Ask a transmission developer proposing a new transmission line and you'll get an answer in the neighborhood of 10 times the cost of an overhead line. (Example: $1B overhead = $10B buried)
Ask an engineer for a company proposing an underground project and you get an estimate that burial would double the cost of a similar overhead line.
(Example: $1B overhead - $2B buried)
I've been told both of these things. So, who to believe? Who might be exaggerating to serve their own purposes?
Apparently it only does "almost double" costs to bury HVDC transmission. That's what the Department of Energy concluded in its recently released draft environmental impact statement on the ill-fated Northern Pass project.
A complete burial of the Northern Pass transmission line would nearly double the project’s cost, but reduce potential negative impacts on the environment, tourism and local property values, according to a draft report released by the U.S. Department of Energy Tuesday.
While the proposed Northern Pass project — made up primarily of overhead lines strung between Pittsburg, N.H., and Deerfield, N.H. — would be the cheapest option at roughly $1.02 billion, it would also pose the greatest environmental and visual impact, the report says.
Four of the alternatives call for a complete burial of the transmission line. Another calls for partial burial beneath Interstate 93 through Franconia Notch, or along Routes 112 and 116 through the White Mountain National Forrest.
Five call for burial along existing roads and highways, options with the least environmental impact, the report says. All of the underground alternatives carry the highest costs, ranging from $1.83 billion to $2.11 billion.
But nowhere near a magnitude of 10 times the cost. Liar, liar, pants on fire!
In addition, a buried line provides significant benefits over its aerial cousin.
The visual impact, which includes “large industrial-appearing lattice structures,” could negatively impact New Hampshire’s tourism and recreation, the report says. And the proposed overhead route likely would cause the largest drop in residential property values and have the least economic tax benefit to host communities.
Putting the line underground, as opposed to overhead, lessens the impact on tourism, recreation, historic resources and the environment, the review says.
Burying the line requires less vegetation removal and has fewer effects on wildlife, including protected species. The buried lines are less susceptible than the overhead lines to damage from extreme weather.
Construction of the overhead line would generate fewer short-term and permanent jobs than an underground alternative, the report says.
But, the report says, blasting during construction would generate more noise than putting the lines overhead. And burial of the line would increase the potential for erosion.
Really? That's the only drawback? Noise from blasting? So, how much "blasting" would Clean Line need to do to bury its proposed transmission lines across Midwest farmland? Little to none? What if much of the additional cost of burial was tied to blasting up the "Granite State" to create trenches? And erosion? I think that could probably be handled. Once buried, out of site, out of mind, right?
C'mon, Clean Line, get with the program and re-engineer your projects as underground lines! How much have you spent (and moreover how much will you have to spend in the future) trying to get your lines permitted? It would have been much cheaper (in terms of both money and time) to have done the smart thing and proposed your projects as buried lines in the first damned place!
And don't give me any of that crap about how its technologically impossible to bury long lines. The engineer who gave me the spot on double cost estimate also told me there is no mileage limit. He's got a lot more cred than you do at this point...
How much does opposition cost? How much does buying support cost? How much does lobbying to change laws cost? How much are a whole bunch of contested eminent domain cases going to cost? How much do repeat or additional approval processes cost?
Clean Line says its currently proposed transmission line will only add something like 2.5 cents per kw hour to the 2.5 cent cost of wind energy. So, even doubling the project costs, it's still possible to deliver at 7.5 cents/kwh, right? Well, unless Clean Line has been lying about the delivered price of wind via its projects...
Maybe Clean Line's projects won't be "economic" enough to provide big returns to their investors without foisting some of its costs off onto bypassed landowners by taking land as cheaply as possible through condemnation and eminent domain?
We all know that the public's appetite for "green" energy only stretches so far as their wallet. When faced with increased electric bills for "green" energy, the majority of the public will snap their wallet shut and oppose it. So, why would this same public expect that Midwest landowners should accept economic sacrifice and burden to keep urban electric bills low? It's only appealing when its been greenwashed and politicized, and none of that nasty infrastructure gets planted in THEIR backyard!
