Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Clean Line Energy wins the "Eye Roll Olympics"...

A joint update from Ali and Dave:

Please excuse our absence of late. We've been working on other projects and enjoying a somewhat Clean Line drama free period over the holidays. It's funny... last year at this time we were frantically trying to make sure affected individuals knew they could comment on the Draft EIS. Looking back, while we are incredibly proud of the people who took the time to send in letters and emails, we can't help but feel they were cheated out of a real process. A legal one where they could put their questions to lawyers and have those lawyers put them to Clean Line under oath. Maybe with an impartial decision-making body that hadn't spent five years developing relationships with an applicant. You know, with neutral judges to make a decision based on evidence in the record.

But we digress, while our relative silence over the last month or so may make it look like we haven't been paying attention, rest assured, we have been. Oh boy, have we ever. And now, we'd like to present you with the winners of the Eye Roll Olympics.

Eye Roll #10Field goes to the Rotary Club.

Why is Clean Line still doing this? Padding "outreach efforts" for the DOE? Planning another run at the Arkansas Public Service Commission? Or, just hoping that with enough schmoozing the local yokels won't realize their proposed "binding agreement" may castrate the counties' ability to respond to the needs and requests of its citizens with ordinances and actions? Perhaps we haven't been clear, or perhaps Clean Line just doesn't get it: the government, especially the local government, is "of the people, by the people, and for the people." Not "for Mr. Skelly and his investors".

"Connecting with the locals". It's a good thing, but Clean Line continues attempting to connect with the WRONG locals, and they have been from the start... except for that one time we ran into Field in the BBQ shop. :) Landowners won't magically disappear because Clean Line shows the Rotary Club a PowerPoint. What's next? Telling a bunch of Farm Bureau members the line is going to save the Monarch Butterfly?

Eye Roll #9: Hiding Facebook comments because they look bad.

There are times when decisions come down that aren't in your favor. We get it. Maybe you don't want your investors, potential customers, or other supporters to know these things happen. The truth of the matter is, there is a vast network of folks who are watching your every move. You're going to get questions about things related to your projects on your posts. You can't "encourage open discussion" when you post things that come down in your favor and then hide anything someone asks that you don't want anyone else to see. That smells like desperation, and it is pretty unfair. Here's the latest example of a member of the opposition asking a fairly straightforward question, and then being accused of harassment by whoever is behind the curtain:

Trying to drown out, isolate, and minimize the opposition to your projects is part of the reason you folks find yourselves in the position you're in. You would think you would have learned by now that attempting to hide information that's readily available on "the Google" to thousands of people who are intimately and anxiously aware of your shenanigans is a bad idea, but you continue to do it. Why? We're not sure, but every time you hide a comment it is documented and will be placed somewhere for everyone to see.

Eye Roll #8: We get it, they're ALL Republicans.

We understand there is journalistic value in identifying the party affiliation of the Congressional delegation like this:
"Members of the Arkansas Congressional delegation, all Republicans, met Thursday with U.S. Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to discuss concerns about the proposed Plains and Eastern Clean Line Transmission Project."
The danger is when journalists, and others, use that information to prop up a biased narrative. Yes, the delegation is Republican. Arkansas is a Republican state. However, not all who are opposed to Clean Line Energy in the state of Arkansas and elsewhere are Republicans (we are not, for example). A bad idea is a bad idea, and pretty much anyone who dives down past Clean Line's headlines realizes fairly quickly that there's more to this than a partisan divide. We have had bipartisan support at the state level, and we'd have bipartisan support if our delegation wasn't comprised of two Republican senators and four Republican representatives.

It has actually been extremely refreshing and humbling for us to have been able to work with such a wide array of the political spectrum while opposing this issue. It is something our country desperately needs more of. And, by the way: this fight is not about conventional versus renewable energy. It just isn't. And, no matter how hard you try to pen it as such, we will always strive to make this about the actual issue at hand: keeping federal eminent domain out of the hands of a private company that could use it as a development discount. That's wrong, and most people understand that it is wrong, and why.

And what if the line's recipients turn out to be not utilities or municipalities, but corporations trying to "green" their image. Amazon and others have shown a laudable interest in moving toward carbon-free operations. The idea that eminent domain could be used to force projects to power primarily private and for-profit business enterprises... Progressives and Democrats should be horrified at the thought. As, in fact, should everyone else.

Eye Roll #7: Why are you still saying "500mW to Arkansas"?

