I was born at night. But it wasn't last night.
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Second big Sunday story to blog about today, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's examination of Clean Line as "a new kind of transmission developer."
This "new kind" of transmission developer is attempting to build transmission based on a "merchant" model. Under this construct, the transmission developer shoulders all project risk. In traditional transmission development, a project is ordered to be built by a regional planning entity to meet some reliability, economic or public policy need. Because the project is undertaken to supposedly benefit regional ratepayers, a developer charges its project costs to ratepayers. Ratepayers absorb the risk of successful development. Clean Line's merchant projects chose not to proceed through this traditional process, therefore there is no determined need for its projects. They are proposed completely as a speculative, profit-making venture, supposing that if they build it, a need will develop. If Clean Line fails, its investors lose their investment. There's no ratepayer-guaranteed regulated return. Clean Line accepts all risk for its market-driven projects.
However, Clean Line has told state regulators that it may "have to" apply to regional planning authorities for cost allocation of its projects in the future. In fact, Clean Line has been busy behind the scenes in the past, trying to drum up support for cost allocation of its projects. Clean Line's "build it and they will come" strategy may also extend to getting its projects permitted, customers signed up, and then dumping the entire thing into the regional planning process as a needed "can't fail" project. Beware, the enemy is at the gate!
So, Clean Line must shoulder all market risk of its voluntarily-undertaken projects. However, Clean Line also wants state public service commissions and the U.S. DOE to grant it the power of eminent domain to take private property for use in its projects. Eminent domain authority provides compensation to property owners for their property taken for use in public projects. It also ensures that holdouts cannot derail a project, and that property is acquired at a reasonable price so public projects aren't burdened by the expensive land acquisition costs that a developer would be faced with if land acquisition wasn't forced on property owners. There's a huge disconnect here! If the privately-funded Clean Line is shouldering all market risk of its projects, that includes the cost of voluntary land acquisition. Further examination of Clean Line's business model notes that the rates it may charge customers include all project costs, plus profit. Cheaper land acquisition allows lower rates and/or higher profits -- Clean Line's choice. Assuming all market risk for its project should also include the financial risk of voluntary land acquisition.
Clean Line's request for eminent domain authority is the driving force behind the huge rebellion of landowners, citizens, and local governments in seven target states. Clean energy advocates and environmental organizations have unwisely chosen to involve themselves in the debate. The Post-Dispatch talked to a representative of one such group, the National Resources Defense Council, who showcased his disconnect with the grassroots opposition groups:
“Clean Line’s not asking everyone within the region to pay for the line,” Moore said. “That’s the piece that sometimes causes state utility commissioners to pause, because the commissioners haven’t seen this kind of truly competitive business plan before.”
Clean Line's business plan isn't "competitive," it relies on a government-granted right to condemn and take property. If Clean Line's compensation package was so great, landowners would be falling all over themselves to sign on. Instead, the company is looking at condemnation rates north of 80%. 80% of needed land condemned through eminent domain! Never going to happen.
Moore is also completely WRONG in his contention that opposition will recede if public service commissions (or the U.S. DOE) make decisions favorable to the project. Perhaps Moore doesn't want to acknowledge that Clean Line's "approval" in Illinois for its RICL project was conditioned on land acquisition being voluntary. That's right... no eminent domain authority for Clean Line in Illinois. Why? Because those resistant 80% of targeted landowners number in the thousands and the political price would be too great. Decisions favorable to Clean Line's land grab will actually drive increased opposition and public revolt. The opposition numbers in the thousands and extends across seven midwest states (double in Illinois because it is a target of both the RICL and GBE projects). And it's increasing every day. Moore knows nothing about the Clean Line opposition and doesn't care to. He's just pontificating in a most revolting way. Maybe he should get to know an opponent or two before telling the media how they're going to react to PSC decisions?
Clean Line has no customers and is facing increased public and political opposition. It's the poster child for a "new kind" of transmission development failure.
Lots of big, interesting Sunday news stories this week!
First, the front page Washington Post story about utilities' campaign against rooftop solar. This issue has been swirling about since 2012. In June of that year, several consumer groups got together to file comments on FERC's transmission incentives docket in reply to Edison Electric Institute's holier-than-thou bullying to get its own way to continue, and even increase, incentive (subsidies) for new transmission builds.
Because transmission is such a long-term asset, we must be extremely mindful of
Nothing like a wake-up slap across the face, eh, EEI?
In September of 2012, EEI held a pow-wow to talk about how they were going to manage this strange, new world where their control of the electricity-consuming public was going to erode with alarming alacrity. Instead of approaching the problem honestly, EEI preferred to use its power, money and influence to try to find ways to kill distributed generation, instead of getting on the wagon and finding a way to turn it into a profitable business model.
