The Columbus Dispatch reports today that AEP has hired Goldman-Sachs to explore the potential sale of its unregulated coal-fired merchant generation fleet.

Coal-fired power plants are no longer profitable.  AEP and FirstEnergy have been unloading these liabilities on the backs of ratepayers in regulated states, and even have cases pending to unload them in unregulated states. 

The power plants are no longer profitable because the price of power has fallen below the cost to operate them, and these plants need a bunch of expensive retrofits to comply with new EPA regulations.  AEP and FirstEnergy are in a bind because they placed all their eggs in the same basket by hanging onto coal plants way past the time when smart utilities unloaded them at fire-sale prices.  Corporate greed strikes again!

The WV PSC just recently approved an AEP subsidiary's purchase of all but 140MW of one of the company's merchant plants, making Wheeling Power and Appalachian Power customers responsible for operating it and absorbing any losses.

In 2013, the WV PSC approved FirstEnergy's plan to dispose of its Harrison Power Station the same way, by making customers of Mon Power and Potomac Edison responsible for it.

The WV PSC never met a coal-fired power plant or rate increase that it didn't like.

Encouraged by the WV PSC, the Ohio companies next decided to try to unload more of their coal-fired assets on ratepayers in Ohio.  Except... Ohio is a deregulated generation state.  Demonstrating extreme creativity, the tedious twins came up with ingenious plans to shift responsibility for the plants to ratepayers anyhow.  FirstEnergy came up with its "Powering Our Profits" plan.  I don't know if AEP came up with a cutsie-poo name like FirstEnergy, but it also put forth a proposal to transfer responsibility for its
plants to Ohio ratepayers.

Gotta wonder how those cases are going to turn out at the PUCO, considering:

AEP has proposals pending with Ohio regulators that would provide a profit guarantee for five plants, four of which are part of the unregulated fleet. The company has said the plans would allow it to continue operating the plants, as opposed to a potential sale or shutdown.
But now it looks like AEP is getting ready to sell them instead.  Smart move.  Finally.

FirstEnergy is still too dumb to buy a clue.
I noticed something funny the other day.  It seems that FirstEnergy is having trouble telling the same story about its transmission building endeavors to different audiences.

Just like new transmission lines proposed to criss-cross the midwest to allow "wind" to interconnect with the existing transmission system are nothing more than gigantic generator lead lines, FirstEnergy's "Energizing the Future" campaign to build new substations and transmission in West Virginia are nothing more than gigantic service lines to new Marcellus shale processing plants.

Generator lead lines (the transmission necessary to connect a generator to the existing transmission system) are paid for by the generator.  It's part of their cost of selling power, just like the rest of their plant.

So, why are service lines for new customers the responsibility of all customers?  If I wanted to open a plastics factory in my backyard and asked Potomac Edison for service, I bet they'd charge me plenty...  like the entire cost of the service line connected to whatever voltage I required for my plant, or the cost to upgrade existing lines to serve my plant.

The State Journal reports that FirstEnergy is building new transmission and substations in West Virginia to support the Marcellus shale industry.
Projects include the new Waldo Run transmission substation and a short 138-kilovolt transmission line in Doddridge County near Sherwood. The $52 million project is expected to support industrial users and enhance electric service to more than 6,000 customers in Doddridge, Harrison and Ritchie counties. The substation will accommodate additional load growth at a new natural gas processing facility, which consumes large amounts of electricity separating natural gas into dry and liquid components.

FirstEnergy is also working on a 138-kilovolt transmission line that will support the natural gas industry, as well as enhance service reliability for nearly 13,000 customers in the Clarksburg and Salem areas. The 18-mile, $55 million Oak Mound-Waldo Run transmission project is expected to be placed into service by December 2015.

The company is also evaluating additional transmission upgrades as new service requests from shale gas developers continue throughout the Mon Power territory. FirstEnergy is currently evaluating new transmission facilities in Wetzel County to support a midstream gas processing plant that continues to expand.
Would the existing 19,000 customers need their electric service "enhanced" if not for the addition of the Marcellus facilities?  Probably not.

