continue to own (along with the tax liability).  Will the "lease payments" be enough to cover all the liabilities of owning the real estate?  Or will the retail distribution customers end up financing a portion of that to make the "lease" cheaper for MAIT?  Who's going to be supervising that to make sure it's an arm's length transaction?

FirstEnergy says they need to do this because it is consistent with the public interest.  You know, you "public" are supposed to benefit from it.  So, what are the benefits?

MAIT will not result in cross-subsidization of a non-utility associate company or the pledge or encumbrance of utility assets for the benefit of an associate company.

It supposedly won't have an adverse impact on competition, rates, or regulation.

FirstEnergy commits to hold customers harmless from transaction costs.  (oh, like they did in the FirstEnergy/Allegheny Energy merger?)


So, "the public" won't be harmed?  Even if we believe that, it's not a "benefit."  It's "do no harm."

But, wait, there's more!!
MAIT results in the creation of a stand-alone transmission company, which provides a number of
benefits to customers and the PJM region!

Tell us more, Rod Roddy....

FirstEnergy is in the midst of a major  investment cycle in transmission infrastructure. In 2014, FirstEnergy commenced its EtF initiative, which is intended to identify the need for, and facilitate the investment in, improvements to the security, resiliency, efficiency, and operational   flexibility of its transmission systems. EtF projects include building and re-conductoring transmission lines; building and enhancing substations; modernizing transmission
communication infrastructure; and installing dynamic reactive resources to regulate system
voltage. In all, FirstEnergy plans to invest approximately $2.5 to $3 billion in the  FirstEnergy East Operating Companies’ service territories through this program over the next five to ten years.
FET formed MAIT in preparation for this significant planned investment. As Mr. Staub
explains in his testimony, utilities face significant challenges in their efforts to simultaneously meet the service requirements of retail customers while also making   sustained investments in their transmission assets. A utility’s investment in transmission infrastructure competes with other business lines of the utility for capital, and transmission investments “can be deferred in favor of more immediate or emergency investments in distribution” facilities. The singleminded
focus as a transmission-only entity will enable MAIT to commit to addressing the significant investment needs of the transmission system.
This stand-alone structure also will allow MAIT to attract capital on more commercially reasonable terms. Mr. Staub explains that lenders view stand-alone transmission companies favorably due to their transparent and easy-to-assess risk profile. The  Commission has also observed that stand-alone transmission companies typically enjoy an enhanced ability to respond to transmission needs and have a superior track record of investing in new infrastructure.
MAIT’s improved access to capital will increase the likelihood that the planned investments are carried out and completed in a timely fashion and at a lower cost.  Moreover, MAIT will incur debt in its own name, without a parent guarantee. Any debt MAIT incurs to finance new transmission projects, therefore, will not affect the financial condition and credit ratings of the FirstEnergy East Operating Companies. Hence, the migration to a stand-alone transmission model not only better supports the sustained level of   transmission investment needed at MAIT but also preserves and enhances the FirstEnergy East Operating Companies’ capacity to issue debt for their respective retail and distribution needs.
Oh bull...oney, FirstEnergy!  You forgot to mention FERC's extra special .5% ROE adder for transmission only companies, or "transcos."  And, hey, if MAIT joins PJM, you can get another .5%!!  You also forgot to mention in that breath that you do plan to immediately make a section 205 filing to set up a formula rate for MAIT that provides a lot of financial goodies that you can't get through a stated rate.  Are you also going to be applying for all the other FERC transmission incentives?  I bet you are, you coy little company!

So the real benefits here are for FirstEnergy, not "the public."  Since the public is not receiving a benefit, and if we believe FirstEnergy that this won't increase rates (and profits), then why in the hell would FirstEnergy want to do this and shell out the "transaction costs" it can't pass to ratepayers?  Do you really expect us to believe there's nothing in it for Y-O-U, FirstEnergy?  I mean, you guys are kind of stupid, but I didn't think you were complete idiots.


And I do believe you are attempting to remove a whole bunch of transmission from state regulatory oversight so that you can plow your "transmission spend" into making "investments" of questionable worth in your lower voltage transmission lines that aren't part of any PJM transmission plan.