In early 2013, EEI produced a white paper addressing what it termed "disruptive challenges" heralding doom and gloom for their stable of investor owned utilities.
And the battle lines were drawn.
Solar advocates have created their own issues, with polarized insistence that their use of the distribution system to sell their excess back to the utilities should be free, and that they provide so many benefits to the system that they should actually be paid more for avoided costs.
Because utilities are so bloated and focused on building more infrastructure from which they derive their profits, a shrinking pool of ratepayers increases the costs to the ones who don't install solar. Utilities crying about the burden placed on "the poor" is ludicrous and hard to stomach.
There has been no middle ground, and messaging on both sides is pretty ridiculous. Too much rhetoric causes increased polarization that stymies progress and the eventual realization of our energy future. Can't we get it together here, and effect a reasonable compromise?
Otherwise, the utilities can continue their self-destructive initiative to have it all, while solar advocates can disconnect from the public utility grid and build their own system to share their excess. Seems kinda silly, doesn't it? Where's King Solomon when you need him?
If you want to get a really good picture of just how much trouble the Plains & Eastern Clean Line is in in the states of Arkansas and Oklahoma, you should download and browse the comments that have already been submitted to the DOE's EIS contractor.
I had occasion yesterday to download a few of the public comment collections (gathered by week submitted), and I gotta say how impressed I am at the well-written knowledgeable comments that have been submitted. They are original and they come from the heart, and most importantly, they are nearly devoid of the infamous "misinformation."
The Block leaders in Arkansas and Oklahoma have done an amazing job disseminating accurate information, which shines out from each and every individual comment. Congratulations, well done! There's nothing a volunteer transmission opposition leader values more than to hear their message repeated over and over again by complete strangers without losing anything in the translation. When Clean Line created that information void by failing to adequately notify affected communities, the people filled it quite nicely.
After downloading and reading 3 weeks worth of comments, I noted that I only came across 4 comments in support of the project -- all from what we've termed MIMPSYs (Money In My Pocket, Screw You!) A MIMPSY can't see the transmission line from his house, and is more concerned with his own immediate financial prospects than the future of a community. A MIMPSY has no empathy for others. A MIMPSY is only interested in how much he can profit from the project in the short term. Some MIMPSYs gleefully toss their neighbors under the bus on the mere promise of future wealth, that may never materialize. These are the saddest of the bunch.
Three of the MIMPSYs whose comments I read yesterday did nothing but copy & paste Clean Line talking points into their own comments. I'm sure they will be given appropriate weight against the hundreds, thousands, of individually-written, heart felt comments of the people. The fourth MIMPSY-missive used faulty grammar and faulty logic to assure the DOE that the folks opposed to the line will "get used to it."
Clean line energy is apart of America's future. Many people came from other parts of the
I don't think he'll be convincing any affected landowners, who refuse to accept Clean Line's "change," some even advising DOE that they will not hand over their land willingly as long as they draw breath. The landowner comments are some of the fiercest I've ever seen. Arkansans and Oklahomans have an incredible attachment to their land and little use for government outsiders showing up to take it away from them. It also doesn't help that Clean Line is crossing the Cherokee Nation and taking away land that was given to the citizens by the government at the time it stole their native land. Apparently the government can just show up every couple hundred years and take Cherokee land and give it to others? Shame on you, Clean Line! Shame on you, Department of Energy!
The comment period is open until April 20th. Be sure to become a part of this incredible uprising of the people by submitting your own comment here.
Have you been getting random mailers from "Potomac Edison," "Mon Power," or another FirstEnergy distribution affiliate trying to sell you an "Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan from HomeServe?"
Just say no.
Go outside and look at your electric meter. You are responsible for some components of your electric service connection. The utility is responsible for the meter components and any underground service lines. You are responsible for maintaining the rest. Is your service drop overhead, or underground? Read the fine print:
The meter that measures the amount of electricity used, any underground service entrance conductor, and the meter base (materials only) are not covered under this plan, but are covered by your local FirstEnergy Company. Your local FirstEnergy Company will supply the materials to repair or replace the meter base...
So, what is covered? An overhead connection to your house (cost estimated at $200) and the labor to replace the company-supplied meter base (estimated to cost another $200), if they ever need to be replaced! So, how much will FirstEnergy's insurance cost you? $5.49/month. Forever. You'd be better off putting that $5.49 in a mason jar every month, on the off chance that you ever do need these unusual electrical repairs, so that you can hire a local electrician to fix them. FirstEnergy's literature claims that your homeowner's insurance won't cover these repairs. Know why? Because the cost of repairs is usually lower than your deductible!
Why would you want to give a bunch of money to the utility for "insurance" against an unusual problem that only costs a couple hundred bucks to fix? It doesn't say "stupid" on my forehead. Oh, but wait! If you sign up you will receive a "special" phone number to call to get your service. If you remember what you did with that phone number and the rest of your paperwork when you have an outdoor electrical line issue, then you could avoid the hassles of looking for an electrician in the yellow pages and "waiting" for service (because service dispatched through Akron, Ohio, is much quicker than calling an electrician in your own town).
