The American Legislative Exchange Council
describes itself as a "partnership of America's state legislators and members of the private sector." Why would your legislators need a "partnership" with corporations? Corporations can't vote!
But corporations need elected officials to make laws favorable to them. And most politicians are extremely cheap dates. Buy them a drink and whisper in their ear and they'll toss their constituents under the bus in a heartbeat.
ALEC makes it even more fun by providing "scholarships" for your legislators to enjoy a fun-filled vacation, expensive dinners, golf outings, and beach time in exchange for a few hours listening to corporate agendas and carrying corporate-written bills back to their state legislatures.
It's no different here in the Eastern Panhandle, where the FirstEnergy Legislative Exchange Council will be in full swing wining and dining your legislators during a fancy dinner at The Purple Iris this evening.
We would like to invite you and a guest to please join your legislative colleagues and the management of FirstEnergy in West Virginia for one of our legislative dinners. Company management will be discussing what is happening with the company in your area, and discuss FirstEnergy's legislative priorities.
All events begin with a reception at 6:30 PM and dinner at 7:00 PM.
November 10, 2015 - The Purple Iris, 1956 Winchester Ave., Martinsburg.
Please RSVP to Sammy Gray, Director, State Affairs, and let me know if you plan to attend and bring a guest.
We look forward to seeing you at one of our events!
Electric conglomerate FirstEnergy (owner of Potomac Edison and Mon Power) is gathering your legislators for a series of private fancy dinners across the state to tell them first hand about FirstEnergy's legislative agenda for the upcoming year.
When a candidate for public office asked for an invitation to this private event so he, too, could learn about FirstEnergy's legislative priorities, he was told:
Thank you for you interest in meeting with us to discuss legislative issues and to meet our folks.
I would be pleased to meet with you privately at some time, however, the event tomorrow evening is for incumbents only.
Please check your calendar and suggest a few dates that you have available.
Oh, so regular folks can't partake of the private Purple Iris sumptuous buffet UNLESS they are in an immediate position to do FirstEnergy's bidding? This is nonsense, and any legislators who attend should be embarrassed.
...because we will find out who you are, what was said, and any campaign contributions that change hands.
Hey, remember when a lowly reporter crashed a Wall Street secret society dinner and came out with recordings and pictures of the event? Fun times!
The legislators would do better showing up at the McDonalds right up the street to hear the legislative priorities of their constituents who have been plagued with inaccurate and outrageous electric bills, and incessant rate increases. Who knows, someone might even buy them some french fries!!!
The eyes.... the eyes.... The eyes are everywhere! I hope this evening's goodie bag contains Rolaids. You're probably going to need them.
I bet you think I'm talking about FirstEnergy subsidiaries Potomac Edison (or Perpetual Estimate, as it is more commonly known) and Mon Power. But, I'm not. Apparently your electric company doesn't need a penny-pinching merger to bugger up its meter reading cycle when sheer stupidity and hard words like "algorithm" will do the job quite nicely.
Sherfox Holmes is on the case in Michigan, where Consumers Energy hasn't been reading electric meters with any regularity, which has resulted in the outrageous "catch up" bills that are all-too-familiar to West Virginians.
Sherfox, the Michigan Public Utility Commission and Consumers Energy have put their noggins together (well, at least Sherfox believes it has some role in this) to determine that Consumers is not reading electric meters at least once a year. In fact, one lady complained that she hadn't received a meter reading in over 3 years -- once when she moved in and once just recently, which gave her a balance of over $3,000.
In the meantime, there’s still some people out there getting hit with high bills that they can’t afford.
“When we received the bill, I was like 'What has happened? I don’t understand this,'” said Carol Armstrong.
Armstrong requested three years worth of her energy bills after she got hit with an over $3,000 bill. She found out they had estimated her bill for three years except for twice: the month she moved into her house, and the month they charged her over $3,000.
Initially, Consumers Energy told Armstrong she would have to pay an additional $438 to each bill until it was paid off.
“They say it like it’s nothing. I told them well you say that like it’s nothing, but let me ask you question. If you went to your house today and opened your mailbox, and you had a bill in there like that, how would you feel? She said 'I wouldn’t be able to pay it,'” said Armstrong.
That’s when Armstrong contacted the Michigan Public Service Commission who told her she actually had three years to pay it back, the same amount of time they estimated her electric usage.
