Cheney/Lay Transmission Zombie Still Stalking the US

The transmission zombie created in the Dick Cheney/Kenny Lay secret energy task force has reared its ugly head once again.  Something called the Bipartisan Policy Center has cranked out another report pushing total federal control of the US transmission grid and advocating new federal laws to do away with existing state and federal processes for assessing the impacts of new transmission lines.

This junk policy has been overtaken by reality over the last ten years, and is just as inaccurate as it was back then.  Yet we still see the same old recycled garbage:

Finding: When transmission lines cross federal lands, or otherwise trigger the need for federal approval, inefficiencies in the federal review process can dramatically compound delays and increase overall project costs. While recent steps have been taken to improve coordination between federal agencies,additional reforms are needed.

And:

State law governing siting and an emphasis on state specific interests may impede or delay the construction of long distance high-voltage interstate transmission lines with broad regional benefits. This siting challenge may be particularly pronounced for high-voltage direct current (HVDC) lines, which may not connect to the grid in intermediate states throughwhich they pass.

This is such patent bullsh*t (sorry, I can think of no more accurate word) that I won’t even bother to provide links to my past posts refuting this crap.  States have not delayed any HV transmission projects, and, far from delaying projects, the Obama administration has cut secret deals to ramrod the S-R line into existence in Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area.

Keryn beat me to this story earlier today with a very detailed post.  And she dissects the report with her usual incisive wit.  Note that the one new feature of this retreaded Cheney baloney is open support from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Big Enviro group based in DC.  Shame on NRDC.

The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, NARUC, the national association of state PSCs, was listed on the report as a contributor, but NARUC issued a press release stating:

“NARUC strongly opposes the recommendations calling for the expansion of the federal government’s authority to site transmission facilities. The report recommends that Congress give federal regulators permission to overrule a legitimate State decision determining that a power line is unnecessary if a nearby State with different needs and resources says that it is. Essentially this policy would give one State de-facto siting authority over another, which is certainly against congressional intent. Moreover, where current law limits the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s backstop authority to power lines in so-called ‘National Interest Electricity Transmission Corridors,’ the report recommends greatly expanding FERC’s authority nationwide. Therefore, this recommendation abandons the existing law’s goal of improving the efficiency of the transmission network by reducing congestion in favor of policies that increase rates for retail customers who receive little or no benefits, without necessary and proper oversight by the States.

The NARUC members that site new transmission lines have authorized significant new investment; indeed there remains little evidence that a failure to ‘update the grid’ is widespread or attributable to State recalcitrance sufficient to justify the kind of sweeping new legislation that this report recommends.

NARUC’s opposition to this specific recommendation is consistent with its previous positions regarding State authority to site transmission lines.”

Nice to see state regulators standing up for the rest of us against the new Cheney transmission attack.

Er-Tit Kabuki Yields Useless Comments

Once again, Keryn has dug up some hilarious reading over at StopPATH WV.  I have covered the Obama er-tit process for working behind the scenes to ramrod new power lines here and here.  The first major pay off of this new program was the corrupt deal between Sec. of Interior Salazar and PSEG to force all of us rate payers in PJM to buy land for the Nature Conservancy so PSEG can ram the S-R line through National Park Service land in NJ.

Who knew that along with this backdoor DC process for closed door double-dealing there came a comment period at the US Dept. of Energy.  What a marvel of kabuki theater our federal government has become.  In the fall of 2011 the White House announces its plan to “streamline” (read ramrod) pet high voltage transmission projects.  Also in the fall of 2011, there is already news that Salazar has cut the back room deal on the Susquehanna-Roseland line.  Then, in the spring of 2012, “the public” is allowed to “comment” on the already done deal.

As Keryn points out, these kabuki comments do have entertainment value.  It’s always a hoot to read the blatant lies that come out of the $500 per hour DC law firms that power companies hire to do their commenting.  AEP doesn’t let us down this time.  Ken Ward doesn’t like me to use the word “lie” in my posts, but there is really no other word to use in this case.  Here is Keryn’s accurate assessment of AEP’s comments:

But, here’s the biggest lie:

“The delays experienced with the Wyoming-Jacksons Ferry line were so pronounced that AEP has since avoided crossing federal lands in siting projects.”

Well, except for their PATH Project, which came AFTER Jacksons Ferry-Wyoming.  AEP didn’t seem to have a problem siting that thing through a national forest and three national park units, did they?  They didn’t even seem to have a problem with PATH’s federal EIS process, until the NPS denied their request for indefinite abeyance of the process and tossed out PATH’s application.  Now the federal permitting process is broken and AEP can re-write history.

As Keryn points out, there is a direct contradiction between AEP’s “since” the Jacksons Ferry-Wyoming line and the fact that AEP’s PATH line was planned to cross significant federally owned lands “after” the Jacksons Ferry-Wyoming project.  A lie is a deliberate deception.  Unless you believe that AEP’s assertion is somehow the result of mental derangement and its highly paid lawyers are somehow delusional and did not believe they were misstating the facts, it is hard to conclude that this comment is anything but a deliberate deception.

