Disturbing news out of Colorado this morning. The Denver Post reports
that the legislature is playing games with funding of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel (OCC) for the next 10 years. Without funding and authorization, the OCC will simply cease to exist under Colorado's "sunset" law.
A concerned legislator likened the refusal to deal with the re-funding of the OCC to "Washington, D.C.-style politics."
"If people disagree on the policy, the substance or the process, that's fair; that's what we're each here to do," Garcia said. "But what we're seeing here is Washington, D.C.-style politics where you put something off to the side, and the committee chair doesn't give it due regard until it's too late."
Why is consumer counsel so important? Because it is the utility consumer's only defense against high rates and utility policy that compromises their interest. Only the consumer counsel is looking out for residential and small business interests during utility rate cases. Without the OCC, residential consumers would have no choice but to represent themselves in every utility case before the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. Who can afford the time or expense of that? Nobody, therefore consumers would be unrepresented. It's just not true that outside consumer groups, contingency-based lawyers, or class-action lawsuits can take the place of an independent, governmental advocate that defends the interests of all
residential and small business consumers.
According to a report prepared last fall, the OCC regularly saves this class of consumers between $40-50 million per year in increased rates. The cost of this representation is a mere $1.5M/year. The funding for the OCC comes from fees paid by regulated utilities, not out of the state's general fund. It costs consumers nothing, and it consistently saves them money. The report recommends continuing the OCC until 2026. However, the legislature is ignoring it, and without their nod, the OCC will sunset.
Don't let the Colorado legislature rob you of the representation that keeps your utility bill in check. Without the OCC, out-of-control rate increases could have you lamenting that "someone" should do something about that. The OCC is the consumer's "someone," even though most consumers don't even know they exist. Get educated and take an active role in the processes that control your utility costs -- support the re-funding of the Colorado Office of Consumer Counsel.
Halt The Power Lines makes it quick and easy to do your part! Visit them here to find out how to take action!
Branstad, who appoints the members of the utilities board, warned against "political interference" into the administrative review process by which a pipeline carrying Bakken crude oil and a transmission line transporting wind-generated electricity could be approved.
"It would be mistake to get politics into this," Branstad said. "We should abide by the processes that have been put in place."
However, Carol Overland reports
that Governor Branstad has changed his mind and made some changes to the Iowa Utilities Board at the urging of MidAmerican Energy. It doesn't get any more political than this!
An outgoing member of the Iowa Utilities Board has bluntly told Gov. Terry Branstad in a letter that his decision to remove her is improper and being done to placate a powerful energy company.
Sheila Tipton told the governor in the March 18 letter that his move to replace her and demote board chairwoman Elizabeth Jacobs is an inappropriate attempt to influence future decisions to favor utilities and "appease MidAmerican Energy." The company had complained about a ruling requiring the company to use some proceeds from a $280 million wind energy investment to reduce customers' rates.
So, what is Branstad saying here? Is he saying that the interests of Iowans represented by their elected representatives aren't as powerful as campaign contributions he may receive from energy companies the IUB regulates?
Where I come from, that's called hypocrisy, and it's shameful. Only when regulators may regulate without political interference can the industry they regulate fail to capture them. It's time for the voice of the citizens of Iowa to be heard!
Have you been getting random mailers from "Potomac Edison," "Mon Power," or another FirstEnergy distribution affiliate trying to sell you an "Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan from HomeServe?"
Just say no.
Go outside and look at your electric meter. You are responsible for some components of your electric service connection. The utility is responsible for the meter components and any underground service lines. You are responsible for maintaining the rest. Is your service drop overhead, or underground? Read the fine print:
The meter that measures the amount of electricity used, any underground service entrance conductor, and the meter base (materials only) are not covered under this plan, but are covered by your local FirstEnergy Company. Your local FirstEnergy Company will supply the materials to repair or replace the meter base...
So, what is covered? An overhead connection to your house (cost estimated at $200) and the labor to replace the company-supplied meter base (estimated to cost another $200), if they ever need to be replaced! So, how much will FirstEnergy's insurance cost you? $5.49/month. Forever. You'd be better off putting that $5.49 in a mason jar every month, on the off chance that you ever do need these unusual electrical repairs, so that you can hire a local electrician to fix them. FirstEnergy's literature claims that your homeowner's insurance won't cover these repairs. Know why? Because the cost of repairs is usually lower than your deductible!
Why would you want to give a bunch of money to the utility for "insurance" against an unusual problem that only costs a couple hundred bucks to fix? It doesn't say "stupid" on my forehead. Oh, but wait! If you sign up you will receive a "special" phone number to call to get your service. If you remember what you did with that phone number and the rest of your paperwork when you have an outdoor electrical line issue, then you could avoid the hassles of looking for an electrician in the yellow pages and "waiting" for service (because service dispatched through Akron, Ohio, is much quicker than calling an electrician in your own town).