So, does anyone care?  Apparently not much.  The only parties to intervene in this docket are competitor PSEG and FERC settlement gadflies AMP and ODEC.

Remember, these companies are regulated to protect  you.  Except there's nobody minding the store on your behalf.
 
 
The trade press is its own little microcosm in the media world.  This special interest, subscription only, business model dares to call itself "media."  However, the real bread and butter of trade press is selling outrageously expensive subscriptions to its target industry.  And the trade press likes to keep its "trade" happy.  Because, like, if you tick off your readers, they might cancel their subscription!  So the trade press tells them only what they want to hear... happy, happy, happy... media censorship.  If you make your subscribers look like heros in every story, they will keep buying your drivel, even if they don't believe it.

Just below trade press on the "truth in media" scoreboard is the mainstream media.  Their survival depends on entertaining the masses with what ever version of news it thinks they want to hear.  A lot of the time, mainstream media content is created by corporations.

And then you've got your regional or local news outlets, which is probably the first place you're going to see balanced stories that, well, tell the whole story.

So, I came across this teaser piece by trade press outlet Electricity Policy Today.  If you want to read the whole "story," you need to pay for a subscription.  But, for illustrative purposes here, we don't need anything more than this teaser.

Electricity Policy Today seems quite surprised that Clean Line's Grain Belt Express is "stalled at the MO PSC."  The article gushes over the fact that "hundreds of rural landowners" (and yes, they use those quotes, like it's some kind of distasteful being) have risen in opposition at the Legislature and in PSC hearings.  They finally reveal to their readers that the opposition is strong and successful and relied on representative democracy, grass-roots activism and landowner rights to score their victory.  But they are quick to bookend that with threats from GBE project manager Mark Lawlor to take his "west-to-eats wind power line" (see, I can do it too, and make fun of your editorial failure at the same time!) to the Feds and beg for them to override Missouri's decision.

That's the way it always happens.  Opposition has to work 10 times as hard as corporations to get mainstream media attention.  Sometimes they even have to stage a news-worthy event or stunt to get any attention.  Of course, that's a very thin line to walk -- attention without making yourself look ridiculous.  In the sanitized trade press world, you're pretty much locked out altogether... unless you win.  Then they talk about your victory in surprised tones.

And there they are:  The "trade" guys, scratching their heads and wondering how it was possible to get their butts kicked so hard by an industrious group of plebeians.

"Wha?  What happened?  We were supposed to win!  How did that happen?"

We happened, you dolts!

Because, you know, you really can't eat wind after all.  Thank a farmer at your next meal.
 
 
Some people will do anything for a little grant money!

Despite being soundly (and loudly!) rejected by groups representing the interests of thousands of landowners impacted by proposed transmission projects across the Midwest last year, the Center for Rural Affairs is back with another report that it claims will "creat[e] procedural and cost efficiencies, as well as promot[e] due process rights."

CFRA does not represent landowners, and has made absolutely no attempt to involve landowners in any of its reports.  There are plenty of active transmission opposition landowner groups, however CFRA created another report recommending what it sees as "good" for landowners in complete isolation.  It's silly, it's uninformed, it's not good for landowners.  It's simply the environmental 1% telling the rest of America what to do and how to sacrifice their property to the Gods of Big Green.

The newest report was written by a young law student on a fellowship who has probably never owned property and recommends that landowners be subject to a new form of forced pooling, the "Transmission Corridor District."  Under the concept of forced pooling, landowners can be forced to give up certain rights to their land if their neighbors want to sell.  That's right... under the TCD, you can be forced into a group of landowners whose only purpose is to sell transmission rights of way across their land (and yours).  You may not "opt out" of this forced pool -- either cooperate or you're getting their version of "fair market value" for your property.  It's a fait accompli that you will sell your land for a proposed transmission project.