A lie is a lie.  But then theater is all about illusion anyway.  Welcome to the Cheney-Obama hall of mirrors.

Park Service Dumps PATH EIS

Here is the joint letter from regional directors of the National Park Service to AEP/FE’s PATH attorneys:

We have reviewed the PATH Companies’ December 16, 2011 letter to the Regional Directors of the National Park Service (NPS) National Capital and Northeast Regions requesting an extension to the suspension (“abeyance”) of permit processing for the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) project. After careful consideration, we cannot continue to hold this project in abeyance. The NPS has decided to deny the request for an extension, and accordingly, to deny the permit without prejudice.

We will close out the preparation of the Environmental Impact Statement and the administrative file, including a Notice to Terminate in the Federal Register. Consistent with our record retention schedules under the Federal Records Act and applicable policy and guidance, we will retain appropriate records and data.

If the PATH project status changes and the line is reauthorized, with a clear public need established, you may reapply without bias.

Here’s the link to the letter on the NPS Web site.

So the Park Service Environmental Impact Statement process that was started three years ago has now been terminated.  If AEP/FE want to get PATH started again, they will have to start from scratch at the National Park Service.

If only FERC had such good sense.

Does 2005 EPAct Require Rate Payers to Pay Into Slush Funds?

Keryn has continued her coverage of the Salazar/PPL/PSEG “deal” to ramrod the S-R line through out national park land.

In her most recent post, we learn that the power companies are going to be paying into a multi-million dollar real estate speculation slush fund.  This is no longer about bribing the National Park Service.  This is the time-tested strategy of buying off a big chunk of your institutional opposition.  So-called “conservation groups” will get a big say in how the slush fund would be spent to buy up land around the edges of the Delaware Water Gap NRA, while the Recreation Area itself is gutted by the S-R line.

Rate payers will be forced to pay for this slush fund through FERC/PJM rate recovery for the costs of the line itself.

Where in the 2005 Energy Policy Act does it say that slush funds constitute “prudent costs” for a high voltage transmission project?

PSEG/PPL Will Take S-R Mitigation Land “Wherever”

Keryn did a great job of reporting on the public hearings in NJ concerning the Susquehanna-Roseland EIS process.  You still have until Jan. 31 to file on line comments at the National Park Service site.

I want to focus in this post on one fact that Keryn pulled out of the public testimony.  Here is the key paragraph from Keryn’s post:

PPL claims that they haven’t “identified precise locations” of the land they propose to purchase for their “mitigation package” yet.  So, PPL, what happens when the owners don’t want to sell?  Do you offer them more money, or do you use your state-granted eminent domain powers to take the land from a private individual and give it to the NPS or other conservation group?  I don’t see anyone addressing this question yet.

PPL is Pennsylvania Power & Light, the partner of NJ-based power company PSEG in the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission project.

Keryn puts her finger right on the key question here.  Apparently, PPL/PSEG have an answer to the question “Where is the land that you will take to give to the National Park Service?”  The power companies’ answer is “Wherever.”

That seems to be the standard answer that power companies expect the NPS to swallow.  Remember the recent letter that AEP/FE filed with the NPS about the new “deadline” for the PATH EIS?  The “six months after whenever” letter?

Keryn goes on to the issue that should be front and center on this Obama administration ramrod effort.  If the power companies don’t already have this land that they are claiming they will give to the federal government, how do they expect to get it?  The logical answer is that they will seize this privately-owned real estate through state or federal eminent domain processes.

In other words, they will take this land by force, claiming some public need for the land, when in reality it is just some wampum in a political deal.

You still have a little more than 24 hours to tell the Park Service that you don’t like the idea of a “trade” that involves picking rate payers pockets for an unneeded power line and the forcible seizure of private property to make it happen.

Oh, and that $30 million cost for the “wherever” land?  That’s just a number.  The only place that the actual real estate acquisition cost could be contested after the deal is “put in place” would be the FERC cost recovery process.  We know how well that has worked out.  Not a single state regulator or so-called “consumer advocate” have deigned to challenge the costs for PATH or TrAIL at FERC.  Only the reboubtable Keryn and Ali (now known to AEP/FE simply as “Alison” – redoubtable indeed!) have taken the time to defend rate payers from the power company money grab in PATH.  Their efforts have lead FERC to conduct a full audit of TrAIL’s charges to rate payers.

Will anyone take the time or trouble to challenge PPL’s and PSEG’s cost claims for the S-R line?  Will anyone be there to challenge them when their $30 million claim for their “wherever” land turns into $60 million?  The $30 million current cost estimate is just as fictional at this point as the power companies’ “wherever” land.

There is considerable pressure being applied to the National Park Service by their bosses, Sec. of the Interior Ken Salazar and President Obama, to accept the PPL/PSEG “mitigation package” (gotta love the corporate jargon).  So far, all we know is that this “package” is a pig in a poke for which PJM rate payers will be paying with a blank check.  Is this any way to do business?