So, what is FirstEnergy telling the landowners affected by their new, Marcellus-supporting projects?
Project Need
FirstEnergy has identified the reliability risk of low voltage conditions on the transmission system under certain conditions. The proposed project addresses the reliability issues. Its assessment is based on existing conditions and the need for system reliability to safely meet the electrical needs of the region now and into the future.
Nothing about shale gas development or new Marcellus facilities there.  Just mysterious "low voltage conditions on the transmission system under certain conditions."  Wanna bet those "certain conditions" are the construction of Marcellus facilities?

It seems that FirstEnergy has two stories here.  The one for its investors is all about building things to support Marcellus.  The one for ratepayers is about building things to support existing customers.  Obviously, one of these stories isn't exactly honest.

Why isn't the Marcellus industry paying the cost of new electric facilities to support its business? 

Why are West Virginia electric consumers, who have been subject to more and more rate increases recently, being asked to pay the cost of harvesting Marcellus gas?  Isn't the gas industry in West Virginia profitable enough without subsidies provided by ratepayers?

And if that isn't bad enough, FirstEnergy's transmission scheme is all about pumping more and more "transmission spend" into its transmission subsidiaries, like TrAILCO, that earn a sweet 12.7% return on equity courtesy of federal transmission rates.  In addition, these lower voltage transmission lines are beyond the jurisdiction of state regulators.  As noted on FirstEnergy's "fact sheet:"
Regulatory Approval
TrAILCo will submit a letter to the staff of the Public Service Commission of West Virginia advising them of the project.
Just a letter.  No debate.  FirstEnergy is a utility with eminent domain authority in West Virginia so they're just going to write a letter to the PSC, and come take your property.  They don't even need to notify you until they show up with the bulldozer.  Who needs due process?
In most locations, a new 150-foot wide right-of-way will be needed for the proposed transmission line. In a few locations, the new right-of-way will be 200 feet wide.
Who wins here?  The Marcellus industry.  FirstEnergy. And your elected officials owned by both industries.

Who loses?  Ratepayers.  Again.
The National Park Service and grant-money-grubber The Conservation Fund are misleading the public about land being "donated" to the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

In recently-generated press, the entities claim that additional park land was purchased by The Conservation Fund and "donated" to the park.
The purchase of these lands by The Conservation Fund from willing and interested sellers without the use of any taxpayer dollars, and their subsequent transfer to the NPS, ensures that they remain in the public trust for future generations to learn from and enjoy and that they will continue to provide both ecological and economic benefits to the region.
The Conservation Fund used YOUR money to purchase these lands, and skimmed a nice "administrative fee" for themselves off the top.  How nice of them to "donate" the land to you. 

The land was purchased with a $66M mitigation fund that the Department of the Interior extorted from utilities PSE&G and PPL, who were allowed to build a gigantic electric transmission project through the heart of the park in exchange for the payoff.  In turn, PSE&G is recovering the $66M from all electric ratepayers in the 13-state PJM Interconnection region.  Under federal rate schemes, PSE&G is even allowed to earn a 12.9% return on the bribe as it slowly depreciates over the life of the transmission line.  In exchange for acting as the middleman and giving your crooked government cover for its outrageous abuse of the public trust, The Conservation Fund is allowed to skim generous "administrative fees" off the fund every year.  The Conservation Fund didn't "donate" anything, they just served as the nonprofit "purchaser" to so that these shady transactions may not shoulder their fair tax burden.

It's a lie and a scam of the highest order.  Addition of border properties to the park does not make the transmission line disappear out of the middle of the park.  Mitigation means your park assets are for sale to the highest bidder.  In this case, the highest bidder was YOU.  Why are the citizens paying to buy additional park property at the Delaware Water Gap NRA, and why is The Conservation Fund being allowed to claim it as a "donation" on its taxes?

The National Park Service ought to be ashamed of itself for lying to the public this way.
Clean Line's Texas hucksters showed up in Illinois last night, and the citizens were there to meet them.
Outside the Church of the Nazarene Fellowship Hall, members of a grassroots protest group gathered to tell landowners of their opposition to the project. Inside the hall, company officials told of its benefits.
Which group do you think was telling the truth?  Hint:  One group was paid to be there by Clean Line, the other was there voluntarily.

Apparently there was lots of "misinformation" afoot, but only one group whined about "misinformation."  Guess which one?  It might be the one laboring under the misapprehension of the information deficit model.