It also suggests that state PSCs take on the responsibility of assembling and administrating these districts.  Tell me, who is going to pay for that?  And what changes need to be made to the laws of each state to make it happen?  And then there's this:
Landowners, a developer, or a governmental entity could initiate a TCD proceeding. The initiating party approaches the planning agency to determine if the transmission line promotes reliability, economic development, or public policy (e.g., a renewable energy portfolio standard). In this initial  discussion with the planning agency, the initiating entity proposes a study area for the transmission corridor to the planning agency. Alternatively, the planning agency could determine that there is a need for a transmission project and initiate the TCD proceeding on its own.
For TCD proceedings, the planning agency would likely be a public utility commission (PUC). This is necessary because the placement and construction of power lines is almost always under the purview of the states, which then designate siting and approval responsibilities to the PUC or state  equivalent. Alternatively, the planning agency could be a federal or regional entity to promote interstate development.
Upon approval from the planning agency, the initiating party and planning agency work together to educate the potentially affected
members of the public about the benefits and negative effects of the proposed project.
Planning agency, eh?  Who do you think "plans" transmission projects?  It's not the state PUCs.  It's a regional transmission organization, or other utility-run group.   What do a group of landowners know about planning transmission?  Where are they supposed to get the "plan" they initially bring to "the planning agency?"  Transmission projects are born at "the planning agency," not from landowners who want to make some money selling transmission rights-of-way that don't coincide with a project that "the planning agency" determines is needed for reliability, economic or public policy purposes.  Alternatively, CFRA thinks "the planning agency" could initiate and administer the TCD proceeding.  Again... who's going to pay for this, and what authority does "the planning agency" have to force landowners into groups, or pools?  There's no logic here.

Each transmission project is geographically unique.  Who does CFRA think is going to bid on these constructed land corridors when only one transmission developer is interested in the area for a specific project?  One bidder does not create a fair market.


Further demonstration of the author's complete misunderstanding of transmission planning:
Additionally, FERC Orders 890 and 1000 encourage robust public participation. The orders accomplish this by requiring transmission planners to seek comment from customers and stakeholders in regional planning. Though the orders are silent in the context of assembling land for specific transmission lines, the wisdom of the orders should be applied to individual projects.
What?  CFRA thinks that regional planning "stakeholders" include the public?  While "the public" is certainly welcome at any planning meeting, "the public" doesn't have a vote when it comes to selecting plans.  That's not what FERC meant, silly!  Like FERC is going to issue orders based on the mistaken interpretation of its policies by some law student?  Get real, CFRA!

He also makes the accusation that "the current eminent domain framework seems to violate Order 1000."  Hahahahaaa!

CFRA's report also recommends that interstate cooperation create uniform state siting and condemnation laws... and herd cats.  It also contends that forced pooling of landowners ameliorates opposition, and saves time and money.  If CFRA thinks there's a problem with transmission opposition from landowners now, it ain't seen nothing yet!  The surest way to delay something is to add additional layers of administrative process and a new legal framework that hasn't been tested in the courts.  The report also recommends a robust public participation process just like the one transmission developers have been using for years, like it's some novel idea.  Maybe the author needs to step inside a real transmission project, instead of an artificial, self-aggrandizing, media version of "public participation."  Landowners are not satisfied with this model and it does not ameliorate opposition.  It actually creates opposition by helping landowners to meet and organize.

In conclusion, CFRA's latest "report" is a worthless piece of busy work that does nothing to help get transmission built.  You can't quell opposition unless you talk to them, sweet cheeks!  (I can call you sweet cheeks, right Brandon?  I mean I've probably got condiments in the back of the fridge that are older than you.)
 
 
Journalists are trained to be independent reporters of the facts.  The readers are supposed to take those facts and form their own opinion.  But what happens when a "journalist" tries to spin her opinion as "news?"

"Clean Line receives pocket approval from legislature."
On the heels of lawmakers voting to reject a House bill designed to stop the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project, Michael Skelly, President of Clean Line Energy, visited a Ralls County site of a Grain Belt Express Clean Line’s delivery station, a $100 million facility that proponents say will allow Missourians to receive low-cost, clean power from the Grain Belt Express Clean Line.

The Grain Belt Express Clean Line is a proposed electric power line that will deliver competitively-priced renewable energy to Missouri. The House Energy and Environment Committee voted down House Bill 1027, which would modify provisions relating to eminent domain powers of utilities, on April 28. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, who represents Monroe, Lincoln, Pike, and Ralls Counties.
“With the vote this morning, Missouri lawmakers have demonstrated that they stand behind market based solutions to bring low-cost, renewable energy to the state,” said Mark Lawlor, Director of Development for Clean Line Energy. “The Grain Belt Express Clean Line will deliver enough low-cost clean power to Missouri through a direct connection to the electric grid to power 200,000 Missouri homes. We look forward to continuing to work with landowners and community members to develop the project in Missouri in a collaborative way. This project is very important to Missouri’s energy future.”