And... this question bubbles up... why does the DOE's draft EIS for the Northern Pass include multiple routing options that require underground lines when DOE's draft EIS for the Clean Line Plains & Eastern project proposed NO underground options? Are the people and environment of Oklahoma and Arkansas worth less than those in New Hampshire? Or is it just that Northern Pass has gotten bigger, politically-connected, push back and top-notch legal help?
It's about time to recognize that the public will no longer accept the burden of overhead lines. Anywhere. There's a better way. "Green" energy costs more. Deal with it.
Well, isn't that cute? FirstEnergy has mated with itself and given birth to MAIT, Mid-Atlantic Interstate Transmission, LLC. Who thinks up these stupid names? This one rolls off the tongue with as much excitement and pleasure as the phrase "hand over your wallet and nobody gets hurt," or perhaps the descriptive "hot turd."
So, FirstEnergy needs to create another "independent" transco in order to energize its balance sheet by creating the world's sweetest investment account that will pay lucrative double-digit returns for many decades to come? Well, that's good for everyone, right? No, it's not.
FirstEnergy proposes that its "eastern" retail distribution companies "sell" their transmission assets to the newly formed "MAIT" in exchange for a backseat interest in the company and annual "lease" payments for right-of-way and other real estate interests that the retail companies will continue to own (along with the tax liability). Will the "lease payments" be enough to cover all the liabilities of owning the real estate? Or will the retail distribution customers end up financing a portion of that to make the "lease" cheaper for MAIT? Who's going to be supervising that to make sure it's an arm's length transaction?
FirstEnergy says they need to do this because it is consistent with the public interest. You know, you "public" are supposed to benefit from it. So, what are the benefits?
MAIT will not result in cross-subsidization of a non-utility associate company or the pledge or encumbrance of utility assets for the benefit of an associate company.
It supposedly won't have an adverse impact on competition, rates, or regulation.
FirstEnergy commits to hold customers harmless from transaction costs. (oh, like they did in the FirstEnergy/Allegheny Energy merger?)
So, "the public" won't be harmed? Even if we believe that, it's not a "benefit." It's "do no harm."
But, wait, there's more!!
MAIT results in the creation of a stand-alone transmission company, which provides a number of
benefits to customers and the PJM region!
Tell us more, Rod Roddy....
FirstEnergy is in the midst of a major investment cycle in transmission infrastructure. In 2014, FirstEnergy commenced its EtF initiative, which is intended to identify the need for, and facilitate the investment in, improvements to the security, resiliency, efficiency, and operational flexibility of its transmission systems. EtF projects include building and re-conductoring transmission lines; building and enhancing substations; modernizing transmission
communication infrastructure; and installing dynamic reactive resources to regulate system
voltage. In all, FirstEnergy plans to invest approximately $2.5 to $3 billion in the FirstEnergy East Operating Companies’ service territories through this program over the next five to ten years.
FET formed MAIT in preparation for this significant planned investment. As Mr. Staub
explains in his testimony, utilities face significant challenges in their efforts to simultaneously meet the service requirements of retail customers while also making sustained investments in their transmission assets. A utility’s investment in transmission infrastructure competes with other business lines of the utility for capital, and transmission investments “can be deferred in favor of more immediate or emergency investments in distribution” facilities. The singleminded
focus as a transmission-only entity will enable MAIT to commit to addressing the significant investment needs of the transmission system.
This stand-alone structure also will allow MAIT to attract capital on more commercially reasonable terms. Mr. Staub explains that lenders view stand-alone transmission companies favorably due to their transparent and easy-to-assess risk profile. The Commission has also observed that stand-alone transmission companies typically enjoy an enhanced ability to respond to transmission needs and have a superior track record of investing in new infrastructure.
MAIT’s improved access to capital will increase the likelihood that the planned investments are carried out and completed in a timely fashion and at a lower cost. Moreover, MAIT will incur debt in its own name, without a parent guarantee. Any debt MAIT incurs to finance new transmission projects, therefore, will not affect the financial condition and credit ratings of the FirstEnergy East Operating Companies. Hence, the migration to a stand-alone transmission model not only better supports the sustained level of transmission investment needed at MAIT but also preserves and enhances the FirstEnergy East Operating Companies’ capacity to issue debt for their respective retail and distribution needs.
