Monday, May 25, 2015

The RICL Effect

There is a 756kv transmission line that runs from,  as near as I can tell,  the old Collins generation station to just outside Plano,  Illinois.    Surely someone originally had a plan to extend this transmission lines further north towards Wisconsin.  

Collins was a mammoth of a coal generation plant, with over 2,000 megawatts listed as its capability.    Bigger than many of today's nuclear plants.    Collins is gone now.   Demolished.    From Google Earth, it looks like an empty ground with a switchyard of sorts.      Driving by the property, it looks like a vast wetlands on the banks of the Illinois River.   

Why was a 756kv powerline built to run perhaps 40 miles from Morris to Plano? 756 is the largest of the Alternating Current powerlines built.    They don't make them any bigger.    They are made for long hauls and not short 40 mile jaunts through Grundy and Kendall Counties.   

Taking a canoe ride under this monster makes every hair on your body feel alive.     It is weird sensation.  There are also pictures of people just standing under one of these monsters with a fluorescent tube glowing brightly on its own.  756 kv powerlines are truly monsters.    These lattice towers are incredibly huge. 

So what does this have to do with the Rock Island Clean Line?

ITC, a transmission "utility" company, originally proposed the Green Power Express.   Its path closely mimicked the Rock Island Clean Line.   The Green Power Express failed as many mocked its purpose, like Citizen's Utility Board and Howard Lerner at the Environmental Law & Policy Center.   While these same organizations support the Rock Island Clean Line, they recognized the Green Power Express was really for the benefit of coal generation.   

Clean Line Energy Partners llc purposed nearly the identical project, but instead of terminating at this switchyard North of Plano, Clean Line purposed going all the way to the Collins switchyard.   

I can't help but wonder why    Michael Skelly and Jimmy Glotfelty failed to realize this switch yard is Kendall County is most likely underutilized?  I presume ITC's plan was to reverse feed this line from Plano to Collins and on to Eastern states.   Was there a reason Clean Line chose taking RICL all the way to Grundy County and some 40 miles or so further south?

So what's the point to all this?   

If RICL had gone to Plano instead of Channahon, Clean Line would have missed Mendota.  There would not have been a public meeting at a small town convention center that culminated into opposition in Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Illinois with separate grassroots movement with one unifying point.  Eminent domain for a privately owned limited access transmission line should not be allowed.   Sure there would have been some opposition, would things have played out such as they have? 

Houston,  just think how differently the past 3 years could have been had you chosen to stick to the original plan and left the terminus at Plano, but that bull has broken the fence and it's too late to corral it again.

When this is over and we have all moved on with our lives,  maybe I'll ask one of the two smart people at Clean Line (not Jimmy or Mike) why they didn't stick to the original Green Power Plan.   Unfortunately for Clean Line it's too late to turn back now.   That decision was made and the public has awakened to eminent domain abuses.

Take a good look at this switch yard Houston.   It could have changed everything. Kind of makes a person wonder how many small relatively insignificant "but for" decision could have changed world history and heavily influenced major events.   

Some call it the "butterfly effect" with the theory that small things like the flapping of a butterfly's wings could be magnified and cause a hurricane half way around the world.      In the utility siting industry, it will eventually be known as the "RICL Effect" that started at the Mendota Community Center when people came together and said this project does not belong on anyone's farm with any alternate route.

New Hampshire residents are opposing Northern Pass, a HVDC  line looking to provide "clean" hydroelectric energy to other New England states.  Kentucky has the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline desiring eminent domain to pass through the state without benefiting the state's residents and without the restrictions of a state regulated utility.  It's only a matter of time before people fighting the same fight in different states with different companies join together.  BLOCK Clean Line, No Northern Pass, Bluegrass Pipeline's all the same fight and if we don't put a stop to this now, there will be others.

The only question that remains is will Clean Line's failure culminate in Arkansas or Oklahoma with the Plains & Eastern, or in Central Illinois with the failure of the Grain Belt Express when this company collapses.   Then again, this might continue to grow beyond Clean Line's attempted abuse of eminent domain abuse.  It's not about stopping a transmission line.  This is about changing an industry.

Where did this Grain Belt Express Come From and Why am I Just Learning About It

What is the Grain Belt Express Clean Line anyway?