Sounds like a scam to me!
So, I've been a Potomac Edison (or Allegheny Power, when that name suited them) customer for nearly 30 years. How come I'm just now being bombarded with these junk mailers? Because the West Virginia PSC recently sold me out to the company, going against the advice of its own Staff, the Consumer Advocate Division, and the findings of one of its own Administrative Law Judges.
Say what? Take a look at WV PSC Case No. 13-0021-E-PC (look up "Case Information" here). Two years ago, FirstEnergy asked the PSC for permission for its two West Virginia distribution companies (Potomac Edison and Mon Power) to market these useless "services" and products to their customers and to add the cost of any purchases to the customer's electric bill.
The Staff of the PSC and the Consumer Advocate objected to FirstEnergy's plan, which, in addition to the "Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan," will soon be offering you:
1. Other Home Solutions maintenance and repair plans (i.e. insurance) for other appliances you own, your natural gas service lines and even your plumbing.
2. Surge suppression service (which they already separately offer as part of their regulated service activity in West Virginia).
3. Customer Electrical Services Program that allows your electric company to "arrange" electrical service work to be performed in your home. You still pay for all the work they do, your monthly fee just alleviates your "hassle" of finding your own electrician and negotiating a reasonable fee for service with him.
4. Online store - where you can buy all sorts of useless crap and energy-wasting space heaters, and pay for it all on your monthly electric bill.
A hearing was held, and the PSC's Administrative Law Judge recommended that the Commission prohibit this kind of promotion. However, FirstEnergy didn't like that decision, so they filed exceptions to the Judge's Order and the Commission disregarded it and made a new finding that FirstEnergy could continue to promote these useless "services."
Remember, none of these services are regulated, so if you have an issue with service or billing of these add-ons, the PSC can't help you. You're on your own to solve the problem with the company (and it's not even the utility you'll be fighting with, but some third-party "insurance company") or through the court system.
So, how much money does FirstEnergy make off these products? Is the company really that desperate that it needs to peddle space heaters and worthless "insurance" to its customers? It's not about the few pennies in kickbacks FirstEnergy receives from these third-party companies for selling you a "service," it's about the half a million bucks FirstEnergy was paid by one of these third-party companies for "licensing rights and utility bill access fees" to access Potomac Edison's or Mon Power's customer records and to have your utility bill you for their services. FirstEnergy is essentially selling an asset -- its customer base and monthly billing system -- to a private company that hopes to make money selling things to the customer base. There is a commercial value to a customer base of 500,000 customers. When the customer base is acquired through a regulated monopoly, should the utility be able to sell it for private profit? Your WV Public Service Commission says they can.
Tell your legislators to ask the PSC why they have allowed Potomac Edison and Mon Power to sell you out like that. And think twice about jacking up your monthly electric bills with "insurance" you'll probably never need and overpriced lightbulbs from FirstEnergy's online store.
And want to have some fun right now? All those junk mailers they're sending you have postage paid return envelopes to "Plan Administrator." The envelope instructs: "Include only your form and nothing else." If you don't sign up for the plan, you won't need a "form," so go ahead and stuff them with "nothing else" or whatever you want and return them. See how much scrap paper you can fit into the envelope! Or perhaps your child would like to draw a picture for "Plan Administrator?" Go ahead, have some fun!
And then, get serious. The fine print instructs:
If you would prefer not to receive these solicitation from HomeServe, please call 1-888-866-2127.
Tell them you don't want to receive any more offers for their services from Potomac Edison or Mon Power and see what happens. Of course, this won't stop the other offers from the other vendors mentioned above, but it's a start. I'd like to know who's really controlling the mailing list here -- is it FirstEnergy or is it HomeServe? Let me know what you are told in the comments section of this blog post...
It's Fakey-Friday here at StopPATH Blog on this snowy Monday night. Yes, I know I have the day wrong, but what does that matter when it's all fake anyhow?
My non-friends at Clean Line Energy Partners have their own FAQ Fridays on their facebook page, and they actually have them on Friday, hooray! But there's a whole bunch of stuff about Clean Line's Facebook page that just seems... well, not quite right to me.
There are huge time gaps in Clean Line's timeline. No posts between June and November of 2013? No posts between January and October of 2014? Were those the periods when Clean Line shut down its facebook pages because real people kept showing up and asking real questions that Clean Line didn't want to answer? Go ahead, try to click on the post comments from 2013 or 2014 to find that many are hidden.