Oh bull...oney, FirstEnergy! You forgot to mention FERC's extra special .5% ROE adder for transmission only companies, or "transcos." And, hey, if MAIT joins PJM, you can get another .5%!! You also forgot to mention in that breath that you do plan to immediately make a section 205 filing to set up a formula rate for MAIT that provides a lot of financial goodies that you can't get through a stated rate. Are you also going to be applying for all the other FERC transmission incentives? I bet you are, you coy little company!
So the real benefits here are for FirstEnergy, not "the public." Since the public is not receiving a benefit, and if we believe FirstEnergy that this won't increase rates (and profits), then why in the hell would FirstEnergy want to do this and shell out the "transaction costs" it can't pass to ratepayers? Do you really expect us to believe there's nothing in it for Y-O-U, FirstEnergy? I mean, you guys are kind of stupid, but I didn't think you were complete idiots.
And I do believe you are attempting to remove a whole bunch of transmission from state regulatory oversight so that you can plow your "transmission spend" into making "investments" of questionable worth in your lower voltage transmission lines that aren't part of any PJM transmission plan.
So, does anyone care? Apparently not much. The only parties to intervene in this docket are competitor PSEG and FERC settlement gadflies AMP and ODEC.
Remember, these companies are regulated to protect you. Except there's nobody minding the store on your behalf.
A long time ago, when I held the purse strings of a certain corporation, I used to have a sign on my office wall. It said:
Lack of planning on your part
does not constitute an emergency on my part.
I'd point to it with regularity when various co-workers would show up with requests to issue checks outside the normal, weekly, computerized process (yes, friends, they had did have computers back in the dinosaur days!). The rules were that I would run checks once a week. If someone needed a check issued, they had plenty of time to get their invoices or requests in before the deadline. Invariably, some sales-critter would show up after the deadline with some payment request that absolutely, positively HAD TO be done right now. *point to sign* Bite me.
I have little sympathy for people or companies who fail to plan according to existing rules.
Clean Line thought it was so cool that it was certain to overcome any obstacles that the existing rules could throw in its path. The naysayers brought up any number of problems with Clean Line's business plan, including the fact that utilities are unlikely to stick their neck out to contract with non-existent generators using a non-existent transmission line. No customers, no construction loan for the transmission project. It's not rocket science here. Clean Line should have listened to what the transmission industry was trying to tell them. Smug is sometimes really hard of hearing.
And here we are. Those existing rules that Clean Line thought would be easily scaled have turned out to be not only higher hurdles than originally thought, in most cases they are simply insurmountable.
Clean Line didn't plan according to the rules, so now they want to pull their projects out of the toilet by changing the rules. Whether it's federal eminent domain authority (after state authority failed), or the regional transmission planning process that doesn't fit Clean Line's business plan, Clean Line thinks that the rules should be changed to accommodate their business plans.
Been wondering why we haven't been joined by any Clean Line opposition groups from southwestern states? Because Clean Line didn't bother to check the CAISO rules before dreaming up a transmission line from New Mexico to California. Seriously, who does that?
And who sends off letters to the editor calling for a complete reform of CAISO when they don't even have their basic facts straight? Love the editorial question mark here...
As California moves beyond its 33 percent Renewable Portfolio Standard goal [?--Ed.] and strives for deeper reductions in harmful emissions...
Meanwhile, back at Clean Line headquarters....
Journalists are trained to be independent reporters of the facts. The readers are supposed to take those facts and form their own opinion. But what happens when a "journalist" tries to spin her opinion as "news?"
"Clean Line receives pocket approval from legislature."
On the heels of lawmakers voting to reject a House bill designed to stop the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project, Michael Skelly, President of Clean Line Energy, visited a Ralls County site of a Grain Belt Express Clean Line’s delivery station, a $100 million facility that proponents say will allow Missourians to receive low-cost, clean power from the Grain Belt Express Clean Line.