Once  you’ve been fighting this company for a while, it is surprising to hear there are still a new pocket of people just learning Clean Line Energy wants to put up 200 foot lattice towers through their property.  Recently I’ve heard a couple reports of people in Central Illinois affected by the proposed Grain Belt Express are just asking “What is this Grain Belt Express and who is this Clean Line Energy?”  No, people haven’t been living with their heads in the ground.   Clean Line has avoided determining a route until recently, then pushes for an expedited process through the Illinois Commerce Commission. 

11.        Clean Line Energy Partners llc was born from speculation capital moneys.   The Ziff Brothers  (net worth about 12 billion) is a majority owner.  National Grid, a British utility company has invested and owns 40% of this company, with Michael Zilkha a minority owner (net worth about 4 billion). Many of the management team of Clean Line came ZIlkha Energy, aka Horizon Wind.  He sold this company to Goldman Sachs and it was resold to EDP Renewables, a giant wind energy corporation from Spain. 

22.        Clean Line Energy wants to be a utility company. Currently they own no assets beyond office supplies.  The own no powerlines but have four high voltage direct current (HVDC) projects they are “developing”.  Grain Belt Express, the Rock Island Clean Line, and Plains & Eastern Clean Line are three projects that desire to wheel energy from western Kansas, Iowa and Oklahoma 500 to 750 miles east where the energy would go into the grid with east coast urban centers as the final destinations. 

A fourth similar project that hasn’t been pushed by the company as aggressively desires to do the same thing but from New Mexico to California. 

33.       With four separate powerline projects under “development” Clean Line Energy Partners llc has 14 limited liability corporations!  It’s a weird organizational chart of shell companies layered on shell companies.  None of these shell companies have employees.  Bills are paid by the parent, Clean Line.  Comparisons to ENRON can be easily made.  While much of Clean Line’s upper management came from Horizon Wind, the Chief Operating Officer also came from ENRON’s Merger and Acquisition department.   

44.       Clean Line’s upper management team also has minority ownership in the company.  It was also disclosed by the company’s president during ICC cross examination for the Rock Island Clean Line hearings that Clean Line has an option to sell any and all projects to National Grid before construction.  It is a safe assumption Clean Line has no intention to actually build these powerlines but sell the projects once the easements are obtained.  Obtaining the easements and flipping the projects for a profit is the “development”.  Clean Line is acting as a glorified land agent for a European company. 

55.       Do eastern cities need this energy?  No.

Clean Line is relying on Congress continuing the Production Tax Credit subsidy.  While it officially expired two years ago, the last two years have had a December 31st surprise gift for the wind industry and renewed the subsidy for the expiring calendar year. 

66.       Clean Line is also banking on such things as Renewable Portfolio Standards, state policies that mandate a percentage of energy be supplied by specifically by wind energy.  Clean Line attempts to market their projects as promoting wind energy from the Midwest’s windiest zones and deliver it to regions that have less wind, more people, and higher energy prices.  The marketing challenge is to get people to believe wind energy is special over other electricity generation and there is a need from “public policy statements, like Renewable Portfolio Standards or the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan. 

77.       Will this Clean Line Project benefit my ratepayers in my state?  No.

Being a direct current powerline, they are limited access.  There would be acres of transformers at the starts and acres of transformers at the end to convert the energy back to alternating current.  In an attempt to justify a “need” Clean Line has added a 500 megawatt substation in Missouri for the Grain Belt Express and Arkansas for the Plains & Eastern.   There is no need for this energy in Missouri or Arkansas but Clean Line is claiming to offer a “benefit” to residents of the state.  In all likelihood, once these projects are approved, these sub transformers would be dropped from the plans as economically unfeasible. 

88.       Will Clean Line lower electricity prices?  No. 

Clean Line uses the vague argument and assumption that injecting so much energy into the market will lower prices.  Not really.  Wind Energy typically is sold through a 20 year Power Purchasing Agreement at a premium price.  There is another thing called the Localized Marginal Price which is the market priced based on a formula of supply and demand.  Injecting up to 3,500 megawatts into the grid would lower the LMP price but ratepayers will pay a premium that more than offsets any “savings”.   Clean Line’s projected “savings” doesn’t recognize the additional costs adequately.    