Sounds like a scam to me!
So, I've been a Potomac Edison (or Allegheny Power, when that name suited them) customer for nearly 30 years. How come I'm just now being bombarded with these junk mailers? Because the West Virginia PSC recently sold me out to the company, going against the advice of its own Staff, the Consumer Advocate Division, and the findings of one of its own Administrative Law Judges.
Say what? Take a look at WV PSC Case No. 13-0021-E-PC (look up "Case Information" here). Two years ago, FirstEnergy asked the PSC for permission for its two West Virginia distribution companies (Potomac Edison and Mon Power) to market these useless "services" and products to their customers and to add the cost of any purchases to the customer's electric bill.
The Staff of the PSC and the Consumer Advocate objected to FirstEnergy's plan, which, in addition to the "Exterior Electrical Line Protection Plan," will soon be offering you:
1. Other Home Solutions maintenance and repair plans (i.e. insurance) for other appliances you own, your natural gas service lines and even your plumbing.
2. Surge suppression service (which they already separately offer as part of their regulated service activity in West Virginia).
3. Customer Electrical Services Program that allows your electric company to "arrange" electrical service work to be performed in your home. You still pay for all the work they do, your monthly fee just alleviates your "hassle" of finding your own electrician and negotiating a reasonable fee for service with him.
4. Online store - where you can buy all sorts of useless crap and energy-wasting space heaters, and pay for it all on your monthly electric bill.
A hearing was held, and the PSC's Administrative Law Judge recommended that the Commission prohibit this kind of promotion. However, FirstEnergy didn't like that decision, so they filed exceptions to the Judge's Order and the Commission disregarded it and made a new finding that FirstEnergy could continue to promote these useless "services."
Remember, none of these services are regulated, so if you have an issue with service or billing of these add-ons, the PSC can't help you. You're on your own to solve the problem with the company (and it's not even the utility you'll be fighting with, but some third-party "insurance company") or through the court system.
So, how much money does FirstEnergy make off these products? Is the company really that desperate that it needs to peddle space heaters and worthless "insurance" to its customers? It's not about the few pennies in kickbacks FirstEnergy receives from these third-party companies for selling you a "service," it's about the half a million bucks FirstEnergy was paid by one of these third-party companies for "licensing rights and utility bill access fees" to access Potomac Edison's or Mon Power's customer records and to have your utility bill you for their services. FirstEnergy is essentially selling an asset -- its customer base and monthly billing system -- to a private company that hopes to make money selling things to the customer base. There is a commercial value to a customer base of 500,000 customers. When the customer base is acquired through a regulated monopoly, should the utility be able to sell it for private profit? Your WV Public Service Commission says they can.
Tell your legislators to ask the PSC why they have allowed Potomac Edison and Mon Power to sell you out like that. And think twice about jacking up your monthly electric bills with "insurance" you'll probably never need and overpriced lightbulbs from FirstEnergy's online store.
And want to have some fun right now? All those junk mailers they're sending you have postage paid return envelopes to "Plan Administrator." The envelope instructs: "Include only your form and nothing else." If you don't sign up for the plan, you won't need a "form," so go ahead and stuff them with "nothing else" or whatever you want and return them. See how much scrap paper you can fit into the envelope! Or perhaps your child would like to draw a picture for "Plan Administrator?" Go ahead, have some fun!
And then, get serious. The fine print instructs:
If you would prefer not to receive these solicitation from HomeServe, please call 1-888-866-2127.
Tell them you don't want to receive any more offers for their services from Potomac Edison or Mon Power and see what happens. Of course, this won't stop the other offers from the other vendors mentioned above, but it's a start. I'd like to know who's really controlling the mailing list here -- is it FirstEnergy or is it HomeServe? Let me know what you are told in the comments section of this blog post...
The insiders got together to talk about the outsiders last weekend. I'm sure my invitation got lost in the mail, along with yours, dear reader. Or maybe... gasp... we're outsiders?
At any rate, the insiders had a nice long discussion about energy markets and slipshod enforcement tactics. I know Barney has been telling the kiddies that they're "special" for many years now, but he wasn't singing about energy markets.
Energy markets aren't special.
They're just another product of the PJM cartel's enabling of its members profits.
Bowring said the process that RTOs use to create market rules is flawed because market players get to vote on those rules, and sometimes they block the passage of needed reforms because they are engaging in the behavior that a new rule would prohibit.
