Holy corporate reputation issues, Batman!

FirstEnergy wannabe-spinner Charlene Gilliam (All right?) crashed and burned at a Hampshire County Commission meeting yesterday.  Bless her heart, it probably wasn't all her fault.  It's because she works for a company that has ruined its reputation in this state (and beyond) through a series of greedy, self-interested attacks on its customers and employees.

The people have had it with FirstEnergy's corporate disinterest in the hand that feeds them.  And FirstEnergy is too STOOPID to have seen this one coming.  Sometimes, I wonder how my lights stay on at all, and then I remember that any smart people who still work for FirstEnergy are the ones driving the bucket trucks that come to our rescue.  It's upper management that has been snorting the STOOPID sauce.


Commissioner Hott seems to agree:

“What I think would help is to get some of these guys with ties on to come down and see what’s actually going on. They need guidance at a higher level,” Hott said.
Like maybe Charlene should have brought this character along yesterday? 
 
 
Clean Line Energy Partners President Michael Skelly's wife confided in a Houston-area reporter not so long ago regarding her and her husband's approach to strategic planning:
"We don't think a long time about things, she says.  "That seems like a good idea!  Let's do that!  That's the extent of our long range planning."
And that seems to be exactly how Clean Line Energy Partners was created... based on a spur of the moment whim that "seemed like a good idea."  And now this company is in up to its neck, after tossing millions of dollars of its investors' money into a losing game, and inspiring record amounts of entrenched opposition to new high voltage transmission lines.  Yay you, Michael Skelly!

So, where did his crazy idea come from?  I remember coming across an article about this man and his company several years ago, many months before opposition to Clean Line Energy projects began to coalesce.  In the article, Skelly (or maybe it was his little buddy Hans, I honestly can't remember) seemed to have the idea that because their transmission lines were supposed to be for "green" energy, people would welcome them being sited on their land.  At the time, I snickered and thought about what a wake up call this company had coming, because I knew there would be record opposition.  I just had to wait a bit, and sure enough, a few names started popping up in the media questioning Clean Line's plans.  From there it was just a hop, skip and a jump to strong opposition groups well-equipped for the battle ahead.  And so it is!

It's not about the color of the electrons, it's about the transmission line.  Where did Skelly get his crazy idea that landowners would welcome a "clean" line in their backyard?

Well, friends, I have finally located the source!  At the 2009 American Wind Energy Association's WINDPOWER 2009 conference in Chicago, Ben Kelahan of The Saint Consulting Group made a presentation of his company's public opinion polling survey results about transmission line siting.

The presentation informed attendees like Michael Skelly,
A majority of Americans oppose new high-voltage transmission lines in their community, but that opposition drops precipitously to 17% if those lines are delivering clean, renewable energy from wind. Support for new transmission lines leaps from just 46% to 83% when respondents are asked specifically about high-voltage transmission lines delivering wind power.

The survey of 1,239 adults nationwide was conducted last week (April 21-23) by The Saint Consulting Group, the political land use consulting firm that also issues the annual Saint Index© survey of attitudes toward real estate development projects, including energy-generation projects such as wind, nuclear and hydro facilities.

Ben Kelahan, energy practice leader at Saint Consulting, said the new results are a clear sign that Americans support cleaner, renewable power and that it has carried over to the distribution of that power through their own backyard.

“High-voltage transmission lines generate some of the most adamant NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) opposition in the country. That such a large percentage of people are willing to allow green lines in their community says a lot about the awareness and importance of renewable energy and climate change issues in addition to the education efforts undertaken by the renewable energy industry,” Kelahan said.

And the next thing you know, Clean Line Energy Partners was founded in 2009 to build "green" transmission lines across thousands of midwestern back yards.  "That seems like a good idea!  Let's do that!"

I'm sorry, Ben, but your survey is W-R-O-N-G!  For as today's reality demonstrates, people really aren't willing to allow "green" lines in their communities.  Perhaps they said they would when you had them on the phone and the "green" line was only an idea proposed for someone else's community.  But when the rubber meets the road and the "green" is washed away, it's still a transmission line nobody wants or needs.  Public opinion surveys are only as good as the companies who conduct them, and are routinely manipulated to produce a desired result that may not comport with reality.

But, for Skelly, I'm not sorry in the least.  It wasn't a good idea, your whole business plan is based on incorrect data, and it's never going to happen.  Give up.
 