Illinois is also moving back towards more regulated electricity pricing.  This will make the “savings” projected by Clean Line Energy Partner’s llc less relevant. 

98.       Is the Grain Belt Express needed? No.

Clean Line has avoided to have their projects reviewed by Regional Transmission Organizations (grid operators).  Clean Line doesn’t want their projects critically reviewed by the people who operate the grid.  This allows Clean Line to make assertions of need, reliability, and necessity that don’t exist.  Traditionally, a real public utility will compete and bid for a project through the RTO once a need is justified.  The project is made through cost allocations in all of our electricity bills.  The company is then guaranteed a return on their investment.   The Grain Belt model avoids such review by attempting to sell space to energy generators, possibly wind energy corporations.  While Grain Belt Express has received authorization from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to negotiate pricing and contracts, there are no wind companies signed up in Kansas and there are no buys on the output side in Indiana. 

19.   Where is the opposition to Clean Line projects?

At the Illinois Commerce Commission, Grain Belt Express has applied for public utility status and a Certificate of Public Necessity and Convenience under docket 15-0277.  Public comments are posted.  This can give an idea why other people are opposing Clean Line’s project in Illinois.     If a person wishes to file their own comment, to the ICC, it can be sent here. 

The documents filed under 15-0277 can also be read at the ICC website. This is actually fascinating reading.  Motions, rulings and briefs are surprising interesting to read and not complicated to follow.  For instance, here is a motion filed by the Rex Encore Farms & Properties attorney.  It is requesting a motion to dismiss as Grain Belt Express has filed for public utility status (Section 8-406) with an expedited process.  Since the expedited process was created for exisiting public utilities, it should not apply to Grain Belt (GBX) because this is a new company seeking to become a public utility.             

110.   As a landowner or concerned resident, is it good enough to post a comment under the docket 15-0277?

Posting a comment is not the same as intervening at the ICC.  To intervene, a person needs to hire a lawyer.  Some individual property owners will hire their own attorney, such as Rex Encore.  Other landowners have joined together under the Landowners Alliance of Central Illinois.  The Illinois Farm Bureau is also intervening and having lawyers oppose Grain Belt.  There is also Concerned Citizens and Property Owners intervening and opposing.    

As a landowner affect by this project, one should have representation at the ICC.  The alternative is to sit back and accept what comes.  This is what Clean Line wants with as little legal opposition as possible.  This project is not necessary.  There is no need.  It will most likely raise your electricity prices.  This project will also lower land value while offering a pittance in compensation.  Hiring an attorney to represent a landowner, whether individually or as a part of a group like the Landowners Alliance of Central Illinois is the smart choice.

In the past, landowner groups have opposed utility projects, not on merits or need of the project, but opposed the siting and recommending an alternate route on someone else’s property.  This is not the case with Clean Line opposition.  Landowners are coming together to oppose the project on anyone’s property Block Grain Belt Express Illinois in conjunction with Landowners Alliance of Central Illinois.  BLOCK RICL was formed in Northern Illinois to oppose the Rock Island Clean Line and the website and Facebook page are also an excellent resource. 

 Clean Line refuses to concede siting this project on public property, like interstate easements or burying the transmission line.  They see powerlines through private property as the path of least resistance.   If we as residents, farmers and landowners don’t push back and fight such unnecessary easements that refuse to pay the true value of the right of ways, more will follow.  The threshold of need and necessity will continued to be lowered. 

Like wind corporations, Washington sees the Midwest as a potential huge windfarm.  They see us as obstacles and have no value for individual rights. They see our land as an opportunity to put money in their pockets (albeit the pockets of foreign investors and billionaires).    Our homes and our lives are nothing more than inconvenient obstacles to them.  If the Grain Belt Express is allowed, more eminent domain easement cases will follow. 

Clean Line's NEED for Federal Eminent Domain to Trump State's Rights

A while back, Clean Line Energy’s Chief Operating Officer, Jayshree Desai sent a letter to the Department of Energy complaining that state's regulators are beneath Clean Line, state regulations are cumbersome and an unnecessary burden for Grain Belt Express Clean Line, (ICC Docket # 15-0277).    Jayshree would much rather the federal government give GrainBelt the power of eminent domain than have GBE justify the project to the ICC and Missouri Public Utility Board. 