The Grain Belt Express Clean Line is a proposed electric power line that will deliver competitively-priced renewable energy to Missouri. The House Energy and Environment Committee voted down House Bill 1027, which would modify provisions relating to eminent domain powers of utilities, on April 28. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, who represents Monroe, Lincoln, Pike, and Ralls Counties.
“With the vote this morning, Missouri lawmakers have demonstrated that they stand behind market based solutions to bring low-cost, renewable energy to the state,” said Mark Lawlor, Director of Development for Clean Line Energy. “The Grain Belt Express Clean Line will deliver enough low-cost clean power to Missouri through a direct connection to the electric grid to power 200,000 Missouri homes. We look forward to continuing to work with landowners and community members to develop the project in Missouri in a collaborative way. This project is very important to Missouri’s energy future.”
At the hearing on the bill, supporters spoke of the benefits that the Grain Belt Express Clean Line project would bring to the state and asked legislators to block HB 1027.
According to the Legislative Drafter's Deskbook: A Practical Guide
, a "pocket approval" happens when the President does not sign a bill, but fails to return it to the legislature within 10 days. In that case, it becomes law through "pocket approval."
Is that what this reporter meant? That HB 1027 became law because the President failed to return it to the House? Or is this reporter just desperate to include the words "approval" and "Grain Belt Express" in a headline?
There was no "approval" for Grain Belt Express in Missouri. The legislature does not have authority to "approve" a transmission project. "Approval" can only come from the Missouri Public Service Commission, and the Staff of the MO PSC just last week reaffirmed their recommendation that the PSC DENY APPROVAL for Grain Belt Express.
This headline is simply the reporter's opinionated fantasy. The only thing that actually happened at the legislature is that Clean Line's expensive lobbyists managed to twist enough arms to prevent legislation supported by the people from passing. Big deal... there's always next year!
The reporter conveniently skips over the fact that GBE won't provide ANY energy to Missouri that is not purchased by an actual utility that serves electric load in the state. Evidence at the PSC indicates that there are no utilities stepping up to purchase electricity from GBE's Missouri converter station.
The article also claims: "Grain Belt Express project moves process forward, receiving public support."
Moves forward? Forward to where? GBE is still stuck in the Molasses Swamp waiting for a decision on its application from the MO PSC. It's not going anywhere.
And where's the proof that GBE has any "public support?" The evidence at hand indicates that GBE is receiving record public opposition. This is backed up by the fact that when "Mike" Skelly called a recent press conference at a field in Ralls County, the only "supporters" who showed up were brought in by GBE from many miles away. On the same day, the Ralls County Commission re-iterated its opposition to GBE, no matter how much of a company man their assessor wants to be in the media.
Here's Block GBE MO's press release that reflects what REALLY happened:
Two Counties Clarify Opposition to Grain Belt: Chariton and Ralls Legalize Letters of Rescission
Texas based Clean Line Energy, that hopes to build a 750 mile high voltage-transmission line across the state, just hit another snag. Five out of eight counties crossed have now officially rescinded permission for Grain Belt Express to access their county. In Missouri, each county and the Missouri Public Service Commission (PSC) must grant permission to erect any towers.
The staff of the Missouri PSC recommended denying Grain Belt last fall. They stated “Grain Belt Express has not shown it is needed, economically feasible, or promotes the public interest in Missouri”. They also stated, “Section 229.100 RS Mo precludes Grain Belt from building its proposed line without first obtaining the consent of the County Commission in each of the eight counties in northern Missouri where the line would be located.”
Grain Belt questioned the validity of the rescission letters from two counties that were written in the summer of 2014. They stated that Chariton County’s letter had not specifically withdrawn section 229.100 authority or permission to build.
They also stated that Ralls County had said they would consider granting franchise only after the commission approved Grain Belt. Because the county must give permission for the PSC to grant a certificate it created a chicken and egg situation. Grain Belt asked for the Certificate of Convenience and Necessity first and promises to get the consent of each of the counties afterwards.