We know, it sounds good to tell people this. It gives them a warm and fuzzy feeling inside to think that 160,000 Arkansans will be served by this transmission line. But, the number is 450, not 500, right? According to your updated application, East Texas Electric Cooperatives has said they might (noncommittally) like to have 50mW of capacity, so why are you still telling Arkansans that they'd be getting 500mW?  Has Entergy Arkansas or any other utility in Arkansas agreed to purchase your non-existent electricity? We know Arkansas Electrical Cooperative Corporation (AECC) has numerous issues with your proposal. How? We read their comment.

The fact of the matter is this: the Arkansas converter station would connect to the MISO South (the blue area here) region. This region includes most of Arkansas, about half of Mississippi, most of Louisiana and, yes, a portion of east Texas. Unless we're missing something, delivery to utilities in Arkansas is not guaranteed, at all. Clean Line is advertising that they'll deliver 500mW to Arkansas when, in reality, there is a possibility that NONE of the electricity would be delivered for consumption in Arkansas. With potential markets in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, what assurances do we have that even one megawatt would go to Arkansas? Especially if the Department of Energy hinges approval of the partnership on subscription. Won't they need someone, ANYONE, to say they want their product? To our knowledge NO utility in Arkansas has signed a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with them that has been made public. Not one.

So unless you're ready to lay it all out there and release any Arkansas PPAs, spare all of us and stop saying you're going to power 160,000 Arkansas homes with 500mW of electricity (that doesn't exist yet). Just stop.

Eye Roll #6: They told us that wind energy couldn't be developed in the Southeast.

It is time for you to stop using the "wind energy can't be developed in the Southeast" talking point to justify your out-dated project. We explained to everyone in January of 2015 (wow, it's been a year?!) that wind energy development would be coming to the Southeastern United States in the near future because of technological advancements in wind turbine efficiency and height. It seems that it has arrived in Tennessee:
"Tennessee has not traditionally been a state that has a lot of wind energy production in it, but Crab Orchard wind will be a 71 megawatt, $100 million project," Goodwin said. "That has been enabled by the advancements in technology over the years. The wind resource in Crab Orchard is excellent, so we will be able to deliver very cost-effective electricity without comparison."
Happily, it turns out there are "Saudi Arabias of wind" all over this enormous country. Time is our friend. Technology is a good thing, folks.

Eye Roll #5: PRIA gets skewered by a repeat editorialist, excuse us, "journalist".

First of all, we have no idea why this article was in the "News" section when it absolutely reeked of bias. It's been a while since we took high school journalism, but we seem to remember a basic tenant being the requirement that you at least attempt to reign in your personal feelings and agenda. Here, Loren G. Flaugh gives us gems like this:
"Probably the most hotly contested claim to emerge from that meeting came when Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance (PRIA) President Carolyn Sheridan revealed an apparent lack of understanding for how eminent domain works."
Apparently, Flaugh likes to use "apparently" and "apparent". We do, too. On our blog. Because it's a BLOG and not a NEWSPAPER. We might say something like: "Flaugh's use of language revealed he apparently wasn't as interested in the truth behind the sentiment being expressed as he was about making Ms. Sheridan look foolish in his article." After all, it's only our opinion.

Shame. On. You.

First things first, semantics are important, but basing almost an entire article on either 1) an apparent lack of understanding on the consequences of a signed easement, or 2) a very narrow definition of the term "sell" in light of the situation at hand is ill-advised.

In other words, sir, an easement, whether negotiated voluntarily or obtained through the use of eminent domain, in most cases represents a fundamental and permanent change in which the party in possession of the easement becomes the dominant interest on the property in question. The landowner, though they in most cases retain the "ownership" of the land the easement involves, becomes the lesser or servient estate. In other words, the landowner retains the liability and tax burden on the easement, but has virtually no control over anything else. The landowner is largely subject to the condemning entity's determination of the appropriate process, and unless they have a bang-up lawyer or the force behind a landowners' collective, they have very little tangible control of the terms of such a contract. No, it's not the same as being forced to sell. In many ways, it's worse! And while your argument might make more sense in situations where structures on the easement are buried entirely, the landowner in high-voltage line cases loses not only more in the way of use, but in visual value as well.

Finally, journalists (and we have quite a few that we've gotten to know and appreciate as individuals truly devoted to digging into these stories) don't get to decide how other people should feel about what's happening to them. If you can't look at someone worried about this situation and accept that their concern is valid (at minimum to them) and worthy of respect and due consideration, then it's time to put your pen down on this issue and move on to something where you have a little more objectivity.