At the hearing on the bill, supporters spoke of the benefits that the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project would bring to the state and asked legislators to block HB 1027.
According to the Legislative Drafter's Deskbook:  A Practical Guide, a "pocket approval" happens when the President does not sign a bill, but fails to return it to the legislature within 10 days.  In that case, it becomes law through "pocket approval."

Is that what this reporter meant?  That HB 1027 became law because the President failed to return it to the House?  Or is this reporter just desperate to include the words "approval" and "Grain Belt Express" in a headline?

There was no "approval" for Grain Belt Express in Missouri.  The legislature does not have authority to "approve" a transmission project.  "Approval" can only come from the Missouri Public Service Commission, and the Staff of the MO PSC just last week reaffirmed their recommendation that the PSC DENY APPROVAL for Grain Belt Express.

This headline is simply the reporter's opinionated fantasy.  The only thing that actually happened at the legislature is that Clean Line's expensive lobbyists managed to twist enough arms to prevent legislation supported by the people from passing.  Big deal... there's always next year!

The reporter conveniently skips over the fact that GBE won't provide ANY energy to Missouri that is not purchased by an actual utility that serves electric load in the state.
  Evidence at the PSC indicates that there are no utilities stepping up to purchase electricity from GBE's Missouri converter station.

The article also claims:  "Grain Belt Express project moves process forward, receiving public support."

Moves forward?  Forward to where?  GBE is still stuck in the Molasses Swamp waiting for a decision on its application from the MO PSC.  It's not going anywhere.
And where's the proof that GBE has any "public support?"  The evidence at hand indicates that GBE is receiving record public opposition.  This is backed up by the fact that when "Mike" Skelly called a recent press conference at a field in Ralls County, the only "supporters" who showed up were brought in by GBE from many miles away.  On the same day, the Ralls County Commission re-iterated its opposition to GBE, no matter how much of a company man their assessor wants to be in the media.

Here's Block GBE MO's press release that reflects what REALLY happened:
Two Counties Clarify Opposition to Grain Belt:  Chariton and Ralls Legalize Letters of Rescission
Texas based Clean Line Energy, that hopes to build a 750 mile high voltage-transmission line across the state, just hit another snag. Five out of eight counties crossed have now officially rescinded permission for Grain Belt Express to access their county. In Missouri, each county and the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) must grant permission to erect any towers.
The staff of the Missouri PSC recommended denying Grain Belt last fall. They stated “Grain Belt Express has not shown it is needed, economically feasible, or promotes the public interest in Missouri”. They also stated, “Section 229.100 RS Mo precludes Grain Belt from building its proposed line without first obtaining the consent of the County Commission in each of the eight counties in northern Missouri where the line would be located.”
Grain Belt questioned the validity of the rescission letters from two counties that were written in the summer of 2014. They stated that Chariton County’s letter had not specifically withdrawn section 229.100 authority or permission to build.
They also stated that Ralls County had said they would consider granting franchise only after the commission approved Grain Belt. Because the county must give permission for the PSC to grant a certificate it created a chicken and egg situation. Grain Belt asked for the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity first and promises to get the consent of each of the counties afterwards.
In response, both Chariton and Ralls County submitted new letters to the PSC to reiterate that Grain Belt does not have permission to build transmission lines in their county.
Ralls County’s new letter reads, in part, “Accordingly, if our grant of authority of August 23rd, 2012 to Grain Belt Express was valid, the County Commission does hereby rescind and revoke any authority granted that date to Grain Belt Express."
Wiley Hibbard, Presiding Commissioner of Ralls County stated, “I, as well as the other two Commissioners in Ralls County, felt it was important that we should restate our opposition to GBE's application to the PSC.
"By pure coincidence, we chose to send our letter to the PSC on the same day GBE held a press conference in Ralls County. It is my understanding that no landowners from Ralls County attended. GBE had to bring a person in from a county many miles away to speak to the press. This will show Grain Belt and the PSC that landowner's rights are very important to the citizens of Ralls County.”
Jennifer Gatrel of Block Grain Belt Express Missouri stated, “We are delighted that five out of eight counties have withdrawn their permission. We are very hopeful that the Missouri PSC will quickly deny Grain Belt and allow landowners to resume our lives."
A reporter who purposely misstates the facts to promote a corporate agenda does so at the peril of her own reputation.