In response, both Chariton and Ralls County submitted new letters to the PSC to reiterate that Grain Belt does not have permission to build transmission lines in their county.
Ralls County’s new letter reads, in part, “Accordingly, if our grant of authority of August 23rd, 2012 to Grain Belt Express was valid, the County Commission does hereby rescind and revoke any authority granted that date to Grain Belt Express."
Wiley Hibbard, Presiding Commissioner of Ralls County stated, “I, as well as the other two Commissioners in Ralls County, felt it was important that we should restate our opposition to GBE's application to the PSC.
"By pure coincidence, we chose to send our letter to the PSC on the same day GBE held a press conference in Ralls County. It is my understanding that no landowners from Ralls County attended. GBE had to bring a person in from a county many miles away to speak to the press. This will show Grain Belt and the PSC that landowner's rights are very important to the citizens of Ralls County.”
Jennifer Gatrel of Block Grain Belt Express Missouri stated, “We are delighted that five out of eight counties have withdrawn their permission. We are very hopeful that the Missouri PSC will quickly deny Grain Belt and allow landowners to resume our lives."
A reporter who purposely misstates the facts to promote a corporate agenda does so at the peril of her own reputation.
Remember when Change.org was all about the "little people" effecting change for the better? Yeah, scratch that. Now its being used as just another corporate toy where those with lots of money can promote their own corporate petitions to push products that stand to make the rich even richer.
So, now Change.org allows corporate accounts to create corporate petitions intended to influence the decisions of public officials from which the corporation can profit? That sounds suspiciously like LOBBYING to me... What do you call it when a corporation asks its employees, and their mommies, and little sisters, to pretend they're some sort of "grassroots" supporter in favor of the corporation's for-profit proposal?
I think I shall call it... stupidity.
Clean Line is not an advocacy "organization" allowed to create and promote petitions under Change.org's rules. It's a for-profit limited liability corporation. Shame on you, Clean Line!
How desperate is Clean Line, anyhow? How much trouble are they in on their Plains & Eastern transmission line's request to use the authority of the federal government to condemn and take land from thousands of "little people" across Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee?
Do you think the decision of Secretary of Energy, Ernest Moniz, will hinge on Clean Line's petition signatures? I certainly hope not. That would be absurd.
Brace yourselves, Americans, Congress is tinkering with energy policy again! No good can come of this. And some idiot has introduced a whole new Sec. 216 (16 U.S.C. 824p)
aka Section 1221
of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that's even worse than its first iteration.
The original, Section 1221, designated the Secretary of Energy to conduct an electric transmission "congestion study" and designate "National Interest Electric Transmission Corridors" (NIETCs) every three years. Transmission proposed in these designated corridors
was subject to "backstop" permitting by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the event a state withheld approval of an application for a permit for more than one year, or lacked the authority to permit the project.
Section 1221 was promptly deconstructed in two federal courts. When FERC proposed that "withholding approval" included a denial, and that meant it could override a state's denial of an application, the 4th Circuit determined that "withheld approval"
excludes a state's denial of an application, preserving state authority. In addition, the 9th Circuit determined
that DOE did not properly "consult with states" before designating NIETCs, and therefore it vacated the corridors DOE had set in 2009.
Last year, DOE made a half-hearted attempt to produce the 2012 "congestion study," but was resoundingly smacked down by a whole bunch of comments, and hasn't done a thing since.
In practice, Section 1221 has been an abject failure
However, the new Section 216, carried to Congress by Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), attempts to fix all that by giving FERC authority to overrule a state denial of a transmission permit and use federal eminent domain authority to take private property. It also tosses NIETCs out the window as a means to identify worthy transmission projects and replaces them with an RTO/ISO finding that the project is "needed."
Good news: The new Sec. 216 does not apply to Clean Line in its current form.
Bad news: The new Sec. 216 will encourage a whole bunch of new transmission projects of questionable necessity, and landowners along existing corridors and/or those owning "open farmland" are always the first targets identified on the ol' transmission routing Etch-A-Sketch.