And here's a puzzler... somehow in the past couple of years, when Clean Line's facebook page was closed more than it was open, the company managed to pick up 3,773 "likes." Well, isn't that nice? Except Clean Line doesn't seem to have the engagement that would come from 3,773 people finding its posts in their daily feeds. The only comments on any recent posts have come from a couple of Block Clean Line group leaders and a handful of other opponents who haven't yet managed to violate Clean Line's social media rules:
Thank you for visiting the Grain Belt Express Clean Line page!
We created this forum for you, so go ahead and take the stage
Our goal is to inform you about our transmission line and Clean Line Energy
Once you learn about the many benefits, you’ll see the synergy
So what are you waiting for? please start to engage!
While we love to hear your comments, we want you to be sure
The rules and guidelines below are required, so please maintain your composure
This page will be archived, so please show your respect
We all need to maintain professional etiquette
Thank you again for visiting our page—we will be in touch daily, we can ensure!
Oh my... gurgle, gag... I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. Puh-leeze, Maya Angelou you're not. Lots of affected landowners have tried to "take the stage" over the past few months since Clean Line reopened its facebook page, but a hook has ceremoniously yanked each of them off stage, one by one, for daring to express their opinions, ask for more information, or question Clean Line's claims. A very small handful of folks have managed to persevere though... we'll call them the teflon troupe
. Perhaps they were the least objectionable real people "friends" Clean Line could find? Because the only other engagement evident on Clean Line's page is a few post "likes" from employees, employee relatives and friends.
Where are all of the 3,773 people who "like" Clean Line Energy? How come they never stop by, call or write? They must be awfully busy.
Because I'm sure Clean Line wouldn't do anything so uncouth as to buy "likes" from fake people who don't really "like" them.
No, no, no. Clean Line takes private property rights very seriously and values one-on-one conversations with landowners to answer questions and address concerns... except when those one-on-one conversations actually occur via facebook. If you're an affected landowner who has had your comment or question deleted and lost your ability to post any more comments on Clean Line's facebook page, please sign the comments below. I promise you won't get deleted. And maybe Clean Line can stop by and read them whenever it gets an urge to value one-on-one conversations with landowners.
After all, Clean Line claims their project is being developed with EXTENSIVE participation from landowners (well, except for any actual participation, but they do intend to, like, participate with you, but you're just so hard to talk to, or angry, or misinformed, or something...).
And it's not just you landowners and stakeholders. Clean Line has even been working with Senator Boozman and Senator Cotton, apparently to craft some federal legislation that will return Arkansas' right to approve transmission lines to Arkansas. Thanks, Clean Line, that was really, really nice of you to help the good Senators get that legislation in the works!
Clean Line is also working with the Arkansas state leadership, apparently to craft a letter to DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz condemning the Clean Line project. Yay you, Clean Line!!!
So, when Clean Line says it's working with landowners I guess that means it will continue to kick itself in the rear end by holding its Facebook FAQ Fridays and pretending it has any friends that frequently ask it questions. Or at least questions it cares to repeat publicly...
This just in...
Boozman, Cotton Introduce Bill Giving States Power to Reject Federal Electric Transmission Projects
U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Tom Cotton (R-AR) today introduced legislation to restore the right of states to approve or disapprove of electric transmission projects before the federal government exercises its power to take private property.
The Assuring Private Property Rights Over Vast Access to Lands (APPROVAL) Act would require that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) receive the approval of both the governor and the public service commission of an affected state, before exercising the federal power of eminent domain to acquire property for Section 1222 transmission projects. For projects on tribal lands, DOE would have to receive the approval of the impacted tribal government.
“When a road, pipeline or power line is built the use of eminent domain is sadly unavoidable in some cases,” Boozman said. “However, this difficult decision should not be in the hands of Washington bureaucrats. If a project is not good for Arkansas, our governor or public service commission should have the power to say ‘no.’”
"Arkansans should have a say in any decision that affects our land,” Cotton said. “The APPROVAL act will rightly empower Arkansans and preserve the Founding Fathers vision of states’ rights."
In addition to allowing states the ability to reject the use of federal eminent domain for a project, the Boozman-Cotton legislation would ensure to the extent possible, that approved projects are placed on federal land rather than on private land. Specifically, for approved projects, DOE would be required (to the maximum extent possible) to site projects on existing rights-of-way and federal land managed by: (1) the Bureau of Land Management, (2) the U.S. Forest Service, (3) the Bureau of Reclamation, and (4) the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The decision to permit electric transmission projects has long been the responsibility of the individual state. As noted in a 2011 report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, “The location and permitting of facilities used to transmit electricity to residential and commercial customers have been the province of the states (with limited exceptions) for virtually the entire history of the electricity industry.” The report says that state and local governments are “well positioned” to understand the concerns of the area and the factors for making a decision on these projects.