The Michigan PSC says that meters are supposed to be read monthly
... unless there's some excuse for the utility not to read meters. Then everything is okay as long as the customer has as long to pay as the utility shirked its duties to read the meter.
This is no solution! It gives consumers an inaccurate picture of their energy use and causes financial hardship. Interesting though that a consumer can be "late" paying an estimated bill with no repercussions. Maybe the customers should start refusing to pay their estimated bills to inspire the utility to get off its dead behind and read meters?
Although, the MI PSC found a better solution to the problem than the WV PSC ever did... smart meters! The MI PSC thinks the problem will go away when customers have smart meters and has encouraged the company to step up its smart meter installation. But, as long as there's controversy about smart meter fees, the company isn't inspired to do anything to fix the problem.
Here's the deal: Multiple estimates screw up any algorithm that estimates future bills. It doesn't take a detective to figure this out. Consumers Energy has screwed things up by shirking its duties, and the MI PSC has allowed this to happen by shirking its own duties. And consumers will pay. They always do.
In addition to airing her jurisdictional and standing concerns, the judge said permitting retail ratepayers to file such complaints "is at odds with promoting efficiency" because FERC could be faced with handling "potentially millions of individual complainants."
The groups, however, insisted that Cintron's position is "contrary to the plain language of the FPA," which states that "any person" has standing to file a complaint with FERC, as well as long-standing commission precedent holding that retail ratepayers have standing to challenge wholesale rates.
Citing a proceeding involving the abandoned Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline project in which FERC found that "[a] complaint regarding a transmission rate can … be filed by any person, including an end-use customer that will pay some portion of that rate when flowed through its retail bill," the groups called Cintron's attempts to distinguish that situation from AEP's "unavailing." The judge relied on differences in the two companies' formula rate protocols to make her case, but the groups argued that "standing is a statutory right under the FPA, and whatever is said in the AEP protocol cannot overturn the statute."
As for Cintron's concerns about the regulatory burden that would be placed on FERC if retail ratepayers are allowed to challenge wholesale rates, the groups insisted that "administrative convenience is not a basis to eviscerate a statutory right." They said that "[i]n any event, this is a chimera — in the nearly 20 years since the commission issued Order 888, there has been a stream but not a deluge of … rate challenges."
Finally, among other things, the groups said the "novel viewpoint" expressed by Cintron "would reopen the … regulatory gap between federal and state jurisdiction that the FPA was designed to close."
"For consumers impacted by commission-jurisdictional transmission rates, there is no other effective remedy," the groups said.
And there's more new filings on the Docket
It is long settled law that FERC has jurisdiction over interstate transmission rates. State Commissions are required to respect that jurisdiction and cannot change transmission rates that flow through to the retail electric customers over which the states have jurisdiction. A state must pass interstate transmission rates through unscathed. A rate can only be changed in the jurisdiction in which it is set. Therefore, any retail customer who pays an interstate transmission rate can only address it at FERC, where the rate was set.
Power Magazine published an interesting piece yesterday headlined, "Will FERC Bar Retail Customers From Electricity Cases?"
Should retail electricity customers be barred from bringing cases before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a decades-long practice? A FERC administrative law judge, Carmen Citron, last month recommended to the commission that it abandon its long-standing practice and deny retail customers standing before the agency.
Cintron’s mid-October recommendation came in a case involving an Arkansas lawyer, school teacher and activist (ER07-1069-006), Martha Peine of Eureka Springs, Ark. She challenged expenses AEP subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Co. charged to consumers in lobbying for a new interstate power line. She argued at FERC that SWEPCO had stuck customers with some $92,000 in expenses that were improper. Her filing was under Section 205 of the Federal Power Act (FPA).
challenged Cintron’s reasoning as flipping “the fundamental purpose of the FPA on its head.”
Elcon asserted, “The purpose of the FPA is not to protect utilities from the burden of responding to consumers; rather, as the Supreme Court and other courts have recognized, it is ‘to protect power consumers against excessive prices.’”
ELCON's filing is powerful -- must read!
Whether retail customers can continue their historic right to access to FERC also has political implications for the commission. In recent months, anti-natural gas activists have staged demonstrations at commission meetings, including interrupting proceedings (resulting in guard-escorted exits from FERC’s D.C. headquarters). The protesters have argued, often at high volume, that FERC cares only for the interests of big energy companies, and not those of people affected by the agency’s actions.