So, let's look at what the new Sec. 216 says:
(B) FEDERAL AUTHORITY.—The Commission may authorize, in accordance with subsection (d), construction of a high-priority regional transmission project that the Commission finds to be required by the present or future public convenience and necessity and in accordance with this section if--
“(i) a State--
“(I) fails to approve construction and authorize routing of a high-priority regional transmission project not later than 1 year after the date the applicant submits a completed application for authorization to the State;
“(II) rejects or denies the application for a high-priority regional transmission project;
“(III) authorizes the high-priority regional transmission project subject to conditions that unreasonably interfere with the development of a high-priority regional transmission project contrary to the purposes of this section; or
“(IV) does not have authority to approve the siting of the high-priority regional transmission project; or
“(ii) the developer seeking a certificate for construction under subsection (d) does not qualify to apply for State authorization to construct a high-priority regional transmission project because the developer does not serve end-users in the State.
So, FERC can "authorize" a transmission project if a state denies an application or conditions approval in a way the transmission developer doesn't like. That's not "backstop" or secondary authority, it's usurping state authority in its entirety. A state must approve, or else. So, why even bother with the fan dance of state applications at all? That's just a big waste of time and money.
Tell ya what... if FERC ends up with authority to overrule state transmission permitting decisions, there's going to be a lot more "turn-offs" for Commissioner Norman Bay, because the protestors will have moved "from pipelines to Order 1000." *Insert laughter here*
Second problem - how these "special" high-priority regional transmission projects are determined:
(1) HIGH-PRIORITY REGIONAL TRANSMISSION PROJECT.—The term ‘high-priority regional transmission project’ means an overhead, submarine, or underground transmission facility, including conductors or cables, towers, manhole duct systems, reactors, capacitors, circuit breakers, static VAR compensators, static synchronous compensators, power converters, transformers, synchronous condensers, braking resistors, and any ancillary facilities and equipment necessary for the proper operation of the facility, that is selected in a regional transmission plan for the purposes of cost allocation under Order Number 1000 of the Commission (or any successor order), including an interregional project selected under that plan.
That's it -- mere selection of and inclusion in a regional transmission plan makes a project "high-priority." Ummm... does Heinrich know that RTOs include hundreds of projects in their regional plans each year? "High-priority" over what? Transmission projects that aren't in a regional plan? Those are few and far between because they're nearly impossible to build (ain't that right, Clean Line?) So, every
project is going to be a "high-priority" project in this brave, new world?
It's quite obvious that S.1017 intends to "fix" everything that went wrong with the original Sec. 216, including the flawed NIETCs and the ability of a state to deny an application for a transmission project that did not serve its citizens. But, let's ask ourselves, does it really need fixing? State approvals aren't the problem with new transmission, it's federal approvals and studies that muck up and delay transmission plans. In addition, Congress has resolutely refused to make electric transmission siting and permitting a federal responsibility, and will most likely continue to do so.
There seemed to be little love for controversial legislation like S.1017 at Thursday's Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. But, you know how Congress is... they get up to all sorts of hijinks if you don't keep your eye on them, so this bears a bit of babysitting.
One more thing before I wrap this up... where did this legislation come from?
The original Sec. 216 got its purpose from:
(4) In determining whether to designate a national interest electric transmission corridor under paragraph (2), the Secretary may consider whether--
(A) the economic vitality and development of the corridor, or the end markets served by the corridor, may be constrained by lack of adequate or reasonably priced electricity;
(i) economic growth in the corridor, or the end markets served by the corridor, may be jeopardized by reliance on limited sources of energy; and
(ii) a diversification of supply is warranted;
(C) the energy independence of the United States would be served by the designation;
(D) the designation would be in the interest of national energy policy; and
(E) the designation would enhance national defense and homeland security.
Nothing in there about renewable energy, right?