DOE is currently seeking public comments on one proposed Section 1222 project: the Plains & Eastern Clean Line Transmission Project, a high voltage direct current electric transmission system and associated facilities, which (if approved) would cross Arkansas. Interested citizens may provide comments through March 19, 2015, to DOE, either online at: http://www.plainsandeasterneis.com/nepa-process/public-involvement.html; by mail addressed to: Plains & Eastern EIS, 216 16th Street, Suite 1500, Denver, Colorado 80202; via email addressed to comments@PlainsandEasternEIS.com; or by fax to (303) 295–2818.
The APPROVAL Act has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for further review.
The embattled Clean Line Energy project that proposes to transport energy from rural America to the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard has had a series of major setbacks.
In Missouri, the PSC's own staff, which is made up of engineers, utility economists, and attorneys advised the Commissioners to deny the application. In their Conclusions of Law brief they stated, "Grain Belt Express has not shown electricity delivered over its high-voltage transmission line and converter stations will be lower cost than alternatives for meeting renewable portfolio standards and general demand for clean energy because it overlooks significant costs affecting the integration of wind energy in its production cost modeling and its modeling inputs are insufficient to predict electricity prices at specific locations." They also recommended “The Commission finds that Grain Belt Express' HVDC transmission line project is not needed in Missouri."
On February 11th the commission took the unusual step of ordering Clean Line to submit a considerable amount of additional documentation
after the final briefs were turned in. Among the many requirements: Grain Belt Express shall set forth the status of its efforts to obtain the assent of the county commissions required by Section 229.100, RSMo, in the eight counties crossed by the selected project route in Missouri and provide supporting documentation thereof, including any letters of assent from those eight county commissions.
Five of the eight impacted counties have rescinded support they had previously given Grain Belt. Given that the local sentiment against Grain Belt tends to be very high, and that nearly 2,000 people turned out at the eight public hearings opposed to the project, it seems unlikely that they would be able to secure the needed county assent.
Additionally, Clean Line is running into many roadblocks with its Plains and Eastern project in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee. Clean Line hopes to be the first company to utilize Section 1222 of the 2005 U.S. Energy Policy Act to obtain federal eminent domain after they were denied eminent domain authority by the state of Arkansas. This provision would authorize DoE to essentially act as a land agent for the private company and use the government's power of eminent domain to condemn the private property in its path.
Recently the Cherokee Nation and several county boards passed resolutions against Plains and Eastern Clean Line obtaining federal eminent domain authority. Earlier this week, the Arkansas House Joint Energy Committee unanimously passed a resolution to send a letter
to the Department of Energy condemning Clean Line's use of Section 1222. Arkansas’ congressional delegation has also been seeking answers from the DOE in Washington, and were instrumental in extending the public comment deadline on the project’s federal environmental impact statement an additional 30 days.
Clean Line is also facing major problems for their Rock Island Project in Illinois and Iowa. The Illinois Commerce Commission voted unanimously to withhold eminent domain authority at this time. In Iowa, where Clean Line recently filed franchise applications, they have been met with fierce resistance and an organized opposition group who is taking their fight to the state capital building.
Jennifer Gatrel from Block Grain Belt Express Missouri states, "Overall the idea that a private company could seize privately-held agricultural land for its own private benefit is just wrong. Clean Line has brought together a vast group of very different individuals from around the country working united on the common goal of protecting landowner rights. This company has brought a major disruption to our community and much time and money has been lost. Clean Line’s proposals have also created an enormous, tightly-knit family formed in reaction to the crisis. We will not lose this fight!!"
Clean Line President Michael Skelly recently told a Tulsa World reporter that his company is going through a federal permitting process for its Plains & Eastern Clean Line because the project wants to cross three states. (watch the video
There's no such thing as a "federal permitting process" for high-voltage electric transmission lines!
Skelly calls the U.S. Department of Energy the "permitting agency." However, what he's referring to is Clean Line's application to have the U.S. DOE "participate" in its for-profit transmission venture undertaken outside the normal regional transmission planning process.
Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Third Party Finance, allows federal power marketing agencies to "participate" in transmission projects that are built within their territories. As noted in the title of the statute, Sec. 1222 projects must be financed by third parties (in this case, Clean Line's private venture capitalists). Section 1222 does not give U.S. DOE authority to PERMIT or site transmission projects. It simply allows "participation." In Clean Line's case, the company is only interested in DOE's "participation" in order to anoint itself with the power marketing agency's federal eminent domain authority to condemn and take right of way from private landowners.