 
Tammy Hammond is the founder of Rosewood Services, a facility that fosters an environment of independence, inclusion and productivity for individuals with developmental disabilities through education, work, recreation, and housing designed for their unique abilities.  On this Independence Day she shares her thoughts about the nature of sacrifice and the devastation the proposed Grain Belt Express Clean Line will have on her life, her programs, and most importantly, the independence of the clients she serves in Kansas. 

Grain Belt Express is a massive high voltage electric transmission line proposed to transport energy generated in the southwestern Kansas region to expensive east coast cities.  Purposed to provide attractive returns to foreign investors, Grain Belt Express is designed to increase America’s dependence on centralized electric generation and old fashioned overhead transmission that disturbs our rural communities and way of life.  Only through development of their own sources of renewable electricity will eastern states realize their own true independence, while keeping their energy dollars at home in their own communities.

Read Tammy's declaration of independence from Grain Belt Express, entitled "This Land is Our Land."  Here's a preview to get you started:
My name is Tammy Hammond, Kansas land owner for 30 years. As I sit here on
Independence Day 2014 my thoughts are consumed with the efforts of Grain Belt Express Clean Line's plan to run High Voltage Transmission Lines across my properties.
I'm very much opposed to the Grain Belt
Express 140 feet tall transmission towers,
carrying 750,000 volts of electricity, running
across our land. I could list pages of serious
health risks to my children and grandchildren, or provide statistics to the devastating de-valuation of property these High Voltage Power Lines will cause.
Probably, you have already heard those
arguments, so I would like to explain
something which I believe to be much more
profound...
I've been struggling for days with how to tell this story; how do I express with words why a
landowner will fight till their last breath, and their last dollar, to keep what is rightfully theirs?
How do you explain this so people understand the deep-rooted patronage of owning your
piece of the American dream...your Freedom in the heartland...the place you proudly call
home... What I discovered is something much deeper, much larger than Grain Belt Express....
I believe it is "American Spirit", how fitting to tell the story on July 4th, our Country's
Independence Day.

Click here to continue reading
Tammy's inspirational treatise ends with this message to the Sam Brownback political machine that stole the independence and freedom of hard working Kansas voters by greasing the approval of Grain Belt Express at his Kansas Corporation Commission:
So Today... this Message is for you, Grain Belt Express, Elected Officials or whoever is listening...
Do not underestimate our deep rooted sense of Freedom....
This is our land, my children's land, and so on for generations to come...
Earned with "our" blood, sweat and tears, it is
"we" who have the right to call this land home....
Make no mistake. We planted our "Flag of Freedom" and we will fight to
keep it...
you cannot have it...
you have not earned it...
we are here to stay...
 
 
A familiar face peered out at me from my RTO Insider newsletter this afternoon.

Commissioner Jon McKinney made a statement at the annual MACRUC (Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utility Commissioners) conference last week that goes a long way toward explaining why the WV PSC always seems to be at odds with the needs of West Virginia's utility consumers.  In explaining why West Virginia might not be able to cooperate with other states in a regional effort to comply with the EPA's new carbon rules, Commissioner McKinney admitted:
“For [a regional solution] to actually happen, it goes way beyond the public service commissions. It has to get [approved by] the governors and the legislators,” West Virginia Public Service Commissioner Jon McKinney told the Mid-Atlantic Conference of Regulatory Utilities Commissioners’ (MACRUC) annual education conference. “I’m handcuffed in my ability to do that. It has to start someplace else.”
And Commissioner McKinney is "handcuffed" by West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin because he owes his day-to-day employment to the grace of a controlling, corporate-owned political figurehead.

Commissioner McKinney's 6-year term as Commissioner expired in 2011, three long years ago.  However, he continues to serve at the will of the Governor, without being officially re-appointed.  At any time, Governor Tomblin could appoint someone else and punt Commissioner McKinney into the wild, blue yonder.  But he doesn't.

By playing games with Commission appointments, Governor Tomblin rules the PSC with an iron (corporate-funded) fist. 

It's not that Governor Tomblin is too busy to re-appoint Commissioner McKinney, or appoint someone else.  Earl Ray was "Johnny on the Spot" when former Allegheny Energy attorney Michael Albert's commission appointment expired last year.  Albert was quickly reappointed to a third term, and "our" state senators lined up to rubber stamp his appointment.

So, when Commissioner McKinney says he's handcuffed, he probably really means it.

Is this any way to serve the public?
 
 
Check out the collision of ideas in a recent edition of the Energy Law Journal.  Oh, it's really not as boring as it sounds, but the authors sure do know how to belabor a point.  You'd think they were being paid by the word...

