Holy corporate reputation issues, Batman!
FirstEnergy wannabe-spinner Charlene Gilliam (All right?) crashed and burned at a Hampshire County Commission meeting yesterday. Bless her heart, it probably wasn't all her fault. It's because she works for a company that has ruined its reputation in this state (and beyond) through a series of greedy, self-interested attacks on its customers and employees.
The people have had it with FirstEnergy's corporate disinterest in the hand that feeds them. And FirstEnergy is too STOOPID to have seen this one coming. Sometimes, I wonder how my lights stay on at all, and then I remember that any smart people who still work for FirstEnergy are the ones driving the bucket trucks that come to our rescue. It's upper management that has been snorting the STOOPID sauce.
Commissioner Hott seems to agree:
“What I think would help is to get some of these guys with ties on to come down and see what’s actually going on. They need guidance at a higher level,” Hott said.
Like maybe Charlene should have brought this character along yesterday?
Clean Line Energy Partners President Michael Skelly's wife confided in a Houston-area reporter not so long ago regarding her and her husband's approach to strategic planning:
"We don't think a long time about things, she says. "That seems like a good idea! Let's do that! That's the extent of our long range planning."
And that seems to be exactly how Clean Line Energy Partners was created... based on a spur of the moment whim that "seemed like a good idea." And now this company is in up to its neck, after tossing millions of dollars of its investors' money into a losing game, and inspiring record amounts of entrenched opposition to new high voltage transmission lines. Yay you, Michael Skelly!
So, where did his crazy idea come from? I remember coming across an article about this man and his company several years ago, many months before opposition to Clean Line Energy projects began to coalesce. In the article, Skelly (or maybe it was his little buddy Hans, I honestly can't remember) seemed to have the idea that because their transmission lines were supposed to be for "green" energy, people would welcome them being sited on their land. At the time, I snickered and thought about what a wake up call this company had coming, because I knew there would be record opposition. I just had to wait a bit, and sure enough, a few names started popping up in the media questioning Clean Line's plans. From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to strong opposition groups well-equipped for the battle ahead. And so it is!
It's not about the color of the electrons, it's about the transmission line. Where did Skelly get his crazy idea that landowners would welcome a "clean" line in their backyard?
Well, friends, I have finally located the source! At the 2009 American Wind Energy Association's WINDPOWER 2009 conference in Chicago, Ben Kelahan of The Saint Consulting Group made a presentation of his company's public opinion polling survey results about transmission line siting.
The presentation informed attendees like Michael Skelly,
A majority of Americans oppose new high-voltage transmission lines in their community, but that opposition drops precipitously to 17% if those lines are delivering clean, renewable energy from wind. Support for new transmission lines leaps from just 46% to 83% when respondents are asked specifically about high-voltage transmission lines delivering wind power.
The survey of 1,239 adults nationwide was conducted last week (April 21-23) by The Saint Consulting Group, the political land use consulting firm that also issues the annual Saint Index© survey of attitudes toward real estate development projects, including energy-generation projects such as wind, nuclear and hydro facilities.
Ben Kelahan, energy practice leader at Saint Consulting, said the new results are a clear sign that Americans support cleaner, renewable power and that it has carried over to the distribution of that power through their own backyard.
“High-voltage transmission lines generate some of the most adamant NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) opposition in the country. That such a large percentage of people are willing to allow green lines in their community says a lot about the awareness and importance of renewable energy and climate change issues in addition to the education efforts undertaken by the renewable energy industry,” Kelahan said.
And the next thing you know, Clean Line Energy Partners was founded in 2009
to build "green" transmission lines across thousands of midwestern back yards. "That seems like a good idea! Let's do that!"
I'm sorry, Ben, but your survey is W-R-O-N-G! For as today's reality demonstrates, people really aren't willing to allow "green" lines in their communities. Perhaps they said they would when you had them on the phone and the "green" line was only an idea proposed for someone else's community. But when the rubber meets the road and the "green" is washed away, it's still a transmission line nobody wants or needs. Public opinion surveys are only as good as the companies who conduct them, and are routinely manipulated to produce a desired result that may not comport with reality.
But, for Skelly, I'm not sorry in the least. It wasn't a good idea, your whole business plan is based on incorrect data, and it's never going to happen. Give up.
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.)
Our friends at Clean Line have been as busy as a nasty nest of yellow jackets this past week, while I was tied up with other things. So, on this beautiful Sunday, let's hunker down around the campfire and catch up on some scary stories...