The accompanying picture is a classic:  crowds of disenchanted landowners, some with arms folded, staring down the "clean" employee performing a song and dance in front of a company poster at an "information station."

The divide and conquer routine isn't working, Clean Line.  These folks got the jump on you.

Silly Clean Line routed their project through land owned by a local attorney.

"They are filing for expedited review with the (Illinois Commerce Commission) which provides for limited time for landowners to object and even shorter filing periods, which constrains ability to have fair and full hearings insuring that due process rights of each landowner are protected," Probst said.
"Our firm is looking into calling a meeting of landowners and invite other interested parties to discuss what options are available to the landowners of Shelby County," the lawyer added.
Ooopsy, Clean Line!  Why the hurry?  Hoping that you can ram this project through approvals at the ICC before the landowners organize enough to seek legal counsel?  Too late!

Bravo to the citizens of Illinois who have worked so hard to prepare for Clean Line, as well as to all the experienced Clean Line opponents who traveled to the meeting to help out.  What an auspicious beginning!
FirstEnergy is at it again.  Its affiliate JCP&L's "Montville-Whippany Reinforcement Project" not only gave the New Jersey towns of Parsippany and Montville the ol' bait and switch, it's deep into dividing and conquering both of the towns by throwing the focus on shoving the line off onto someone else and pitting neighbor against neighbor, instead of allowing BOTH towns to join forces and focus on the real enemy -- FirstEnemy... errr... Energy!

Last year JCP&L held "open house" sessions for a route through Parsippany.  The townsfolk jumped all over opposing the line, forming a grassroots opposition group and making a lot of noise. Last week, JCP&L held another series of open houses announcing they had selected a different route through neighboring Montville

Montville has already been ground zero for PSE&G's "Susquehanna Roseland" transmission project.  I guess the geniuses at JCP&L think transmission lines are like potato chips -- you can never have just one?  So, not only is Montville already an experienced transmission opposition warrior, but JCP&L had to go and enrage the town's leadership with its tired, old "open house" meeting format, which the mayor referred to as "the stations of the cross."
The Committee expected the mayor to give an opening statement and then JCP&L would give their presentation, followed by a question-and-answer period. A committee member said that it turned out to be a JCP&L public relations presentation, and the company made no effort to discuss the problems and possible solutions.
So, now the town will be holding its own public meeting, where residents and town leaders will make their own list of demands.  The town expects JCP&L will subsequently negotiate modifications to the plan that would lessen impact on residents.  Good luck, Montville, and remember, delay is your friend!  :-)

Will the utilities ever learn?  Their old routines no longer work on an increasingly educated and savvy public.  The "open house" is no longer effective in dividing and neutralizing potential opposition.  Heck, we use your stupid "open houses" as handy-dandy meet-n-greets to recruit new opposition.  It's cheaper and easier when you all do the mailings and media to get affected landowners to a centralized location where they can be recruited by opposition groups.

The only citizens who leave those meetings with a warm, fuzzy feeling are those who find out that their property is nowhere near the project.  The rest of them leave confused, shell-shocked... and angry.  And they form and join opposition groups that increase costs and delay projects, sometimes even causing the project to be abandoned.

The days of running over the public with stupid PR tricks in order to build overhead transmission
are over.  The public demands transparency, integrity and better solutions.

Time for a new schtick, FirstEnergy. 

I think the TVA has been reading too many fairy tales.  In an abrupt about-face, the TVA produced a letter expressing "an interest in options" like Clean Line on Tuesday.  The letter was sent to Clean Line just in time to be presented to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority at its evidentiary hearing on Clean Line's application yesterday.

I smell a big, fat, political glad-handing rat.

In July, the TVA sent a letter responding to Tennessee congressmen Alexander and Fincher that panned Clean Line.  In a nutshell, the letter said that Clean Line presents economic and reliability issues for the TVA.

Now, just 4 months later, TVA "encourages" the TRA to:
...provide the regulatory and other government review needed to move the project forward.
What's changed?  I think it might have been the employee who drafted the letter for Johnson's signature.  This latest one sounds to me like it was written by some external affairs schmoozer, perhaps over a few "clean" cocktails, and not by TRA's resource planning staff.