It's like attending goody-two-shoes-kindergarten if you want to participate in PJM's energy markets, and you're going to have to tattle on yourself if you make too much money:
Bowring said market participants also have a duty to inform market overseers of faulty rules and false arbitrage opportunities and to not engage in such behavior once they suspect it to be wrong. He said the "vast majority" of market players do just that, and that those who think "they're the smartest guys in the room" by figuring out how to exploit some rule loophole are usually not since others have also seen that opportunity but chose to do the right thing by not engaging in such behavior.
When is FERC going to "do the right thing" and get rid of its mysterious and dysfunctional energy markets?
They need to realize that they need outsiders to make their silly markets work. If outsiders aren’t allowed to make money playing by the market rules without suffering the occasional random sacrifice from their ranks to serve as an example of a "bad egg" and a demonstration of FERC's power, then perhaps they should just outlaw their participation altogether. Will the beatings continue until morale improves?
It’s like slopping a whole bunch of chum into the water and complaining when sharks show up instead of some pretty goldfish.
Thirty-seven dozen people showed up at the Fort Smith Convention Center in Fort Smith Arkansas last night to tell the U.S. Department of Energy what they think about the Plains & Eastern Clean Line. It was a madhouse (in a most literal sense!)
Arkansan Julie Morton summed it all up quite nicely:
“If you keep trampling on the rights of ‘we the people’ you may have another American Revolution on your hands!"
Clean Line's spokesman continued to blow smoke up everyone's ass by telling them that they shouldn't be concerned about possible health effects. I don't think anyone believed him, and judging from his body language, I'm not certain he even believed himself!
What is certain is that the people of Arkansas WILL NOT peaceably accept this transmission line.
It's time for DOE to fall on its sword and stop this travesty!
The battle lines opposing Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) have now been elevated to the Illinois court system.
On February 17, the Illinois Landowners Alliance (ILA) filed an appeal of a November Order by the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) granting a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) to Rock Island Clean Line, LLC, a subsidiary of Clean Line Energy Partners, LLC based in Houston, Texas.
The petition, filed in the Third District Appellate Court in Ottawa, Illinois, asks for review of the Commission’s November Order and its January denial of requests for rehearing.
The RICL project is a proposed, for-profit long haul high-voltage DC transmission line that is completely independent of any regional grid expansion studies or plans. As current laws are written for traditional utility projects, the Illinois Commerce Commission’s application of the existing laws, as applied to this novel case, is being challenged.
The Illinois Landowners Alliance (ILA) is a non-profit organization that represents more than half of the landowners on the proposed Illinois portion of the route.
While the Alliance agrees with the ICC findings that RICL failed to prove need and declined RICL’s petition for the certificate leading to eminent domain power, the lLA contends that RICL’s routing is based on a flawed study and that the ICC failed to consult with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. In addition, the ILA contends that RICL failed to prove that the project is necessary, and that they are capable of financing the proposed construction.
Curt Jacobs, an ILA board member, states, “Too many aspects of the ICC’s Final Order put landowner rights, livelihoods, and investments at risk. Whatever the outcome of RICL, it will set case law and precedent for future private companies hoping to grab rights to our private property.”
Block RICL spokesperson Mary Mauch said, “The fact that RICL is an empty shell company with no employees or assets of its own, and separated from the parent company and investors by levels of limited liability corporations, puts our landowners at great risk. RICL can’t prove they even have commitments for the necessary funds to construct the project, yet they refuse to give any financial assurances or a decommissioning plan.”
Meanwhile, Block RICL will continue to work with affected landowners to notify them of their rights in light of the ICC’s refusal to grant the power of eminent domain along with the CPCN.
The Appellate Court will review findings of fact and the ICC’s application of the law to the facts. Depending on how long the Appellate Court takes to issue a decision, the process could likely take 6 months or more.
Last week, RICL faced another major setback when the Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) denied RICL’s motion to separate the eminent domain issue from the electric franchise application process.
The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance (PRIA), President Carolyn Sheridan, said, “Rock Island Clean Line easement acquisition effort has been underway for 18 months for the 375 Iowa miles of its proposed route, but RICL has less than 15% voluntary easements obtained from total parcels (1540) across the 16 impacted counties in Iowa. There is an unprecedented number (1248 and counting) of formal objections filed with the IUB against RICL proposed line.”
Clean Line Energy Partners, LLC is also facing significant hurdles on its other projects in Missouri and Arkansas. Last week, the Missouri Public Service Commission ordered the company to produce a long list of additional information for its Grain Belt Express permit application in that state.
The U.S. Department of Energy this week is holding public comment hearings on its Environmental Impact Statement for the Plains and Eastern Clean Line. Last week, the Arkansas legislature issued a letter to the DOE condemning the use of federal eminent domain for the project, and U.S. Senators Boozman and Cotton introduced legislation aimed at requiring approval of a state’s governor and utility board before federal eminent domain may be attempted.
For more information, visit: www.blockricl.com
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!
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...