My multilingual, Arkansan friend, Doc, alerted me to an interesting discovery this week. Clean Line's project manager for its Plains & Eastern "Clean" Line, slated to plow through Arkansas like Godzilla on his way to Tokyo, is a Mr. Mario Hurtado. In the Spanish language, the word "hurtado" means "to steal." So, Clean Line is sending out some guy named "to steal" to... ummm... steal land from Arkansans. Brilliant! Perhaps Clean Line watches too many old movies and expected its opponents in Arkansas to behave like movie characters...
...and not like multilingual PhD's.
So... Arkansas... Beware the Hurtado!
My friend Doc says he looks like this:
Meanwhile, in other "Clean" news from Arkansas...
"Clean" Line has submitted a second application for negotiated rate authority from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
I guess their first one wasn't good enough, since they didn't even bother to mention it in their new filing. So, inquiring minds want to know... is "Clean" Line just stupid, or are they trying to pull something on FERC?
Negotiated rate authority is no big thing, though. It simply bangs out a plan for the company to negotiate rates with potential customers in a fair and non-discriminatory fashion. It doesn't get them any customers. It is not an "approval" of the project. FERC's only authority over this project is ensuring its rate structure is fair. FERC has no authority over the siting and permitting of this project. Big deal, Mr. To Steal.
And, news from Missouri...
"Clean" Line has been quoting industry-influenced WHO studies as "proof" that their transmission projects will have no health effects on nearby residents. However, a well-respected, local physician has been compiling and reviewing medical research on the health risks of the proposed "Clean" Line. The Moberly Monitor did an indepth report about what Dr. Smith has found. Shocking and dangerous! Dr. Smith's findings are a MUST READ for every person in proximity to one of these "Clean" Lines.
Other news outlets have also picked up on Dr. Smith's EMF research, and the truth is spreading like wildfire! SeeABC News, the News Democrat, and about 18 other major news outlets.
"Clean" Line needs to finish watching the movie that they've been using as the basis for their arrogant expectations of the intelligence and cunning of their local opposition. They must not have watched far enough to see this scene yet:
The Center for Rural Affairs has pissed off a whole new bunch of people, this time in Wisconsin, by sending out a "red alert" telling them this is their "last chance" to comment on the Badger-Coulee transmission project. Of course it's not their "last chance"!
Carol Overland, who has been fighting the legal fight against unneeded transmission for many years, tells CFRA what the people REALLY think:
I'm disturbed to see that you're regarding Lu Nelsen and Center for Rural Affairs as a primary source. Center for Rural Affairs is not an intervenor in this project. Center for Rural Affairs is a paid transmission advocate, through the RE-AMP program, it is paid to to promote transmission.
A CfRA Director also sits on the RE-AMP Steering Committee. It's unfortunate that these facts are not included in your article -- this interest should be disclosed, because they are neither objective nor representing public interests or farmer interests. If their paid advocacy was not disclosed to you, that's an even more significant problem.
Would you trust this guy ?
Where's Waldo? He seems to have dropped out of the public eye, lately replaced by this other guy who smirks when he tells the people of Missouri that there are no health effects, no property devaluation, no impediments to farming.
Clean Line has a public relations problem. They're running out of project managers and executives.
Waldo (aka Mark Lawlor
) has been thoroughly trounced in the Missouri media by the forthright and personable Block GBE spokeswoman, Jennifer Gatrel. People like Jenny. They trust her. Can't say the same for the Clean Line representatives.
Because Grain Belt Express is in so much trouble in Missouri, Waldo has been replaced by Clean Line president Michael Skelly. Oh, brother! That's like putting out a fire with a bucket of gasoline! Where Waldo was awkward, uncaring and shifty, Skelly is arrogant, arrogant and arrogant
. This man simply doesn't care what you think. He gets an attitude when questioned, and provides flippant answers. Was "the President of Clean Line answering questions in Missouri" supposed to help or hurt the project?
Send this guy back to Skellyville, and bring on the next personality. Or maybe Clean Line could try some more costumes to cheer everyone up?
Whither goest thou, Waldo?
Congratulations, Mayberry! Your entrenched opposition to Clean Line Energy Partners' transmission projects across the Midwest has pushed the company into the untenable position of having to perform massive eminent domain condemnations and takings. Of course, this would never be allowed to happen in reality. The political and public opinion costs would simply be too high. As well, Clean Line has not been successful in convincing all state regulators to grant it the ability to effect eminent domain takings.
Clean Line Energy's only hope at this point is to try to trick you into supporting a new scheme to steal your land.
Last year, Clean Line sycophants at the Center for Rural Affairs and the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with other "big green" and "big wind" players, published a self-aggrandizing "report" they arrogantly dubbed "America's Power Plan" (although no actual "Americans" were involved in its creation). In Clean Line's sponsored "plan," the important folks discussed several new ways to steal your land using eminent domain so that they wouldn't be forced to commit massive eminent domain takings.