First, take a look at DOES DISRUPTIVE COMPETITION MEAN A DEATH SPIRAL FOR ELECTRIC UTILITIES? by Elisabeth Graffy and Steven Kihm.  It's one more take on the idea that how we produce and use energy is moving on, and utilities that don't get ahead of the curve by offering products that consumers want are going to end up like streetcars, land line phones, and beanie babies.

Traditional utility response to the proliferation of widely distributed rooftop solar has thus far been limited to attempts to lock in a future revenue stream to pay for what may become a stranded investment in centralized generation and transmission.  Early efforts in this regard have been soundly rebuffed, not only by the owners of these small-scale generators, but regulators as well.
Strenuous efforts to mitigate rather than innovate seem likely to increase vulnerabilities by generating public and customer backlash, motivating market competitors, and instigating potential legal challenges.
The article compares and contrasts the responses of two companies facing innovation/technology challenges in their respective industries.  It examines how the cable TV industry remade itself when facing competition from satellite TV companies -- it began offering new products that increased its value to consumers by bundling TV with phone and internet service. 

In contrast, much is made of the fate of Market Street Railway, a regulated streetcar company whose response to competition from buses and automobiles was to increase rates to cover its costs while relying on regulation to maintain its monopoly.
This story has significant implications for electric utilities facing increasing and especially disruptive competition that may shift their risk position from the zone in which regulation is effective to one in which it is not. That Market Street responded to disruptive competition by simply requesting rate increases from its regulator reveals denial that their economic woes were due to fundamentally changed circumstances that required new organizational strategy, not just regulatory intervention. Market Street, while fully understanding the existence of threats to its viability, showed no real signs of innovation or adaptation in this regard, but rather continued a reliance on conventional cost-accounting-based utility ratemaking practices to the bitter end.
And that's exactly what utilities seem hell bent on doing in the other ELJ article, REGULATORY FEDERALISM AND DEVELOPMENT OF ELECTRIC TRANSMISSION: A BREWING STORM?

This article, by James Hoecker, advisor to WIRES, the "Voice of the Electric Transmission Industry!!!" wanders on for 29 pages of transmission building advocacy.  Build, build, build!  It doesn't seem to matter whether there will be any consumers left to pay for it all, as long as the federal government takes control of electric transmission permitting and siting today by "collaborating" with states in order to usurp their authority.  It even goes so far as to push the CSG's interstate siting compact bad idea.

So, what will it be?  Transmission or innovation?


Building more traditional transmission using eminent domain to acquire new rights of way will NOT work.  The public has had enough!  Transmission opposition has become increasingly sophisticated and its methods are becoming more effective at cancelling and delaying most new proposals.  This pitched battle has both sides spinning its wheels, but delay is the opposition's friend.  And the more the industry nibbles away at state authority, the closer it pushes state regulators toward permit denial.

Does this mean that we can stop building transmission altogether?  No, but we can stop building transmission stupidly.  Smart transmission uses existing rights of way to rebuild existing lines to increase their capacity.  In some instances, the public actually welcomes a responsibly managed rebuild, especially when presented as an alternative to new transmission.  In other instances, the public welcomes smartly designed new transmission projects, like Atlantic Grid's New Jersey Energy Link.  This project is buried for its entire length, avoiding the expense and time delays of opposition to traditional overhead transmission projects.  But perhaps its best selling feature is that it is designed to be useful long into the future -- moving conventionally generated power to markets that need it today, but also there to move offshore wind to load as it is developed.  If only they get rid of that insulting "NIMBY" word...

But old habits die hard for the big energy conglomerates, who wish to continue operating their streetcar named De$ire.  Instead of creating an exciting and profitable new market for themselves, Ohio's Tweedledum and Tweedledee have hung their hopes (and plopped their "transmission spend") on investing in more transmission

You can lead a company to knowledge, but that doesn't necessarily make it any smarter.

Oooooh!  Shiny object!
In the end, the electric utility as an institutional form has not exhausted its relevance. Claims that utilities are in a certain death spiral seem premature. However, those predictions seem disturbingly grounded in tacit assumptions that utilities are too hidebound by their past to be able to adapt in a timely or agile way to rapidly changing conditions. If so, utilities will find themselves to be brittle rather than resilient when confronting disruptive competition in a sector that is central to social, economic, security, and environmental necessities and, therefore, cannot remain static. All signs point to the reality that utilities must change. The open question is whether they will change by embracing and, indeed, leading value creation or be changed by others in the market who embrace it first and more firmly.
 
 
Whoopsie, New England States Committee on Electricity!