The TVA says that Clean Line may provide a "potential option for the future needs of the region," but stays far, far away from actually committing to it.  TVA says that it is still working on its integrated resource plan, and Clean Line's interconnection study, and that only the TVA Board can decide whether to purchase capacity on Clean Line.  But yet TVA President William Johnson thinks Clean Line should be built just so he has some "options" to choose from.

Don't we build only the transmission that's actually needed?  Don't transmission planners base new lines on actual need?  I've never heard of a transmission line approved by an RTO just to provide "options."

If TVA decides that wind is the most economic and reliable option for a portion of its resource plan, then it will have plenty of wind "options" to choose from, whether Clean Line is built or not.

So, let me get this straight... TVA wants to clear cut a new 700 mile right of way through three states, take land from thousands of citizens through condemnation, depress the economy of "pass through" states, raise electric rates in generating states through increased competition, and encourage Clean Line to borrow billions of dollars to construct this project, just so the TVA can consider it as an "option?"

Fortunately, it's a financial impossibility to build Clean Line without firm contracts with shippers and utilities that will provide a collateral income stream.  So, guess what?  If Clean Line gets built, it will already be fully subscribed, which means that there will be no "option" for TVA's "interest."
  See paragraph above about other "options."

The TVA finishes off its split-personality missive with a
disclaimer that negates all the rest of the blather.
I note that, while Clean Line might represent an option for TVA and its stakeholders' future, only the TVA Board has the authority to  approve exercise of such an option. That Board to-date has not undertaken such an approval. That consideration process will focus on the statutory requirements of least cost, need for the resource, and other matters within the purview of the TVA Board.
Sort of sounds like a special fairy tale intended to grease the TRA's approval wheels to me.  What a shame.  Just when people were starting to have faith in the integrity of the TVA's integrated resource planning process...
megalomaniac |ˌmegəlōˈmānēˌak|
a person who is obsessed with their own power.
• a person who suffers delusions of their own power or importance.
The President of floundering Clean Line Energy Partners thinks utilities whose territory his projects pass through would make great investors in the projects.
In the future, Skelly says he hopes that utilities, whose territories are crossed by the HVDC lines, could invest in Clean Line.
So, sign up today to support Mikey's risky plans for more unregulated transmission lines outside the normal planning process!  Because getting a few of Mikey's crumbs is soooooo much better than building your own transmission lines and eating the whole pie.
An Indiana utility is apologizing to its customers after failing to read electric meters for months, then issuing gigantic "catch up" bills when finally performing an actual meter read.

Remind you of anyone?

Vectren's excuse is that its meter reading contractor simply quit reading meters at the end of its contract period when it knew it would not be receiving a new contract.  The company says that the 400 customers affected can pay their gigantic bills in smaller increments, without interest.

The company has "put a formal communications plan in place."  This means they're spinning and trying to downplay the true magnitude of the problem.

The Courier Press says the problem is much bigger than Vectren has admitted.
The Courier & Press began investigating this issue after receiving a call from a local business owner on Friday concerned that her bill had tripled without warning.

Vectren initially said that more bills than usual were estimated over the summer because the company switched meter reading contractors, and it was changing the readers’ routes.

“Without getting into specifics, there are challenges that happen with any contractor transitions,” Hedde said Tuesday morning. She added that the anonymous caller’s high bill was likely atypical.

“I don’t want to give the impression that that is normal,” Hedde said. “She is experiencing something hopefully that is an anomaly.”

But response to a Courier & Press’ Facebook post showed the issue was widespread. Hundreds of people replied to the post with stories of bills that were several times what they expected.
The Courier & Press characterizes the problem as affecting "thousands" of customers.

The Indiana Regulatory Commission doesn't seem to see this as a problem.
But mistake or no, customers whose bills were underestimated must pay up, said the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission.

“They are responsible for it,” said Natalie Derrickson, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. “At this point, if a customer feels like their bill was estimated and they have larger bills than they were expecting, their first step should be to contact Vectren. If the customer feels like the issue is not resolved, they should contact us.”
This utility failure probably couldn't come at a worse time of year for struggling families.  No Christmas this year, kiddies, Mommy & Daddy have to pay the electric bill instead!

Seems to me that if the problem was caused by a contractor that did not live up to its legal obligations, then Vectren and/or the affected customers have a clear course of action.  Unless... maybe Vectren isn't being honest about this and is scapegoating a contractor they no longer do business with?