The commission has repeatedly said, as it opens its monthly public meetings, that it will consider arguments and protests to its activities from anybody, through normal FERC proceedings, including filings. Should the commission adopt Cintron’s recommendations, those statements will ring administratively and politically hollow.
This sort of begs a question about who FERC serves, doesn't it?
The whole history of this legal quagmire can be found on FERC Docket No. ER07-1069, sub docket 006 (although FERC misdocketed one of the supporting memorandums on the main docket, instead of the sub.) Interesting reading!
At any rate, the Commission has until Nov. 12 to decide the Certified Question, or else it will revert back to the judge for decision.
What do you think the Commission should do?
A couple of new parties have spoken this morning. The National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates and the City of Coffeyville, Kansas, have filed support of ELCON's position and are asking the Commission to publicly notice this issue and accept public comment before making a decision.
... well, at least for now.
After announcing plans to retire its Asheville coal-fired generation plant in May, Duke Energy dreamed up a bodacious plan to replace it with a massive gas-fired plant, 40-miles of new 230kV line, and a new substation in Campobello, SC.
The folks in North and South Carolina organized with local environmental organizations to produce more than 9,000 public comments opposing the plan and numerous local government resolutions against it. The people spoke.
Duke says it listened.
Last month, Duke suspended its Western Carolinas Modernization Plan for the plant/transmission line in order to go back to the drawing board.
Today, the drawing was revealed. No new transmission line! No new substation! A marginally smaller, two-unit gas plant. Upgrades to existing transmission lines and substations.
Duke made a mistake packaging all this stuff together in one plan. It also packaged all its opposition together in one package by doing so. It wasn't going to fly.
So, Duke has begun the process of peeling its opposition away in layers. First to go are all those noisy, pesky, tenacious transmission line opponents. We'll see how that affects the noise level, won't we?
This leaves only opposition to the gas plant from environmental groups. Or, does it? Who's to say that Duke won't use its quiet time to construct the gas plant, then propose a new transmission line to serve it after it's completed?
The opposition says it's in it for the long haul. This isn't over.
But, for today, there's celebrating in the Carolinas!
Congratulations, Carolina Land Coalition!
It's really no secret at all how TDI New England is speeding through approvals for its New England Clean Power Link project.
The Clean Power Link is entirely underwater or underground.
The line will originate at the U.S.-Canadian border and travel approximately 97 miles underwater down Lake Champlain to Benson, Vt., and then be buried along town and state roads and railroad rights-of-way or on land owned by TDI New England for approximately 57 miles to a new converter station to be built in Ludlow, Vt.
The Clean Power Link encountered minimal public resistance in Vermont because of the burial of the line.
“It is well recognized in the industry that siting is one of the most difficult facets of building new energy infrastructure,” said Susan Schibanoff with Responsible Energy Action. “NECPL dealt with that issue first by creating solid community and political support with a fully buried line. It has clearly paid off in terms of the record speed with which they have moved ahead.”
This amazing project completed its Environmental Impact Statement in just two years
! The Union Leader compares it to the stalled, overhead Northern Pass project, which has been trying to get its EIS completed since 2010. That's 5 years, and no end in sight.
When transmission developers design projects to be as unobtrusive and acceptable to landowners as possible, the developer can save millions in expensive advocacy-building and opposition battling tactics, as well as years in its project timeline.
This means burial, especially on public land/water, and along existing roadways or other rights-of-way. No eminent domain is required.
But, but, but... a buried project is so much more expensive than an overhead project, whine the transmission developers.
And they fear adding "unnecessary" cost of burial to an O1000 competitively bid project for fear of not being awarded the project. Let's see these guys start making logical arguments to the RTO about the amount of time and money saved by not having any opposition, not having huge land/eminent domain costs to acquire rights-of-way from private landowners, and general constructability of a buried project vs. any additional cost of burial along public rights-of-way. I think they will pretty much balance themselves out. The more buried projects that get built, the cheaper it will become.
Because NECPL proves that is IS possible get 'er done in a timely fashion while keeping your integrity intact. Even for a merchant project (NECPL is a merchant project).