In emails released this week, NESCOE demonstrates the cozy relationship that exists between regulated and regulator that's designed to dampen public opposition to energy projects by withholding information while "deals" get made with energy companies behind closed doors:
In one back-and-forth, a staff lawyer for the group representing the six New England states said that a deal about hydroelectric power from Canada is best hashed out in private.

"I am less worried about the Canadians' strategy and more suggesting that deal strategy be formulated behind closed doors," Ben D'Antonio, a lawyer for the New England States Committee on Electricity, the group pushing the projects, said in August 2013.

"The court of public option can be fickle and recalcitrant," he continued in the email, to Thomas L. Welch, the chairman of Maine's Public Utilities Commission.

"True," replied Welch.
And when that pesky public manages to intrude despite best efforts to keep them at arm's length, deals are fixed by convincing legislators to toss their constituents under the bus:
In one case before all states were on board with the regional plan, Daniel Esty, then Connecticut's energy commissioner, called on the deputy counsel of National Grid, an electric and gas utility to convince a New Hampshire official of the benefits for the pipeline and transmission line, according to an email with the subject "Esty's Vision."
Think this is particularly shocking?  It's not.  This kind of stuff goes on ALL THE TIME, and will continue as long as the public allows it.  General rule of thumb:  Whatever your fertile and cynical imagination thinks your sneaky energy company is doing, or has done in the past, you're most likely right.
 
 
In a predictable move, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit kicked the Illinois Commerce Commission v. FERC can back to Washington today.

This case has been dragging on for nearly 5 years.  When it first started, ratepayers in PJM's Illinois territory were looking at sharing a huge chunk of the cost of PJM's multi-billion dollar Project Mountaineer collection of unneeded transmission projects.  Although the bill has shrunk considerably with the cancellation of PATH and MAPP, the argument has only grown.

It centers on PJM's 2006 adoption of the "postage stamp" cost allocation methodology.  This method assigned costs of new transmission 500kV or greater to all ratepayers in the region based on their share of regional electricity sales.  The more power an area used, the greater its share.  PJM did this to spread out (socialize) the cost of its Project Mountaineer venture over more customers so it could get that transmission built before the hoi polloi noticed, "before it became common dinner table talk."

However, it's important to realize that PJM no longer uses the 100% "postage stamp" cost allocation method and hasn't since last year.  Today's 7th Circuit decision will have no effect on any proposed or future transmission projects in PJM, or any other RTO.  Today's decision will only affect those projects that were built (or not!) before last year's new allocation method went into effect.  PJM's new, FERC-approved cost allocation methodology relies on a 50-50 split of two different methods for transmission lines of at least double-circuited 345kV or greater.  The first 50% is allocated according to the old postage stamp method, and the remaining 50% is allocated either to the cost causers or the beneficiaries, depending on the reason for the project.  Costs for transmission projects based on "public policy" clean energy state laws will be allocated to the states that require them under PJM's "State Agreement Approach."  If a state doesn't agree to shoulder the cost burden for a project designed to meet its renewable portfolio standard, then it will not be built.

Today's decision echoed the first remand from the 7th Circuit, that found that FERC had not done enough to show that utilities in "western PJM" received benefit from Project Mountaineer that was commensurate with their cost responsibility under the old "postage stamp" allocation method.


FERC dealt with the first remand by rolling its eyes and making up more crap about how "western PJM" benefited from Project Mountaineer.
  It pulled an even bigger diva act on rehearing.  But FERC just can't out-diva Judge Posner of the 7th Circuit.

Posner hates coal, and transmission lines that carry it.  But, he loves postage stamp rates for transmission lines that are supposed to be "for wind."


This Sybil act must also be confusing to FERC, but hopefully they can get it right this time... because third time's a charm, right?

Go ahead, read today's decision.  It's quite chatty and reads like some guy's geeky blog post about electricity and cost-benefit analyses, until you get to the 9-page dissent by
Judge Cudahy, who seems to be writing from the other side of the political spectrum.  It's fairly entertaining.  However, I suspect FERC is not as amused as you are.

 
 
Sorry, you're going to have to do your own analysis on this one.

A story in the New Haven Register reports that the ruling is a setback for New England ratepayers.

Here's the dissent of Commissioner Norris mentioned in the article:

He's concerned, "...that this determination subjects consumers to unjust and unreasonable rates in this proceeding and potentially in future ROE proceedings."

Here's a geekier article about it.

Here's the entire Order, for those with "super geek" status.
 
 
EUCI and its stable of vacationing utility executives are going to be partying it up at the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown Manhattan next month. 

So, what pretense are they using this time?  "Strategic Communication for Transmission Projects."  Well, at least they have abandoned the charade that their public relations fabrications are about "participating with the public" this time.