One of the ways Clean Line wants to steal your land is called a "Special Purpose Development Corporation" ("SPDC"). A SPDC is a government-sponsored legal entity created especially to become the "bad guy" in an eminent domain situation. Instead of Clean Line stealing your land, a government-blessed SPDC will steal your land and sell it to Clean Line. The SPDC and the government that operates it will also profit in the transaction, paying itself a portion of the proceeds from the sale of your land.
Here's how it works:
1. State or local government, or even a private corporation with government-granted eminent domain power, forms a SPDC for a particular purpose, such as securing new transmission line rights of way across private property.
2. Landowners in the target area are given a choice:
a. Voluntarily deed their land over to the SPDC in return for "shares" in the corporation.
b. Refuse to voluntarily turn over your land and have it taken by the SPDC via eminent domain. You will not receive any "shares" in the corporation.
This allows your friends and neighbors who choose to join the SPDC to force you to sell your land for their personal profit.
3. Once all land is acquired, the SPDC sells it to Clean Line and distributes the proceeds to the "shareholders" of the corporation, after first paying all sorts of legal, financial and management fees for the corporation and the costs of its employees. There is no guarantee that a landowner's "shares" in the SPDC would be worth more at the end of this game than the landowner could expect to receive through traditional eminent domain processes.
It's all just a scam to encourage communities and local governments to take the fall for Clean Line's unconscionable land grab. It pits neighbors against neighbors in local communities and causes local strife. It absolves Clean Line from the consequences of its greedy action.
Don't be fooled by legal gibberish, fantastic promises of incredible riches, or empty claims of "better deals." Just say "no" to Special Purpose Development Corporations.
The coordinated and knowledgeable opposition to Clean Line across eight states CAN stop these projects. Hold on to your land -- you will be glad you did when Clean Line folds its tent and slinks back to Texas with its tail between its legs.
Another excuse-filled, poor performance, quarterly earnings call from FirstEnergy
on Tuesday. How much longer can this company continue to flounder and still stay in business?
The basic story goes like this: Despite a big profit from the cold weather in January & February, company mismanagement frittered it away. The Plain Dealer provides a good summary of FirstEnergy's disappointing performance.
FirstEnergy lost two large power plants during January's arctic-like weather -- the 2,490-megawatt coal-burning Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingport, Pennsylvania, and right next door, one of its 900-megawatt nuclear reactors at its Beaver Valley power plant.
And then the company found it could not buy natural gas for its 545-megawatt gas turbine plant in Lorain. The shutdowns and inability to buy gas forced the company to buy power on the regional grid -- just as wholesale market prices soared.
Power purchases during the 10 days of sub-zero January weather knocked down earnings by 13 cents per share, Leila Vespoli, chief legal officer and executive vice president of markets, told financial analysts during a public teleconference Tuesday and now available on the company's website.
She said power purchases over the entire quarter reduced earnings by a total of 23 cents per share.
Then extra charges levied by PJM Interconnection, the manager of the grid in Ohio and 12 other states, nicked another 10 cents per share out of gross profits, she said, though the company is planning on recovering about half of that from commercial and industrial customers.
This is all despite FirstEnergy's desperate attempts to restructure debt and raise cash over the past year through the sale of hydro assets, and the transfer of its unregulated Harrison power station to its WV regulated subsidiaries for a billion dollar payday. FirstEnergy still has little cash, and a mountain of looming debt.
FirstEnergy's competitive retail business continues to drag it down, despite an effort to reposition all its eggs in the regulated basket. It wasn't too long ago that FirstEnergy was all giddy over beating AEP on all the consumer "shopping" going on in the state of Ohio. Tony the Trickster bragged through previous earnings calls over the number of customers signed up. Yup, that quantity over quality race to the finish was really helpful over the long term. When FirstEnergy goes under, Tony can tell his investors that at least he beat AEP.
FirstEnergy now brags that it has filed a rate increase in West Virginia. The company requested an increase of approximately $96 million, or 9.3%, and an allowed ROE of 11%, an increase of .5% over current return. Never going to happen. FirstEnergy neglected to mention the looming General Investigation, or any other number of regulatory venues where it finds itself in hot water, and analysts were just too polite to bring up all that nastiness.
FirstEnergy also brags about its new scheme to "invest" in its transmission system, after years of neglect while chasing big, new build projects. Just like every other shiny object in FirstEnergy history, management's concentration on transmission blinds it to reality.
And Leila still hasn't learned to pronounce the word exacerbate.
Higher prices exasperated the earnings impact of our power purchases.