There's a lesson here for the transmission industry, if you can actually teach some very old dogs a new trick. Can transmission developers shrug off their old dirty tricks that lie to communities? Can they ever be honest with affected communities? Can they develop some integrity? Better ideas are right there for the taking.
This is the modern way to get needed transmission built. Anybody who tries to tell you different is a dinosaur who needs to retire.
The project announced last week only includes 475-miles of line in Pennsylvania and New York, and looks like this:
What happened to the New Jersey, southern Pennsylvania, and Maryland sections of the project? In the Fall of 2014, PPL had this to say
about its ginormous plan:
On a last quarterly call, we had just announced Project Compass, a proposed 725 mile transmission line through the shale gas regions of Pennsylvania and into New York and New Jersey and Maryland.
We’ve been meeting with officials at the state PUCs and governor's offices in the states where customers will benefit, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Maryland. Those meetings have gone well overall and we plan to have continuing dialogues on the project benefits. We're also meeting with other key agencies and other transmission operators in the region. We will continue to update you as we reach project milestones.
I guess those meetings didn't go as well as PPL thought they went, because those segments sort of well... disappeared, at least for the time being.
So, last week PPL said the "full project" consisted of 475-miles of transmission (down from 725) from western Pennsylvania into southern New York. They claim to have applied for interconnection to the NYISO transmission region. PPL claims that Project Compass will:
“This transmission line provides a significant opportunity to improve reliability and grid security and also provides benefits to customers,” Paul Wirth, spokesman for PPL Electric, said this morning. “When you add another path for power to flow, then that increases reliability because you are not relying as much on a single substation or power line.”
Another goal is to provide an estimated savings of at least $200 million per year for New York consumers by reducing transmission congestion.
But that's only the fox's opinion of the state of affairs in the chicken house. This isn't how we plan for needed transmission!
A need for new transmission is recognized by regional transmission organizations (such as NYISO or PJM) for either reliability, economic, or public policy purposes. Under FERC's Order No. 1000, the RTO next puts the transmission problem out for bid to transmission developers, who develop proposed solutions that are considered by the RTO in a competitive process. This ensures that we only build needed transmission and that the transmission we build is the most cost-effective.
Instead, PPL has dreamed up a solution that needs a problem to fix. Project Compass has not been deemed "needed" in any regional transmission organization's coordinated plan. And only a project that is included in a RTO plan and deemed the most competitive solution can recover its costs through regionally allocated transmission rates.
The exception to this process is what's known as a merchant line. In that instance, the transmission developer shoulders all risk and burden of building its project and then collects its costs from users through negotiated rates. Is this what PPL is building? You wouldn't know it from the way the company describes it to investors and the public:
Who will pay for the first segment of Project Compass?
According to the FERC guidelines for cost allocation, those who benefit from a new power line should pay its costs. The first segment would be paid for by electric customers in New York who will get the benefit of lower power prices. The costs would be paid over a period of many years on customers’ electric bills.
Wait a minute -- cart before horse! According to FERC guidelines for cost allocation, only a project included in a regional plan is eligible for cost allocation. According to FERC guidelines for negotiated rate authority, however, only those customers who agree to use the line pay a negotiated rate to do so. There is no guaranteed cost allocation recovery for a merchant project. And because there is no guarantee that costs will be recovered from consumers, the project's investors can lose their entire investment if the project does not go forward or attract customers. Doesn't sound like a very solid investment, when there are plenty of transmission projects included in regional plans with guaranteed recovery where the investor could plunk down their money instead.
Furthermore, PPL believes it can avoid all that messy competition in the regional planning process by segmenting its project:
Shah Pourreza - Guggenheim Securities LLC
I appreciate the new disclosures around the Compass Project. So how should we think about the remaining miles? Are you looking to potentially segment the rest? And then, is there an opportunity to potentially JV with some of the neighboring utilities to smooth out the process?
William H. Spence - Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer
Sure. I think in both cases the answer would be yes. So there's an ability to continue to segment the line as well as partnering with adjacent or utilities that the project goes through their service territory. So I think in both cases we would look to do that.
Daniel Eggers - Credit Suisse Securities (USA) LLC (Broker)
Okay. Very good. I got that. And then just on Compass real quick. I know it's ways off, but does this get caught up in this Order 1000 workout because it's an economic line instead of a reliability line? Do you get more competition, and people prospectively bid away the cost of capital? Or how do you think you're going to be able to reserve some sort of competitive advantage in this line?