About that same time, Connecticut's US Senators Liebreman and Blumenthal wrote a letter to FERC requesting the agency keep a closed eye on RTO's like PJM and MISO a while back.   If built, GBE wants PJM, the Regional Transmission Authority, to manage and operate the GBE powerline, but Clean Line doesn’t want PJM to study the need and necessity of the project.  The Senators question FERC and whether RTO's are responsibly lookout for consumer’s interests and providing economical energy.  According to a press release from Senator Blumenthal:

Under federal electricity restructuring legislation, RTOs were provided with the authority to develop their budgets and implement electricity distribution and generation policies subject to FERC’s oversight.  Because RTOs are predominantly operated by transmission line operators and electricity generators, the consumer must rely on effective intervention by state public agencies charged with representing the consumer’s interests and FERC’s careful scrutiny of RTOs.  Unfortunately, the experience since establishment of the seven RTOs in the United States has been one of relatively lax oversight, budgets that have grown out of proportion to the economy and policies that have been subject to intense consumer criticism.

It's great to see there are a few men in Washington who see the value of state agencies to protect the consumers and keep energy prices economical.  Too often Washington is full of people who think solutions can only come from the federal government.

Without the state utility commissions, consumers have little of a voice.   This letter from the Senators is further proof RTO's, who are ran by powerline companies, can have biased judgments weighted against the consumers. Senator Blumenthal's office went on to say the joint letter urges FERC to strengthen consumer agency input and involvement around the RTO budget process.

While this letter from Senators to FERC is a couple years old, and somethings have changed.  PJM is acting a bit more responsibly, but there still needs a mechanism for ratepayer’s input.  It has also become more obvious the problem is not at the Regional Transmission Organizations, but at FERC itself.  The federal government regulators have become a rubberstamp machine, all too eager to approve projects and find state regulators as inconvenient hurdles. 

Grin Belt Express in the letter from Jayshree to the Department of Energy is simply wrong.   She believes powerlines such as the Grain Belt project are too big and authority should be taken away from Illinois and the ICC.  In 2012, she has asked the Department of Energy to take the authority and the power to grant eminent domain away from states and give it to the Department of Energy or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  

 Clean Line Energy believes projects such Grainbelt Express Clean Line should not be burdened with proof that it will benefit the residents of a state, such as Illinois.  

“Without federal siting authority, Clean Line is proceeding with state-by-state permitting and sitting, often forced to utilize out-of-date, ill-fitting statues.  Existing state statutes and regulations are often not designed for multi-state, or inter-regional projects like those being developed by Clean Line, and may prove insufficient to the task”

                “…requirements that local/state utility –customers be “served” by the project may inhibit siting of beneficial regional projects.”

The problem arises when those sacrificing for utility transmission projects (farmers and landowners) are the customers and the state residents.  Typically, state residents are not asked to sacrifice their property and land for a unregulated project that only benefits the residents of other states.  Clean Line is attempting to claim a project is worthy of siting and eminent domain in a specific state because another state or another region several states might benefits in some fashion.  However, there is no federal agency setup to determine if a project is worthy of siting because the project might be “beneficial” to another region either.   

It complicates the matter even more when Clean Line refuses to be a part of a Regional Transmission Organization’s Expansion Plan.  How can FERC and state’s determine a project is necessary when the Regional Utility Organizations do not say the project is necessary?

 As a consumer, it is offensive and scary that a speculation company would lobby the Department of Energy to take regulatory powers and perhaps eminent domain authority away from the states.  Deregulation for the benefit of speculation capital into the power industry has gone too far.  There is clearly a need for state agencies (ICC) to regulate where Washington has become tainted with political influences and insulant to the public’s concerns.  The letter sent from the Connecticut Senators proves the need is there to limit Washington powers.

Who else will protect consumers?  Not the Department of Energy or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Who else will be an advocate for landowners across the state but the ICC in Illinois?   
If we don’t prevent Grain Belt Express in Illinois, more looser and liberal abuses of eminent domain will follow.