DOE and Southwestern understand and agree that their ability to acquire through condemnation proceedings property necessary for the development, construction and operation of the Project is one of the primary reasons for Clean Line’s interest in developing the Project with DOE and Southwestern and through the use of EPAct 2005 section 1222.
DOE and Southwestern agree that, if the Secretary of Energy ultimately decides upon the conclusion of such evaluation as DOE and Southwestern deem appropriate that (i) the Project complies with section 1222, and (ii) to participate in the Project’s development pursuant to section 1222, then, DOE and Southwestern will use their condemnation authority as may be necessary and appropriate for the timely, cost-effective and commercially reasonable development, construction and operation of the Project.
Section 1222 is not purposed to "permit" transmission lines when a state has denied a permit.
d) Relationship to other laws
Nothing in this section affects any requirement of--
(1) any Federal environmental law, including the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.);
(2) any Federal or State law relating to the siting of energy facilities; or
(3) any existing authorizing statutes.
It simply allows DOE to "participate" in designing, developing, constructing, operating, maintaining or owning transmission. It permits DOE to assume liability for the actions of a third party in order to utilize federal power marketing authority for benefit of transmission that is not part of or necessary to their systems.
The Secretary, acting through WAPA or SWPA, or both, may design, develop, construct, operate, maintain, or own, or participate with other entities in designing, developing, constructing, operating, maintaining, or owning, a new electric power transmission facility and related facilities (“Project”) located within any State in which WAPA or SWPA operates if the Secretary, in consultation with the applicable Administrator, determines that the proposed Project--
(1)(A) is located in an area designated under section 216(a) of the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 824p(a)] and will reduce congestion of electric transmission in interstate commerce; or
(B) is necessary to accommodate an actual or projected increase in demand for electric transmission capacity;
(2) is consistent with--
(A) transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.]) if any, or approved regional reliability organization; and
(B) efficient and reliable operation of the transmission grid;
(3) will be operated in conformance with prudent utility practice;
(4) will be operated by, or in conformance with the rules of, the appropriate (A) Transmission Organization, if any, or (B) if such an organization does not exist, regional reliability organization; and
(5) will not duplicate the functions of existing transmission facilities or proposed facilities which are the subject of ongoing or approved siting and related permitting proceedings.
There's simply nothing in Section 1222 that authorizes DOE to issue a "permit" for new transmission lines that have been denied by a state. If a state created laws requiring merchant transmission projects to receive a permit from the state before beginning construction, Section 1222 is a worthless exercise in federal usurpation of state authority. Transmission siting and permitting is state-jurisdictional. The federal government has no authority to override state laws.
Clean Line is currently trying to get the DOE to agree to accept liability for its actions and "participate" in its project. Before making a decision whether or not to "participate," DOE is undertaking an Environmental Impact Statement, which is required for any federal actions that affect the environment. In the video, Skelly encourages people to "weigh in" during the Draft EIS comment window (ends March 19). Skelly tells people to comment whether or not they like the project and where it should be routed. This is wrong. Comments should be directed around aspects of the draft EIS, which examines the environmental and social factors of the project. There will be a separate 45-day comment period for the public to "weigh in" on the DOE's decision whether or not to "participate" in the project, which will begin AFTER the EIS is completed. Skelly wants you to think that the EIS is your only avenue to comment on Section 1222. It's not, but you should comment on it nonetheless by going to this link.
Skelly also goes on about state and local property taxes, claiming that localities will benefit to the tune of $20K per mile, or half a million bucks a year. How did he do that math, considering each county has a different amount of proposed line mileage? He also forgets to mention that Clean Line has pursued and received tax abatement in a number of states and localities for periods of up to ten years. That will be 10 years of Clean Line using your local roads, infrastructure and services to construct and operate its project before you receive a dime of reimbursement for what it costs you to support it.
Skelly also tells the reporter that "the grid is maxed out" and Clean Line is "a vital piece of the puzzle to get wind online." Not so. The grid is not "maxed out." It is a carefully planned machine that is operated by regional transmission organizations and balancing authorities. These authorities undertake long-term planning that allows for needed expansion of our grid. If wind farms, or other generators, submit requests to interconnect to the grid, they get placed in a queue that allows the authority to consider new generation and how transmission may be needed and planned to move the generation to where it is needed in within the region.
Clean Line has bypassed this process and is proposing its project without any recognized need for the transmission or generation it proposes to bring online. Section 1222 requires that any project in which the DOE "participates" be consistent with, and not duplicative of, any regional plan.