What crap!
 
 
Remember when Change.org was all about the "little people" effecting change for the better?  Yeah, scratch that.  Now its being used as just another corporate toy where those with lots of money can promote their own corporate petitions to push products that stand to make the rich even richer.

So, now Change.org allows corporate accounts to create corporate petitions intended to influence the decisions of public officials from which the corporation can profit?  That sounds suspiciously like LOBBYING to me...  What do you call it when a corporation asks its employees, and their mommies, and little sisters, to pretend they're some sort of "grassroots" supporter in favor of the corporation's for-profit proposal?

I think I shall call it... stupidity.

Clean Line is not an advocacy "organization" allowed to create and promote petitions under Change.org's rules.  It's a for-profit limited liability corporation.
  Shame on you, Clean Line!

How desperate is Clean Line, anyhow?  How much trouble are they in on their Plains & Eastern transmission line's request to use the authority of the federal government to condemn and take land from thousands of "little people" across Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee?

Do you think the decision of Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, will hinge on Clean Line's petition signatures?  I certainly hope not.
  That would be absurd. 
 
 
Brace yourselves, Americans, Congress is tinkering with energy policy again!  No good can come of this.  And some idiot has introduced a whole new Sec. 216 (16 U.S.C. 824p) aka Section 1221 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that's even worse than its first iteration.

The original, Section 1221, designated the Secretary of Energy to conduct an electric transmission "congestion study" and designate "National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors" (NIETCs) every three years.  Transmission proposed in these designated corridors
was subject to "backstop" permitting by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the event a state withheld approval of an application for a permit for more than one year, or lacked the authority to permit the project.

Section 1221 was promptly deconstructed in two federal courts.  When FERC proposed that "withholding approval" included a denial, and that meant it could override a state's denial of an application, the 4th Circuit determined that "withheld approval"
excludes a state's denial of an application, preserving state authority.  In addition, the 9th Circuit determined that DOE did not properly "consult with states" before designating NIETCs, and therefore it vacated the corridors DOE had set in 2009.

Last year, DOE made a half-hearted attempt to produce the 2012 "congestion study," but was resoundingly smacked down by a whole bunch of comments, and hasn't done a thing since.


In practice, Section 1221 has been an abject failure
.

However, the new Section 216, carried to Congress by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), attempts to fix all that by giving FERC authority to overrule a state denial of a transmission permit and use federal eminent domain authority to take private property.  It also tosses NIETCs out the window as a means to identify worthy transmission projects and replaces them with an RTO/ISO finding that the project is "needed."


Good news:  The new Sec. 216 does not apply to Clean Line in its current form.

Bad news:  The new Sec. 216 will encourage a whole bunch of new transmission projects of questionable necessity, and landowners along existing corridors and/or those owning "open farmland" are always the first targets identified on the ol' transmission routing Etch-A-Sketch.


So, let's look at what the new Sec. 216 says:

(B) FEDERAL AUTHORITY.—The Commission may authorize, in accordance with subsection (d), construction of a high-priority regional transmission project that the Commission finds to be required by the present or future public convenience and necessity and in accordance with this section if--

“(i) a State--

“(I) fails to approve construction and authorize routing of a high-priority regional transmission project not later than 1 year after the date the applicant submits a completed application for authorization to the State;

“(II) rejects or denies the application for a high-priority regional transmission project;

“(III) authorizes the high-priority regional transmission project subject to conditions that unreasonably interfere with the development of a high-priority regional transmission project contrary to the purposes of this section; or

“(IV) does not have authority to approve the siting of the high-priority regional transmission project; or

“(ii) the developer seeking a certificate for construction under subsection (d) does not qualify to apply for State authorization to construct a high-priority regional transmission project because the developer does not serve end-users in the State.
So, FERC can "authorize" a transmission project if a state denies an application or conditions approval in a way the transmission developer doesn't like.  That's not "backstop" or secondary authority, it's usurping state authority in its entirety.  A state must approve, or else.  So, why even bother with the fan dance of state applications at all?  That's just a big waste of time and money.