You'd think the Indiana Regulatory Commission would at least want to get to the bottom of this.

At any rate, the Courier & Press wants to know what the people think -- Should utilities be permitted to estimate customers’ bills for periods longer than one month?

As we found out here in West Virginia when thousands of customers were abused in exactly the same fashion by FirstEnergy, meters should be read every month.
Another article about the security risks posed by our reliance on centralized generation and long-distance transmission by Rebecca Smith at the Wall Street Journal.  Rebecca just hasn't been the same since she had a little talk with former FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff about the attack on a California substation back in 2013.  Wellinghoff has been doing the Paul Revere about the stunning insecurity of our electrical grid since the incident, and it looks like he's now recruited Rebecca to carry the torch.
Fear that utility companies remain vulnerable to hackers, terrorists and natural disasters has the Pentagon pushing construction of independent power grids at military bases across the U.S. ...
We should all be pushing for construction of independent power grids in our own neighborhoods, instead of more centralized generation (whether renewable or otherwise) and long-distance transmission.  Gigantic, interconnected infrastructure is incredibly vulnerable simply because so many people rely on it.  While independent power grids and local generation could also be subject to the same mischief that makes an interconnected grid vulnerable, if there are enough micro grids operating independently, there would simply be too many of them to effect large scale blackouts, whether purposefully or accidentally.
Increasingly, the Pentagon wants power from its own sources.

“The endgame is to be able to survive if the grid goes down,” said Paul Orzeske, who recently retired as president of Honeywell Building Solutions, the company helping build Fort Bragg’s microgrid.

For years, experts have recommended the U.S. military seek independence from commercial utilities. “Our grid is old and it’s reliant on technology that’s outdated,” said Michael Wu, energy program director for the Truman National Security Project & Center for National Policy, a Washington think tank.
But regional grid planners. regulators, and utilities all insist that we need more -- more generators and more transmission -- in order to make the system "reliable."

Someone's lying here.

Is a small, independent, diverse system more reliable?

Or is a large, interconnected and redundant system more reliable?

Can't have it both ways.  Personally, my vote is with the military when it comes to reliability and safety. 
Section 1221 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 directed the U.S. Department of Energy to complete a transmission "congestion study" every three years.  The congestion study is supposed to lead to designation of "National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors" (NIETCs).  A transmission project sited in a NIETC is subject to "backstop" permitting authority by FERC if a state fails to act on a permit application within one year, or lacks authority to issue a permit.  It's a three-step process to federal electric transmission siting and permitting that should NEVER be allowed to happen.

DOE's initial attempts ran into a buzzsaw of opposition that ended up in two separate federal court decisions that effectively castrated Sec. 1221.  But, hey, that Sec. 1221 mandate still exists, so DOE must still go through the motions.

And that's what they did, albeit 2 years past the 2012 due date. The DOE secretly opened their "draft" congestion study up for public comment (never mind the contradiction of a secret opportunity for public comment, we won't dwell there). 

The public commented -- nearly 100 comments panning the report and warning against designation of any new NIETCs were submitted by interested "stakeholders."

But, a handful of industry players also found out about the secret study and submitted comments.  So, let's take a look!

Utilities SDG&E, Southern Co., Duke, and Florida Municipal Power Agency filed self-serving comments about their own service territory, either pointing to "congestion" where they want to build lines, or cheering a DOE finding that there was no congestion in their region.

Regional transmission organizations Southwest Power Pool, NY-ISO and ISO-NE
also filed comments.  The general gist of their comments was that RTOs already have robust transmission planning processes and power markets that make DOE's congestion study a frivolous and unnecessary duplication of effort.  And then they resorted to redline editorial corrections.  I did get a kick out of ISO-NE's correction to add offshore wind to DOE's narrow resource focus:
Page 49:
The best onshore renewable wind resources (i.e., those with the highest potential
capacity factors) tend to be located far from load and sometimes in areas with less
transmission than desired for effective resource development. The best offshore renewable wind resources, however, are often located close to load centers, as is the case with New England.
Bravo, ISO-NE!