Eye Roll #4: Beth's response to Iowa lawmakers.

First of all, we absolutely LOVED the open letter to Clean Line from twenty-three Iowa lawmakers. It takes some serious cahones to say something like this:
In Iowa we have a history of working with landowners to obtain energy project rights. 
You don’t seem to understand this concept. Instead, you have fumbled through a disjointed effort to manipulate the system by filing a series of requests to the Iowa Utilities Board.
You are not a utility. You have no intention of letting Iowans plug in to your project, nor do you plan to let us sell power along your route. We hope that it doesn’t have to come to us passing legislation to keep you in check, but we will if it has to come to that. Please have no doubt that the House Government Oversight Committee will be watching your every move. We are tired of your threat to blight hundreds of landowners’ properties while you “weigh your options” or propose newly extended procedural schedules.
In fact, we loved it so much, we'd really like to get those lawmakers connected with state lawmakers in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma, and any others who wish to weigh in. Contact us. We can make it happen!

So, the actual groaning happens when you read Beth Conley's (Clean Line) response to those twenty three lawmakers. (You know, the lawmakers elected by the people on Clean Line's route?)

We'll start with the conclusion:
My family and I recently drove past the big substation in Hinton, the delivery point for a lot of hydropower coming into Iowa from Missouri River dams in South Dakota. We were talking about how South Dakota farmers allowed that project to deliver electricity to their fellow Americans in Iowa generations ago, and how we have greatly benefited from it. That was neighborly of them. With the Rock Island project, we are making possible new wind projects that cannot happen without new transmission. Let’s build the future.
First of all, Beth, it's super cute that you have such a quaint, pastoral notion of the noble landowners of the past, but have you actually talked to any of those landowners? Asked them how that whole project went down? Have you talked to any of the landowners on Plains & Eastern whose grandparents already gave land to electrify their "fellow Americans"? To get oil to market? To build railroads? To build roads? Stop. Just stop. Stop trying to shame landowners with pseudo-patriotic rhetoric. Industry standard in siting pretty much guarantees that people on these lines have already done plenty for their country, and many of them would do more if they actually felt like a project was worthy instead of a moneymaker for a select few.

Stop acting like your projects are going to make or break the future of clean energy in our country. The clean energy revolution is coming regardless, and aside from a few environmental organizations, we haven't run into many folks (other than you and our friend Bob) saying your projects (all of them) are desperately needed. You're not the TVA and this isn't the 30's and 40's. It's not right to hold yourself up as a new model for development with one hand while you've got the other in a hundred year old cookie jar.

Landowners didn't ask to be in this position. It is not the landowners' fault the leadership of your company came up with a series of projects that, in light of all your recent actions and filings, appear to require eminent domain for profitability. Landowners didn't choose these projects or your investors. Nice compound, Ziff brothers! We hope your air conditioned tunnel is powered by renewable energy.

Eye Roll #3: Clean Line's THIRD attempt at bifurcation in Iowa.

More from Beth's response to those Iowa lawmakers:
While not used previously by the IUB, this type of schedule is commonplace in a similar form in other states nearby and it is the type of process used by Iowa DOT and other state agencies. While it is true, as far as we know, that no Iowa electric company has been granted a schedule from the IUB like the one we request, we also believe it to be true that no Iowa electric company has ever proposed to build power lines of this significance without any cost to the Iowa ratepayers. This public infrastructure project will bring all of the benefits of new transmission, meeting the needs of the clean energy economy, without putting the cost burden in Iowa.
Rejected! Just stop. Iowa law is Iowa law. Your three attempts to make things more convenient and less expensive for yourselves and your investors, while concurrently making it more inconvenient, confusing, and expensive for the landowners that have already committed too much time and too many limited resources fighting to protect themselves, are more than a little ridiculous. You knew the process going into Iowa, and, as in Arkansas, you've made the lawmakers in Iowa mad enough to threaten you with additional legislation to "keep you in check". We got it done here, and it'll get done in Iowa if necessary. Instead of putting your big pants on and working with the lawmakers, you chose (as you did in Arkansas) to attempt to bend the rules. How's that working out for you?

Eye Roll #2: It doesn't matter how many times you say these projects won't cost taxpayers/ratepayers anything, it's not the whole truth!