Instead, it's all about manipulating public opinion, or so they think.  Topics include:
How Utilities Effectively Manage the Media

Industry experts will discuss how to frame and "sell" transmission projects as the beneficial investments that they are on behalf of the customers. Attendees will learn how these energy executives keep messaging succinct, consistent and well-positioned. Panelists will discuss successful strategies and tactics for interacting with the media.
Does this include a lesson in gagging and tying opposition leaders up in the corner?  Otherwise, they're only fooling themselves.  The opposition also knows how to "effectively manage the local media," and they know how to do it better, without resorting to threats and lies.

Is this really about educating the public about the truth and reality of transmission, or is it about "selling" a fantasy version of transmission that doesn't include any detriments or drawbacks?  Sorry, that ship has sailed.  The public simply doesn't believe you anymore.  And reporters hate you and all the smoke you blow up their ass.

And speaking of "selling," I'm starting to wonder if EUCI is more about selling the products and services of its "instructors" to conference attendees:
EMF: What the Public Wants to Know and Why It Matters to Your Project

Public concern about electric and magnetic fields (EMF) and related potential health effects began in the late 1970s in association with higher voltage transmission lines and desk top computers. While concern about the latter has largely diminished, concern about EMF from transmission lines and substations continues and is sometimes a major issue in the siting and permitting of these facilities. Our experience demonstrates that presenting technically accurate comparisons of exposures from existing and proposed facilities provides a good context for communicating with the public. Sharing the results of experimental and epidemiology research studies and the perspectives of national and international health and scientific agencies is an effective method to assuage public concern. This session will teach you how to get the science right in your public outreach messages about EMF.

William H. Bailey, Ph.D., Principal Scientist, Center for Exposure Assessment & Dose Reconstruction, Exponent
I think Dr. Bailey has no idea what the public really wants to know about EMF, but he probably does know why it matter$ to "you."

Here's what the public really wants to know about EMF:

The professional opinion of a local physician, not the opinion of a company-paid, industry-funded "scientist."  Sorry, transmission developers, you just can't buy local credibility.

But, the real fun is at the "post-conference workshop" where the blind will lead the blind in this exercise:
Utilizing Mediation and Negotiation Skills to Diffuse Project Opposition

Overview

Inevitably, utility infrastructure projects draw some opposition, in person or through social media. This workshop is designed to identify the real issues behind project opposition, and to utilize mediation and negotiation strategies to gain support. Participants will explore the dynamics of conflict, perceived power imbalances, communication skills, and neutral positioning. Utilizing skill building exercises and strategies for reaching agreements, attendees will learn how to be an effective medium between the project owner and project communities. You will also learn effective strategies and tactics, and share in resolving real opposition issues from current and past projects. You are encouraged to bring your current project issues to develop a resolution strategy.

Learning Outcomes

Identify the concerns behind opposition
Evaluate when and when not to utilize social media to counter opposition attacks
Demonstrate how to properly communicate your message through application and critique.

Anticipating Opposition

Knowing your demographics and what is important to your project community
Understanding how to communicate project needs
Utilizing data to create visuals showing system constraints, demand, growth
Educating the opposition through clearly understood messaging

Opposition Working Groups

Seeing your project from the view of the opposition
Working group structure

Resolution Strategies

Using project benefits to the communities advantage
Formulating the strategy of "give and take"
Evaluating how to answer questions such as:
Why not go underground?
Will this harm my property value?
Should we be concerned about EMF?
Developing resolution strategies for your current project opposition


"Seeing your project from the view of the opposition?"  And how many transmission projects has EUCI's instructor opposed?  My guess would be none.  There they go again, attempting to teach a subject they know nothing about.

I do like the new theme I see running through all EUCI's more recent transmission opposition workshops, though.  The acknowledgement that opposition has changed, the public is more knowledgeable than before, and that transmission developers are embarking on a strange, new world where their opposition is increasingly organized, strategic and successful is a nice change of pace.  Because the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem, right, EUCI?
 
 
Can't resist this...

In Akron, Ohio, Tony the Trickster wants to increase taxes to provide for more "public safety."  Maybe he needs a few more cop cars out in front of Casa de Alexander to keep his employees away?
Whatever the reason, Tony is tossing $50K into the effort and he held a "private" breakfast to talk about it this morning.
The breakfast meeting will include “the standard list of characters,” he said when asked who will attend.
Hmmm... standard list of characters.

Is he talking about this list of characters?

Or maybe he means these characters:
But in reality, he probably just means these characters.
I hope Tony's serving big, fluffy, cream pies...