Tell ya what... if FERC ends up with authority to overrule state transmission permitting decisions, there's going to be a lot more "turn-offs" for Commissioner Norman Bay, because the protestors will have moved "from pipelines to Order 1000."  *Insert laughter here*


Second problem - how these "special" high-priority regional transmission projects are determined:
(1) HIGH-PRIORITY REGIONAL TRANSMISSION PROJECT.—The term ‘high-priority regional transmission project’ means an overhead, submarine, or underground transmission facility, including conductors or cables, towers, manhole duct systems, reactors, capacitors, circuit breakers, static VAR compensators, static synchronous compensators, power converters, transformers, synchronous condensers, braking resistors, and any ancillary facilities and equipment necessary for the proper operation of the facility, that is selected in a regional transmission plan for the purposes of cost allocation under Order Number 1000 of the Commission (or any successor order), including an interregional project selected under that plan.
That's it -- mere selection of and inclusion in a regional transmission plan makes a project "high-priority."  Ummm... does Heinrich know that RTOs include hundreds of projects in their regional plans each year?  "High-priority" over what?  Transmission projects that aren't in a regional plan?  Those are few and far between because they're nearly impossible to build (ain't that right, Clean Line?)  So, every project is going to be a "high-priority" project in this brave, new world?

It's quite obvious that S.1017 intends to "fix" everything that went wrong with the original Sec. 216, including the flawed NIETCs and the ability of a state to deny an application for a transmission project that did not serve its citizens.  But, let's ask ourselves, does it really need fixing?  State approvals aren't the problem with new transmission, it's federal approvals and studies that muck up and delay transmission plans.  In addition, Congress has resolutely refused to make electric transmission siting and permitting a federal responsibility, and will most likely continue to do so.

There seemed to be little love for controversial legislation like S.1017 at Thursday's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.  But, you know how Congress is... they get up to all sorts of hijinks if you don't keep your eye on them, so this bears a bit of babysitting.

One more thing before I wrap this up... where did this legislation come from?

The original Sec. 216 got its purpose from:
(4) In determining whether to designate a national interest electric transmission corridor under paragraph (2), the Secretary may consider whether--
(A) the economic vitality and development of the corridor, or the end markets served by the corridor, may be constrained by lack of adequate or reasonably priced electricity;
(B)
(i) economic growth in the corridor, or the end markets served by the corridor, may be jeopardized by reliance on limited sources of energy; and
(ii) a diversification of supply is warranted;
(C) the energy independence of the United States would be served by the designation;
(D) the designation would be in the interest of national energy policy; and
(E) the designation would enhance national defense and homeland security.
Nothing in there about renewable energy, right?

Now take a look at the purpose of the new Sec. 216:
(a) Policy.—It is the policy of the United States that the national interstate transmission system should be guided by the goal of maximizing the net benefits of the electricity system, taking into consideration--

“(1) support for the development of new, cleaner power generation capacity, including renewable energy generation located distant from load centers;

“(2) opportunities for reduced emissions from regional power production;

“(3) transmission needs driven by public policy requirements established by State or Federal laws (including regulations);


“(4) cost savings resulting from--

“(A) reduced transmission congestion;

“(B) enhanced opportunities for intraregional and interregional electricity trades;

“(C) reduced line losses;

“(D) generation resource-sharing; and

“(E) enhanced fuel diversity;

“(5) reliability benefits, including satisfying reliability standards and guidelines for resource adequacy and system security;

“(6) diversification of risk relating to events affecting fuel supply or generating resources in a particular region;

“(7) the enhancement of competition in electricity markets and mitigation of market power;

“(8) the ability to collocate facilities on existing rights-of-way;

“(9) competing land use priorities, including land protected under Federal or State law;