Let's go back to Beth's letter for a minute, just because it's handy...
 "...we also believe it to be true that no Iowa electric company has ever proposed to build power lines of this significance without any cost to the Iowa ratepayers. This public infrastructure project will bring all of the benefits of new transmission, meeting the needs of the clean energy economy, without putting the cost burden in Iowa."
Clean Line says this, or some variation on it, a lot. It's Oscar Mayer worthy. The drive behind the cost reallocation that would normally be passed on to the ratepayers doesn't just disappear because a company wants to operate outside the system. These projects are ventures. Investments. If Clean Line can't get reimbursed for their costs on the back end of things, we have to wonder if they're going to try and recoup them on the front end. Take another good look at their proposed compensation for landowners.

Were Clean Line a traditional utility, that offer might be more impressive, if only because eminent domain laws in most states were written in a different era for a different kind of company (can you say municipal utility?). But Clean Line isn't a traditional utility, and for the vast majority of landowners we've talked to, their offer falls flat. These people have expressed virtually no confidence that Clean Line's "fair market value" offers for the proposed "right-of-way" will make them whole. Much less the yearly "bonus payment".

And, for the people we've talked to, Clean Line has done remarkably little to assuage those concerns. Aside from their "eminent domain access or bust!" actions, Clean Line has a habit of backhanding landowners and then claiming to really care about us.  Here's a hint, instead of denying landowners will see any property value decrease as a result of the line, how about agreeing to a later appraisal after which Clean Line would be responsible for any damages in value to the remaining property. No? Too expensive? How about that. Better yet, they could just take eminent domain off the table entirely, thereby treating landowners like the human beings they are.

Yes, Beth, the projects actually are putting a tremendous cost burden on Iowans... and Arkansans, Oklahomans, Missourians, Kansans, Tennesseans, and Illinoisans. Just smaller groups of them that don't have the same resources as consumer groups. Congratulations. Way to treat fellow Americans. How neighborly.

Eye Roll #1: Clean Line Energy's way with words.

We would like to conclude the Eye Roll Olympics with Clean Line Energy's apparently almost total inability to say anything regarding the opposition that doesn't appear to willfully diminish our positions or opinions. Maybe for some reason Clean Line's quotes just translate badly into text, but time and again they've given us tidbits that reek of entitlement and a truly questionable level of self-assurance. A recent example can be found in Michael Skelly's response to our ENTIRE federal congressional delegation after they met with Secretary Moniz to voice their (OUR) concerns about the project:
Clean Line CEO Michael Skelly recently told Talk Business & Politics during a trip to Little Rock that he has sat down and met with Senators Boozman and Cotton one-on-one to hear their concerns. 
They have their views, and they have articulated those views, and we have a different view,” Skelly said. “But listen, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 was passed and signed into law by then President (George) Bush. When we made our application under that law. If the rules change – then we will look at the new rules and try to make our project work.”

But listen, Mr. Skelly: Senator Boozman was in Congress when the 2005 Energy Policy Act was passed. He voted for it. If he thinks your company's business model doesn't meet the criteria of Section 1222, there's probably a good chance that it doesn't.

And, way to help your cause with the state you're trying to build your project in! We're sure comments like that make them more inclined to help you (eye roll).

So, as we all wait to see if the Department of Energy is going to try to use a previously untested law to force a few thousand landowners to capitulate to your vision, Mr. Skelly, you're busy making the media rounds again:
Clean Line may have found a work-around: a 10-year old act of Congress that would give the U.S. Department of Energy jurisdiction over new interstate transmission line projects. Clean Line is pursuing DOE approval for a power line proposed to run from western Oklahoma across Arkansas, into Tennessee. The project ran into stiff opposition in Arkansas, but Skelly says he expects confirmation from the DOE shortly.
And yet, in spite of that "work-around", Clean Line isn't doing as they threatened to shortly after the Missouri Public Service Commission denied their request for utility status... Instead of hitting the feds up for "siting authority" for Grain Belt, it looks like they're going to "sweeten the deal" locally:
Clean Line hasn’t taken the Grain Belt Express proposal to the Department of Energy. The company plans to re-file its application with the Missouri Public Service Commission, sweetening the deal somewhat with promises of low-cost, carbon-neutral power delivered to Missouri, and lots of jobs.
Things not all sunshine and daisies with your application at the DOE? But of course, Missouri and Arkansas have never heard promises of jobs and low-cost energy before, have they? Given another paragraph, there'd be a couple nice sentences about all the tax money they'll be offering Missouri, too! ;)

Mr. Skelly, we dub you: WINNER of the Eye Roll Olympics!

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