Edison Electric Institute (EEI), the investor-owned utility lobbyist organization, told DOE to forget all about that NIETC stuff and to spend its time finding ways to streamline transmission permits on federal land.  Yes... that's just what's missing from America's National Parks -- more and bigger transmission lines!  Just think how sweet the Grand Canyon would look with a couple of huge transmission lines spanning it at its widest points!  And wouldn't Old Faithful be much, much cooler if it erupted into an overhead transmission line and created even more steam and maybe an electric arc or two?
  Yeehaw.... idiots!

WIRES, the transmission developer's lobbying group just seems to want to get its paws on a whole bunch of congestion data.  If DOE can't find or easily gather this data for WIRES's use in proposing competitive transmission projects, then WIRES thinks the DOE should pursue new legislation to obtain it, no matter how much providing this information burdens other utilities.

The American Wind Energy Association and Next Era Energy want DOE to allow transmission developers to do their own "congestion studies" and apply to DOE for designation of narrow "corridors" just wide enough for projects they want to build.  That's just ridiculous!!  A version of this bastardization of Sec. 1221 was proposed several years ago, and was promptly disposed of by Congress.  Not a good idea!  DOE doing this study and designating corridors is bad enough without throwing wide the door to self-serving "studies" and corridor requests inspired, not by need for new transmission, but by corporate greed.

And speaking of corporate greed, I've saved the best for last.  As expected, our heroes at Clean Line Energy just couldn't be left out of a process where it may benefit by using the government as its own personal land agent to take what it isn't granted by individual states.

Clean Line makes a bunch of obsequious comments that really don't do much but promote its own projects and display their self-centered stupidity. 

Clean Line made much of this diagram:
All of Clean Line’s projects originate in a Type 1 Conditional Constraint Area, identified by DOE in the 2009 National Electric Transmission Congestion Study (“2009 Congestion Study”) and illustrated in Figure 2. The 2009 Congestion Study defined a Type I Conditional Constraint Area as, “an area where large quantities of renewable resources could be developed economically using existing technology with known cost and performance characteristics – if transmission were available to serve them.” The 2009 Congestion Study also noted, “Construction of major new transmission projects would enable development of thousands of MW of new renewable generation” within these areas.
Hey, guess what, Clean Line?  The 2009 Congestion Study is no longer in effect and, in fact, was one of the straws that broke the DOE's back in Federal court.  Issuing a new report filled with old data is probably not a good plan.  And, hey, look at Figure 2 -- wind in those Type II Conditional Constraint Areas is conveniently located near all the big load centers that YOU are trying to reach with YOUR Type I projects.  Thanks for bringing up and illustrating just how worthless your projects really are!

Clean Line tells a HUGE lie:
Clean Line has engaged with thousands of local stakeholders in eleven states, where its five projects are actively under development.
Sort of sounds like Clean Line is having a great time making new friends, right?  In fact, Clean Line has inspired record opposition in every state it's entered, where "thousands of stakeholders" have spoken out against the project and participated in opposing Clean Line applications in the state permitting process.  Landowners routinely complain that they were not engaged by Clean Line, but found out about the project from neighbors and friends.  Clean Line's "public participation" process has been one gigantic failure.  Failure to properly consult with all stakeholders was a problem in DOE's last NIETC designation, and it's also the reason Clean Line is facing record opposition.  Ignoring landowner stakeholders does NOT nullify them, it only enrages and engages them!

Clean Line rumbles on about demand for its projects from unbuilt wind generators.  Note, Clean Line doesn't mention any interest from load serving entities, most likely because there isn't any!  And Clean Line's price for "all in" delivery includes the production tax credit that expired LAST year. 

Clean Line even elects itself to speak as a champion for you struggling farmers!

These are real projects, many of which have land leased for wind turbines from
farmers seeking new sources of income, as drought has made traditional farming livelihoods uncertain. Wind power represents new hope for drought-resistant income and economic development in regions of the country otherwise struggling with diminishing populations.
Looks like you all should give up farming and sit on the porch, watching the turbines turn and counting your cash.  Where's our food supposed to come from?  Make sure Clean Line gets at the end of any buffet line...

The next step is for DOE to "review and consider" comments on the draft study, and to prepare and release a final version of the study.  Watch this website, because it's likely to be another secret public process from our taxpayer-funded U.S. DOE!