S-R “Mitigation” = Bribery of NPS, Let Them Know You Think It Stinks

For decades here in WV, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the government agency that issues permits for valley fills in mountaintop removal mining, has issued permits based on “stream mitigation” conducted by mining companies.  This “mitigation” is supposed to, in some way, compensate US citizens for the destruction of miles and miles of headwater streams.  While mining operations bury entire stream ecosystems, mining companies are allowed to throw some riprap along stream banks miles away, and that is supposed to “mitigate” the destruction caused by mountaintop removal in the permitted area.

Now this bogus “mitigation” is coming to NJ in the form of a deal engineered by US Dept. of Energy Secretary Chu at the direction of President Obama.  Last fall, we saw here the fast tracking of a number of high voltage transmission projects by the Obama Administration, over the objections of National Park Service professionals.  The Susquehanna-Roseland line, a Project Mountaineer sister project to PATH and TrAIL, was one of those fast tracked projects.

The S-R line was moving through the normal Environmental Impact Statement process, but things weren’t moving fast enough for Sec. Chu and his power company friends.  We, as well as the NPS employees, knew that a backroom deal was coming, and now we know what it is.

In November 2011, despite pressure coming from the White House, the National Park Service recommended that the S-R line not be built through the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area as the best way to protect the park from the many negative impacts of the route preferred by power company PSEG, owner of the NJ section of the S-R line.

After the first of the year, PSEG revealed by the “mitigation” deal.  The power company first offered to spend $60 million buying new land to add to the DWGNRA.  When that made the bribe a little to obvious, PSEG reduced the deal to $30 million.  The S-R line would remain on its current route through the middle of the NRA, but some extra land would be tacked on to the edge of the existing park.  How this is supposed to “mitigate” (PSEG’s word) the impacts of the transmission line, or to conform with the NPS “no build” recommendation is a mystery to me.

Most galling of all, we rate payers in PJM Interconnection will actually be paying the $30 million “mitigation” bribe through the FERC/PJM cost recovery process.  Because this bribe will be considered a cost of construction of the S-R line, FERC also lets PSEG collect “incentive” return on equity of more than 12% (that’s about $4 million) every year from now on.

NPS was shamed by this bribe offer into re-opening is still accepting public comment in their EIS process, so you and I can tell them what we think of this outrageous deal.  The deadline for comments is January 31.  You can comment directly on the NPS Web site at this link.

Keryn has more information on the StopPATH Web site here and here.

AEP/FE Want Delay of PATH EIS Process Until 60 Days After Whenever

Keryn took the initiative and dug out this information from the National Park Service.  Go to her post at StopPATHWV for the details.

We reported a couple of weeks ago that the National Park Service December 31, 2011 deadline for the federal PATH EIS process had passed without any activity by either AEP/FE or the Park Service.  Well, the NPS has now posted a letter from AEP/FE dated December 16, 2011 on its Web site.

It appears that the power companies are now asking for an indefinite delay in the EIS process.  They say that PJM might consider the final plight of PATH in May 2012, but they really don’t know when a final decision will be made.  But AEP/FE are requesting a delay of the EIS process again until 60 days after PJM makes its decision.

What?  So you don’t know when PJM will make its decision but you want a delay until 60 days after that date, whenever that may be?  Really?  Translation:  We want a delay until 60 days after whenever.

Here’s the statement directly from the AEP/FE letter:

In light of this most recent PJM report, and in particular, the further analysis that PJM intends to undertake in 2012, the PATH Project remains in suspension as previously directed by the P JM Board at least through the period required for PJM Staff to report the results of the additional analysis described above, and for the PJM Board to take further action. Accordingly, the PATH Companies respectfully request that the NPS continue to hold its review of the pending applications for right-of-way authorizations in abeyance. As indicated by the PJM Staff report, additional analysis will be undertaken after completion of the May 2012 forward capacity auction results. The time required by P JM Staff to perform such analysis thereafter is not yet known. [emphasis added]

In order to accommodate the PJM study process, while providing a measure of certainty [Since when does “whenever” create “certainty”?  That’s a pretty small “measure.”] for both the PATH Companies and the NPS, the PATH Companies respectfully request that the NPS continue to hold its application review in abeyance until 60-days after the PJM Board issues a further decision on the status of the PATH Project. Promptly after being advised of such further decision by the PJM Board, the PATH Companies will notify the NPS of that decision and, within such 60-day period, submit a further request to the NPS with regard to the pending applications.

So now AEP/FE are performing a kind of striptease with NPS, USFS and the public.  They throw out the date May 2012, but then they say, but we really don’t know when the decision will be made.  After they say  they have no idea when PJM will make a decision about PATH, they say they will let NPS know 60 days after that date, but that date doesn’t exist.  They hope by flashing some numbers and dates they can fool the feds into thinking there is something solid there.

Here is a link to the power company fan dance.  I must say, it is quite a remarkable performance.  I’ll ask it again — Do they really think we are stupid enough to fall for this?  AEP/FE’s fancy DC lawyers seem to think so.

We’ll see what NPS does with the 60 days after whenever request.

Thank you, Keryn, for digging out this information.