IS CONSISTENT WITH: transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.]) if any, or approved regional reliability organization; and (5) will not duplicate the functions of existing transmission facilities or proposed facilities which are the subject of ongoing or approved siting and related permitting proceedings.
Clean Line fails this very important stipulation in Sec. 1222. Needed transmission is already being undertaken by our regional authorities. Clean Line is unnecessary duplication intended to stimulate construction of generation purposed only to export power between regions. It also fails to present any evidence that there are buyers for this power in other regions. It's just not true that new generation cannot be built without Clean Line providing a way to get it to "market," considering there is no identified market. Clean Line is in a chicken/egg scenario, supposing if it builds its project that generation and customers will develop, however, Clean Line cannot build without generators and customers developing FIRST. So, which came first? Clean Line, or generators and customers? We'll probably never find out because I don't think Clean Line is ever going to happen.
Skelly says that in order to utilize Clean Line's maximum capacity of 4,000 MW, 3,000 new wind turbines will have to be constructed near the project's Oklahoma converter station. Each turbine requires 1/2 a square mile of land, so we're talking about covering 1,500 square miles of land with wind turbines. That's roughly an area comparable to the entire State of Rhode Island. Skelly also points out that his project will simply waste 5% of the energy it carries through line loss. By comparison, a renewable generator sited near or at the electric load wastes little to none of the energy generated. Taking huge tracts of land out of production to generate energy that is transported long distance to load is simply wasteful.
Skelly shares that he believes "energy is a big deal" and his long journey from idea to reality will be "worth it." Classic words from a guy using someone else's money to dream the impossible dream.
I have now written you in August 2013 and September 2014 regarding the Department of
Energy's (DOE's) consideration for a partnership with Clean Line Energy Partners through the Plains & Eastern transmission line project and have yet to receive a satisfactory answer to my questions.
Since the date of my previous inquiry, I understand that the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been released for public comment, at which point, in accordance with your latest response to my office, "DOE will consider questions such as those raised in [my] letter." Unfortunately, merely acknowledging this fact does not, in turn, answer the questions raised.
As you know, the path of the proposed transmission line runs directly through the Third District of Arkansas. Therefore, I am extremely concerned about Clean Line's authorization. Respectfully, I am also very frustrated by one of your Department's disingenuous responses to my letters that identified "public interest" as one of the considerations given to the Clean Line
application. There has been an astounding lack of assurance that my district - and the State of Arkansas- will have any interest in this project at all and no guarantee that Clean Line will supply power to my constituents and my state. I place further emphasis on this concern given the denial of a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the initial application Clean Line had submitted to the Arkansas Public Service Commission.
Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 has never been invoked for the approval of an
electric power transmission facility. In light of the uncertainty of this process and the Section
1222 application, in addition to a lack of assurance regarding the benefit for the state of Arkansas from such a transmission line, I must again ask the following:
• What guarantee might the citizens of the Third District be afforded when it comes to a
specific energy supply to our state rather than a highway for power to Tennessee?
• How does the Department of Energy determine its authority for partnership with a private entity and the application of supposed rights to eminent domain?
• What factor does the denial of Clean Line as a public utility in the State of Arkansas play
in the final decision by the Department of Energy?
The DOE has been less than forthright in providing answers to the legitimate questions raised regarding Clean Line. Therefore, at this time, I would like to request a formal meeting with you to not only discuss these questions, but also the unacceptable responses that have been sent to both my office and stakeholders within the Third District. I look forward to your prompt reply.
Branstad, who appoints the members of the utilities board, warned against "political interference" into the administrative review process by which a pipeline carrying Bakken crude oil and a transmission line transporting wind-generated electricity could be approved.
"It would be mistake to get politics into this," Branstad said. "We should abide by the processes that have been put in place."
Maybe Branstad doesn't understand those "processes?" Our government is separated into three branches
: The Executive Branch carries out existing laws and recommends (but does not alone create) new ones. It administers our government. The Legislative Branch makes laws, at the will of the people it represents. The Judicial Branch interprets existing laws. Branstad is a member of the executive branch. The Iowa legislature is a member of the legislative branch. The IUB is a member of the judicial branch, although unlike a regular court, a utility board can make up copious rules about how they're going to carry out the laws made by the legislative branch. Trying to figure out which one is more powerful is an exercise in futility... and politics.
Branstad, as Governor, appoints the members of the IUB. This is a political process. A member of the executive branch will appoint those he believes will carry out his mission. Once appointed, IUB members are supposed to serve independently as they interpret utility laws, however, a crafty governor can control this process by allowing appointments to expire while the incumbents continue to serve at the daily whim of the governor, who can remove the incumbent and replace him at any time. I have no idea if this is the situation in Iowa, but I have seen just this situation perpetuate in several states. When it happens, the judicial branch comes under the thumb of the executive branch and can be easily influenced to make certain decisions on a political basis in order to remain in place.