William H. Spence - Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer
I'll let Greg take that question.
Gregory N. Dudkin - President, PPL Electric Utilities, PPL Corp.
Yes. So the way this is set up currently under New York law, this would not be considered a FERC 1000 Project, so we are going and making interconnection requests and will be filing our Article VII now. So if the approval path goes down that path there may be an opportunity for competition, but the probability is little bit lower. If the PSC opens up economic window next year then there could be competition, so we'll see how it plays out.
William H. Spence - Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer
I think relative to the competitive nature of this, obviously just having completed a very major line essentially in the same region, I think our capability to be very competitive should we get to that point should be strong.
However, what I would say is the compass project, which is not included in our CapEx program, would be a program or a project if you will that would take advantage of some of the opportunities in the Marcellus shale to basically instead of bringing the gas pipelines across, we'd be bringing electric lines across to the potentially new power stations that could be built. So that would be our opportunity, if you will, that's shale gas-related.
This is a really stupid idea left over from the last century, where "mine mouth" electric generation plants burned coal where it was mined and transported the electricity hundreds of miles to load because the load didn't want any of those dirty coal plants located in their neighborhood. This solution simply doesn't work any more. It's a lot easier to build a gas transmission line (and the fracking and exploitation of Pennsylvania to collect this gas is going to happen either way) than it is to build an electric transmission line. What a truly stupid idea.
PPL's audacious Project Compass still has so many hurdles to jump
, they might as well just quit now:
What approvals will be required for the first segment?
The first segment will require approval from various regulatory and regional planning entities including the public utility commissions of Pennsylvania and New York, New York Independent System Operator, PJM Interconnection, and FERC. Siting and construction of the line will require permits from appropriate environmental and resource agencies.
FERC, you say? But FERC doesn't have authority to permit transmission lines. It only has authority over transmission rates
. So, either PPL is planning to ask FERC for negotiated rate authority for a merchant line, or it's planning to ask FERC for some rate incentives for its cost allocated project. Which is it?
And what kind of approval are they looking for from NYISO and PJM? Is it an interconnection for a merchant project, or is it inclusion in a regional, competitive transmission plan? Does PPL even have a clue what it's trying to accomplish? This has to be the dumbest transmission plan I've ever seen, and it's based on both the public and investors being equally dumb. I don't think the RTOs and state commissions are supposed to be dumb, because they're not.
Since PPL answered the last question this blog posed about where it came up with the name "Project Compass"
Where does the name “Compass” come from?
This project charts a new course in the way we think about and plan the electrical grid of the future.
we will expect them to answer the current questions about just what in the heck they're trying to accomplish with approvals as well.
The only course Project Compass is charting now is one of confusion that they hope will lead to corporate profits. I think the needle is still pointing toward failure.
We have some big news from Dave and Alison in Arkansas!
First, we've heard a rumor that the final EIS may be coming out next week, so keep your eyes open.
Second, working with some friends at Arkansas Citizens Against Plains and Eastern Clean Line over the last month, we've quietly established a landowners' LLC. We kept it quiet because we didn't want Clean Line to know what we were up to until we were ready. As you probably know, landowners' LLCs have had some important victories against Clean Line in Missouri and Oklahoma, and they're working hard in Illinois and Iowa. We feel that, no matter what the DOE decides, we'll be better able to respond if we do it together. Strength in numbers!
The only way this works is if we can get enough affected and adjacent landowners to participate. That's where you come in. We'll be holding meetings across the state in November and early December with our legal representation there to answer questions. We're sending out postcards, but doing so is incredibly expensive. There's no way we can get to everyone we need to without your help. If you would like to donate to help with our mailing, please go here:GoldenBridgeAR
We're asking you to spread the word and help us pave the way. You know us. Not everyone else does. We can't do this without you. This is the link to the website:
The website details membership options (we've kept the buy-in cost very low) and includes a "pre-membership survey". The LLC is structured to keep voting memberships exclusively for affected landowners (preferred and alternates) and adjacent landowners. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask.
It is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT for all affected and interested parties to attend the upcoming meetings. Please do everything you can to help us maximize attendance. This is our chance to give people the opportunity to talk to an attorney for FREE. Together, we have the collective influence and power to fight this thing!