Now take a look at the purpose of the new Sec. 216:
(a) Policy.—It is the policy of the United States that the national interstate transmission system should be guided by the goal of maximizing the net benefits of the electricity system, taking into consideration--
“(1) support for the development of new, cleaner power generation capacity, including renewable energy generation located distant from load centers;
“(2) opportunities for reduced emissions from regional power production;
“(3) transmission needs driven by public policy requirements established by State or Federal laws (including regulations);
“(4) cost savings resulting from--
“(A) reduced transmission congestion;
“(B) enhanced opportunities for intraregional and interregional electricity trades;
“(C) reduced line losses;
“(D) generation resource-sharing; and
“(E) enhanced fuel diversity;
“(5) reliability benefits, including satisfying reliability standards and guidelines for resource adequacy and system security;
“(6) diversification of risk relating to events affecting fuel supply or generating resources in a particular region;
“(7) the enhancement of competition in electricity markets and mitigation of market power;
“(8) the ability to collocate facilities on existing rights-of-way;
“(9) competing land use priorities, including land protected under Federal or State law;
“(10) the requirements of section 217(b)(4); and
“(11) the contribution of demand side management (including energy efficiency and demand response), energy storage, distributed generation resources, and smart grid investments.
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...
"Gotta read" post on UWUA Local 304's blog today. Utility’s “Cozy” Relationship With Regulators Questioned
tells the story of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), whose lack of maintenance was responsible for a massive gas line explosion in 2010 that leveled a neighborhood and killed or injured many.
But, wait, there's more!
The story may have stopped there, except for a consumer advocacy group’s efforts for utility reform. Their allegations kept the San Bruno disaster front and center by claiming PG&E knowingly pumped up their balance sheets and pocketed funds that should have went to the maintenance and upkeep of the aging natural gas system and that it was a relationship with the California Public Utilities Commission, that the group described as “cozy”, that let PG&E to get away with it.
Both the regulator in question and a PG&E Vice President have lost their positions, but recently released e-mails between the two seemed to confirm the allegations, and the fact that both have since lost their jobs also is a strong indicator that the charges were well founded (click here for a great story on this subject).
Discussed in the e-mails are, among other things, talk of vacations, chats with invitations to private meetings at remote and luxurious locales, and a general feeling of collusion between close friends rather than a more professional and business-like exchange between the regulator and the regulated. There are even some chat about PG&E meeting then Governor Jerry Brown and strategies to diffuse the events of San Bruno.
However, the most disturbing aspect revealed in the e-mails is the how the utility targeted the The Utility Reform Network (TURN), which was the advocacy group highlighting and investigating the events of San Bruno.
UWUA links to this story originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle
Apparently the executive director of the California PUC and an "external affairs" schmoozer vice president were having a ton of fun making nasty jokes about the president of The Utility Reform Network (TURN), whose only crime was trying to protect customers and "reform" these dirty bastards.
The emails also detail the cozy relationship between PG&E and its regulators, as well as PG&E and elected officials. It was suggested by the president of the CPUC that PG&E should whine to Governor Jerry Brown about how the explosion disaster was hurting poor, poor pitiful PG&E stock prices, so he could "fix" things.
In January 2011, Peevey sent an e-mail to Cherry urging him to share with a Brown aide, former PG&E executive Nancy McFadden, a financial analyst’s views that the San Bruno case was hurting PG&E’s stock. The report credited Peevey for his “even-handed” approach in controlling the situation.
‘‘As I suggested before, this info should go to the governor’s office, probably best to Nancy McF,” Peevey wrote to Cherry. “Jerry has to be made aware that actions have consequences and the economy is best off with a stable utility sector.”
No, you're not reading a John Grisham novel. This stuff actually happened. In fact, I'm pretty certain this is not an isolated incident. This stuff happens all the time at just about any investor owned utility you can name.
UWUA finishes up their report with some very good advice:
The real news here is that when people stand together, no matter what derisive things business executives may say against them or how small they may view their fellow citizens, America is still America and people can still make a difference.
The story above is also a reminder that as Americans we have a responsibility to hold the people that serve the public interests in any capacity accountable, and by doing so, we can discourage such insular and covert “cozy” relationships from developing.
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.
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.
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:"
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.