The legislature makes the laws that direct the actions of an independent, quasi-judicial utility board. The judicial branch cannot create laws, but receives its marching orders from the legislative branch. If the legislature is displeased by the actions of the Board, it can make new laws to shape the decisions of the Board. In this way, the legislature can influence the judicial branch. However, there's more protection on this side of the coin, because the legislative branch is operating at the will of the people, and must obtain consensus from many to create new laws.
I don't know why Branstad believes it's not already "political." The state utility board process is about as political as it gets. While he warns the legislature not to get involved in a situation he controls, what the legislature eventually does will be political. It's all political!
So, if you want to influence your state utility board process, you must engage in politics. You can talk to your legislators to gain their support to make new laws that guide the decisions the utility board makes. You should probably talk to your governor about refraining from getting involved in the utility board processes. Branstad has it completely backwards!
Politics is described as:
the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, esp. the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power:
Companies proposing new transmission projects hope to influence the judicial process as much as individuals or groups opposing the transmission project. In order to do so, they push the legislative or executive branch to shape the judicial decision. Despite plenty of denial, the judicial processes of a utility board are heavily influenced by politics. It's the reason transmission developers spend so much lobbying your representatives to support their projects AGAINST YOUR WISHES!
Public opinion drives political decisions. A legislator is carrying out the will of the people. If enough people become involved in a utility board process, they can shape the process through their legislators, who may be more interested in their duty to the people than the free lunches and campaign contributions transmission corporations provide. The bigger the public push back, the better your chances.
Transmission developers also court other groups and individuals to take a position supporting their proposal. Sometimes a quid pro quo situation develops. This happens because a utility board is unlikely to approve even the best project if it is under political fire not to do so, therefore the transmission developer needs allies to create, at least, an appearance of support.
So, can a large, loud uprising of the people affect the decision of a utility board? You bet'cha! But don't get confused by the difference between public opinion and public comment.
Public opinion is an aggregate of public comment. The public comments citizens make to a utility board, in isolation, rarely drive the decision of the Board because they are typically not based on legal arguments about the laws the Board must follow in its findings.
Utility law guru Scott Hempling recently pondered the effectiveness of public comments in his monthly essay. This month, he featured several questions that he will use as projects for his utility law students. Here's one:
Engaging the public: Candor requires an admission: The lay citizenry's views do not count as "substantial evidence," required by courts to sustain agency orders. Does that fact make public hearings (i.e., the non-technical hearings) shams? If not, then what is the value of public participation? What are ways to create that value, at reasonable cost? Traditionally, agencies announced public hearings in the newspaper's "legal notices." How useful is that approach today? What are an agency's responsibilities to educate the public and seek its views?
The "substantial evidence" Hempling mentions must come through the legal process, either through an attorney or individuals acting pro se. While a utility board's decision is politically-driven, it must back up its decision on a legal basis. The utility provides its proposed legal basis for approval through the evidentiary hearing process. Opposition must therefore provide its own legal basis for denial in this same venue. The utility board, thus armed, can choose from whichever body of evidence it needs to to back up its decision (and hopefully make it stick.) It's pretty hard to make a decision that's not legally sound stick through appeals. It would be doubly-hard for a utility board to make a decision that denies evidence of future reliability issues coming from a supposedly independent third party, such as a regional transmission organization. Therefore, a utility or RTO may choose to find new information upon which to withdraw its proposal, instead of forcing a utility board into a denial. But, again, this is a political process that takes place that allows utilities to withdraw and save face (and money, but that's another story).
So while your own individual comment may not carry much legal weight, when combined with the comments of thousands of others, it is a very powerful, political tool!
If Branstad truly wants to keep "politics" out of utility board decisions in Iowa, he should start a little closer to home. The legislature, as the body tasked with making laws, can make any laws it chooses, whether Branstad likes them or not. Sure, he could veto a new law, but doing so to a new law widely supported by the people would come at his own political peril.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
- Margaret Mead
Get out your hip-waders, folks, it's going to get pretty deep!
According to this article, in 2011 former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu appointed Lauren Azar to a position at the DOE in order to carry out the administration's political agenda.
Chu's selection of Azar was largely seen as a sign of the Obama administration's intense interest in expanding the grid to support renewables and tackle climate change, sources said.
Azar got the finger pointed at her as the impetus for a controversial memo that urged federal power marketing agencies (PMAs) to use their authority to help get privately funded transmission projects built.