I don't know about you, but I'm thoroughly exasperated by these uneducated dolts. Their money-grubbing, desperate and questionable legal maneuvers, such as foisting polar vortex "fees" off onto fixed rate customers, are not cute or prudent over the long run. The schadenfreude continues to build as FirstEnergy continues to burn bridges with its customers, employees and regulators.
Clean Line's latest public relations mantra is to accuse its opposition of spreading "misinformation." It's a desperate, failed attempt to group its forthright and knowledgeable adversaries as unacceptable and to characterize them as liars, a propaganda technique known as "name calling."
But who is really spreading "misinformation?" Two of Clean Line's most recent one-sided media excursions contained information and quotes from company executives that were outright lies.
First, the "miscommunication" in Arkansas Business about the Plains and Eastern Clean Line:
It has been in the works for the past half-decade and will build two lines intended to connect the Midwest’s wind resources to surrounding areas with less potential to generate wind, such as Missouri and southern Indiana. About 7,000 megawatts of power in Oklahoma would become available to surrounding states.
Clean Line quickly fell on its sword here, and the publication corrected its article to remove this reference. Supposedly there is only ONE line on this project, with a capacity of 3500MW. But then the company turned right around and signed a certain legal document with the same error in it! How many lines does Clean Line intend to build, exactly? "Misinformed" minds want to know!
The second lie was apparently just a "miscommunication" in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial. Matthew Stallbaumer from Kansas has been chasing that one around all week. What he found was a shocking lack of honesty. In Matthew's own words:
"Mr. Lawlor has been through this before, in Kansas, where he says the company has completed buying the land it needs for that portion of the line."
The landowners know this isn't true. But there was some hope on my end that our land would no longer be impacted, so I called the St. Louis Dispatch and spoke with Deborah Peterson, Editorial Writer, who told me she was involved with writing the editorial. She assured me that what was printed was what Mr. Lawlor communicated to her.
So I tried to call Mr. Lawlor, his reputation for not answering his phone or responding to messages is accurate, so I called Clean Line's office and waited on hold rather than leave a message. I spoke with Grain Belt Express representative Ally Smith. She admitted they are still negotiating easements in Kansas, which conflicts with Mr. Lawlor's statement, and promised to check into the situation and call me back the next day to explain how something so wrong could be communicated/printed.
Three days go by, no call back. I called Ms. Smith again, but had to leave a message, no call back. Finally, this afternoon, Ms. Smith answers her phone, she claims to have tried to call me earlier in the day (I had no missed calls on my phone) but let bygones be.
Turns out there was a "miscommunication" between Mr. Lawlor and the STL Dispatch editorial board. That was the extent of the explanation. No mention of what he really meant or said, but to me it seems pretty hard to confuse anything with owning all the property they need in Kansas. (I wonder if lies count as miscommunication, I guess one could argue they do, I wonder, was Ms. Smith miscommunicating to me?).
I asked Ms. Smith about Clean Line's Code of Conduct found on their website and these lines specifically:
I c. Do not misrepresent any fact.
II h. Do not represent that a relative, neighbor and/or friend have signed a document or reached an agreement with Grain Belt Express Clean Line.
III b. Do not discuss your negotiations or interactions with other property owners or other persons.
It's pretty evident that some if not all of those codes have been ignored by Mr. Lawlor. I asked Ms. Smith who is responsible for enforcing those codes and what the penalty is. I was asked to be put on hold. Then she made efforts to dodge the questions, instead offered that they had contacted the paper to report the error, that it may or may not be corrected, and there is nothing else they can do. I asked again who enforces the code and what the penalty is, doesn't seem like that tough of a question for a company who touts their transparency and integrity and efforts to inform every chance they get, but Ms. Smith couldn't answer the question beyond "it's a managerial process". Perhaps Mr. Lawlor will enforce the code upon himself and penalize himself. I was told I must file a complaint regarding the code and their internal managerial process would determine its merits. I thought I was filing a complaint with my initial call, but it turns out it has to be in writing. I asked whether she could file a complaint on my behalf as she is aware of the situation now, turns out Clean Line employees can't file a complaint, they aren't in a position to hold themselves or each other accountable regarding their own Code of Conduct. So, how can their managerial process result in any penalty if they can't enforce it upon themselves?
Does anyone still think Clean Line will be accountable for any other promises or statements they make to property owners, commissioners, press, politicians or investors?
Miscommunication is defined as "failure to communicate adequately." For instance, giving your instructions in French to an employee who only speaks English. "Miscommunication" is also a weasely synonym for not being truthful. For instance, politicians and bureaucrats are never dishonest, they simply "miscommunicate."
In Mayberry, we just call that "lying."