“(10) the requirements of section 217(b)(4); and

“(11) the contribution of demand side management (including energy efficiency and demand response), energy storage, distributed generation resources, and smart grid investments.
Oh well, lookie there, big wind is reason #1, 2 & 3 for this new legislation.  This isn't about what's good for the people or the environment.  True democratic energy is relegated to reason #11, just an afterthought.  This legislation is designed to line the pockets of big wind and their big transmission developers, and appears to have been written by the funders of their big front group, "Americans for a Clean Energy Grid."  There are no real "Americans" participating in this farce -- it's nothing but a trade group masquerading as a grassroots movement.  Tawdry and unconvincing, but it appears Heinrich was eager to be their legislative minion.  ALEC ain't got nothing on these big green shysters.
 
 
Great news out of Iowa yesterday!  Legislation targeted to restrict the use of eminent domain by private companies not serving Iowans advanced as hundreds of landowners and other stakeholders gathered to speak out at a subcommittee meeting at the Capitol.

NPR has the story.  Listen to the audio, it's better than the print version.

Several landowners spoke out about abusive practices of land agents attempting to secure right-of-way.

“I've heard this from other landowners being told the same thing,” Murray says. “Right-of-way agents are saying this is inevitable so you better take the easement deal before you.”
A spokesman for Bakken crude pipeline company Dakota Access said what the companies always say when faced with the transgressions of their shifty land agents:
“If anybody knows of anyone who’s been dealt with unfairly,” Boeyink says, “get the names to me and we will deal with it swiftly.”
Yada, yada, yada, we will fire any land agent who violates the "code of conduct."  Tell me, if land agents were regularly subjected to firing for using abusively coercive tactics to secure easements, why does it still happen with such regularity?  I don't think I believe it.  I think it's merely window dressing for instances where a land agent is caught by a landowner in a pack of lies.  I think that companies routinely look the other way when violations occur, as long as easement agreements are being filed.  Because for every one unscrupulous land agent that gets reported in the media, there are probably hundreds of others that got away with it.  I have heard numerous horror stories about transmission right-of-way land agents, continuing up until the present.  Where there's this much smoke, there is certainly fire.

The Sierra Club seems to be backing off its hypocritical support of Clean Line transmission projects, while simultaneously opposing pipelines as an abuse of eminent domain.
Wally Taylor of Cedar Rapids, a lawyer for the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, said his organization is worried about an "extreme risk to property and the environment" if the pipeline project proceeds. There is no doubt that oil spills will occur and it will be many years before the land can be farmed again, he added.

It's also clear that if Bakken crude oil is transported through Iowa, it will be shipped from Illinois onto the world petroleum market via the Gulf of Mexico, Taylor said. "This is all about private property. It isn't about benefiting Iowa or the nation," he said. Similarly, the Rock Island Clean Line would not provide a way for Iowans to connect to the line or to obtain energy from the transmission facility, he added.
That's right, Sierra Club!  Clean Line does not provide a way for pass-thru states to benefit from its projects!   The projects also destroy the environment and economy of pass-thru states and won't actually shut down any coal plants.  Not one!  Sierra Club should really get its act together here and stop worshipping at the alter of grant funding and renewable energy make-believe.

Clean Line's spokesperson tried to get the committee to believe the company plans on acquiring more than 90% of the easements it needs voluntarily. 

Paula Dierenfeld, representing Clean Line Energy Partners, said her company currently has obtained voluntary easements from about 15 to 20 percent of property owners and has a goal of obtaining "well in excess of 90 percent" voluntary easements. But she questioned the proposed requirement to obtain 75 percent voluntary sign-ups before eminent domain can be requested. She said a company could spend millions of dollars on obtaining easements without even knowing whether a project could move forward. She asked whether any businesses would support that idea.
Paula must be new.  Clean Line has obtained all the voluntary easements it's going to get, even with the hard sell tactics reported by Mr. Murray.  15%.  That's it.  The rest is a fairy tale.  The  people of Iowa aren't buying what you're selling.  You know, Paula, risk is a big, big part of being in the merchant transmission business when you don't have an order to construct the project from a regional transmission authority.  Maybe you should ask your bosses at Clean Line why they're supporting the company spending millions of dollars on obtaining easements without even knowing whether their project could move forward?

Way to go, Iowa!