As laid out in the memo, she also championed Texas-based Clean Line Energy's application to partner with DOE through its never-before-used authority under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act, which would allow a PMA with federal authority to site the line and overcome state opposition.
It's not about reliability or economics of the grid, it's about federal support for certain companies with personal ties to the DOE:
Jimmy Glotfelty, founder of Clean Line Energy Partners and a former senior electricity adviser for President George W. Bush, said Azar should be remembered for trying to build infrastructure and integrate renewables in a thoughtful and cooperative manner.
"The customers of PMAs are pretty protective, and if you ask a lot of people who have been in her shoes -- including myself -- it's not uncommon to get into debates with customers of PMAs," he said. "They're tough negotiators."
Clean Line, with its DOE-connected "vice president," became the only transmission company to take advantage of Sec. 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 during a very convenient RFP process run by the DOE in 2010. But the pre-Azar DOE just wasn't aggressive enough:
Azar brought that same spirit to DOE. She helped bring together the "federal family" in 2011 -- nine agencies key to streamlining federal permitting of major new power lines that could have taken up to 15 years to garner approval (Greenwire, Oct. 5, 2011). DOE already had existing authority to do so under 216(h) of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, language that allows the agency to coordinate federal and environmental reviews.
"DOE, until I got there, implemented [the rule] in somewhat of a tepid manner," she said. "I came in like gangbusters as I always do and not only helped to lead the rapid respond team for transmission but helped DOE draft some rules for 216(h), negotiate with the nine agencies."
Shortly after Azar was appointed, Clean Line submitted an "updated" application
under Sec. 1222 in order to use the federal power marketing agencies to take land for its private gain and override state denials.
The Honorable Lauren Azar
Senior Advisor to the Secretary
U.S. Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20585
August 17, 2011
With development efforts well under way, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line is positioned to
help meet President Obama's call for 80% clean energy by 2035. The Plains & Eastern Clean Line will provide affordable, renewable power to millions of customers in the southeastern United States. Regulatory and permitting approvals at the state and federal levels are the critical path items. Since submitting a proposal in July 2010, the Plains & Eastern Clean Line has made substantial development progress, strengthening the case for a partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE) and Southwestern under Section 1222 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The attached document provides an update on our efforts, including the widespread support the project has received from a diverse group of stakeholders. It also supplements the original application with respect to how the project is necessary to accommodate the increase in demand for transmission capacity and how the project is consistent with needs identified in transmission plans or otherwise by the appropriate transmission organization.
Projects like the Plains & Eastern Clean Line have the potential to return the United States to a global leadership position in clean energy. The private sector has the resources and the desire to invest in our aging infrastructure and we respectfully ask that the DOE exercise its authority to make it possible. We appreciate the attention you are giving the Plains & Eastern Clean Line. We will be in Washington, DC regularly in the coming months and would like the opportunity to sit down with you and your team to review the project materials and respond to any questions.
2) is consistent with--
(A) transmission needs identified, in a transmission expansion plan or otherwise, by the appropriate Transmission Organization (as defined in the Federal Power Act [16 U.S.C. 791a et seq.]) if any, or approved regional reliability organization
Clean Line's projects are not a part of any transmission expansion plan, therefore they cannot be "consistent with" a plan that does not include them.
Instead, the DOE relied on:
DOE has emphasized the need for additional high voltage transmission capacity to deliver renewable resources from transmission-constrained areas, stating in its "20% Wind Energy by 2030" Report that "If the considerable wind resources of the United States are to be utilized, a significant amount of new transmission will be required."
is probably the highlight of Clean Line "vice president" Glotfelty's career at the DOE. And then Glotfelty leaves the DOE after setting the stage, and personally invests in Clean Line Energy Partners?
Clean Line brags:
Jimmy worked for George W. Bush, for almost eight years, at both the gubernatorial and presidential levels. He led the Bush Administration’s efforts on electricity issues with Congress and the electric utility industry. In this capacity, he founded Office of Electric Delivery and Energy Reliability at the Department of Energy (DOE) and served as its first Director.
Let's see... which office is undertaking DOE's consideration of Clean Line's application under Sec. 1222?
The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Section 1222 Program is administered by the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability (OE).
Whether the department will take the same approach under Chu's successor, MIT nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, remains unclear.
I don't think that Moniz has a clue what his underlings are up to, but that's no excuse to let this federal land-taking scheme continue.
Clean Line's plans are a for-profit initiative masquerading as a political agenda. And DOE's political agenda is favoring corporate interests over the interests of the citizens and consumers it is supposed to serve. Let's clean the stink out of our federal Department of Energy!