Land-Based Wind Power in WV – A History of Beech Ridge

Yesterday, I came across this interesting book review in the Charleston Gazette.  It is a review of Chasing the Wind: Inside the Alternative Energy Battle by Rody Johnson, a retired engineer from Lewisburg.  Johnson apparently carried out extensive research, including interviews of participants, into the five year development of the Beech Ridge wind farm near Rupert.  The reviewer, Joe Morris, is a former business editor for the Gazette who has also worked as a reporter for a “a wind industry trade publication.”

In his review, Mr. Morris points to a number of facts about land-based wind power in WV.

  • “More wind power generation is under construction today than ever before, but none of it is in West Virginia. No industrial-scale project has come online in two years, and no developers have disclosed plans for new installations since 2009. Those who have built here swear they never will again, and those with permits are trying to sell off their rights.”
  • “The settlement talks never panned out, and MCRE [the Greenbrier County citizens group opposed to Beech Ridge] subsequently filed suit in state court to override Beech Ridge’s permit, lost, then joined with a Washington-based animal welfare advocacy to sue in federal court, claiming Invenergy [Beech Ridge’s developer] had done too little to ensure no Indiana bats would be killed. This time, Invenergy lost. The ruling found Beech Ridge was “virtually certain” to kill Indiana bats and must take steps to avoid doing so.

    Invenergy had itself to blame, since early on it chose to disregard bat protections recommended by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service. Ultimately, in 2010, it commissioned 67 turbines, which must be stilled half the day during the bats’ non-hibernation season, and it wants to add 33 more, the maximum allowed under the lawsuit settlement. Invenergy is required to monitor the site regularly for bat carcasses, and no Indiana bats have ever been found.”

  • “He [author Johnson] might have mentioned that while most states now pledge their utilities to drawing at least some power from renewables, Joe Manchin as governor effectively banned such a mandate in West Virginia, steering through legislation in 2009 that perversely declares coal and natural gas to be “alternative” energy sources, alongside wind and solar.

    Nothing has changed under Manchin’s successor. In a July interview, Division of Energy director Jeff Herholdt said West Virginia should export wind power but has no interest in developing it for the state’s own use.”

  • “The state’s own use is, in fact, where wind could prove the most useful. As Johnson rightly notes, wind’s fuller integration into regional electric grids would entail nothing less than a coordinated national energy policy and Sputnik-speed advances in backup battery technology, the impetus for which would entail nothing less than a climate change disaster. Less rightly, however, he overlooks wind’s enormous potential in localized “distributed” generation systems, where turbines produce power near the point of consumption.

    Because smaller in scale, distributed energy is more easily backed up with current battery technology, and since it bypasses the dysfunctional regional grid network, it bypasses the dysfunction of national energy policy. Only state policy stands in the way, if for no other reason than that no one is ever going to get rich off of distributed wind energy, while coal continues to mint West Virginia millionaires.”

    “One realm left underexplored, however, is West Virginia politics. A spokeswoman for NextEra Energy, the country’s biggest wind power developer, told Johnson that the company would never build in West Virginia again, saying it couldn’t “cope with the politics and the coal influence.” Johnson leaves it at that, as if one need hardly say more.

Mr. Morris ends his review with the following:

Which brings me to our story’s ironic twist. Toward the end of “Chasing the Wind,” Johnson pays a follow-up visit to John Stroud, the MCRE co-chairman. Not long after Stroud’s victory over Beech Ridge, the harrowing sounds of mountaintop removal blasting began reverberating through his Williamsburg Valley farm. No one had ever dreamed coal companies were interested in the area, but now the timberland above the farm, because spared from the blight of wind turbines, had become appallingly available for surface mining.

Speaking for more than just himself, Stroud admits: “I may have shot myself in the foot.”

Transmission Developers Must “Buy the Farm” in Minnesota

Carol Overland reports that the MN Supreme Court ruled today that a state law is constitutional that allows land owners to force transmission developers to buy their entire property in condemnation cases, instead of just purchasing a right of way.

Power companies behind the massive CapX 2020 transmission project have been fighting the 79 land owners who had invoked the state’s “buy the farm” law when the developers tried to seize rights of way using MN’s eminent domain procedures.

The state Supreme Court ruling supports the farmers and deals a serious blow to the power companies.

Carol’s blog post has a link to the Court’s decision.  Congratulations Minnesotans!

PJM Releases Capacity Auction Results, Bad News for FirstEnergy & for PJM Land Owners

Last week, PJM Interconnection released the results of this year’s Base Residual Auction for generation capacity to be delivered in 2016/2017.  In their testimony in the Harrison plant case at the WV PSC, FirstEnergy employees have been claiming that the plant has to be dumped on WV rate payers right now, because capacity prices are set to rise.  Didn’t happen.

The net increase in supply from new entry and imports in conjunction with what is effectively flat demand growth resulted in capacity prices that were lower across the PJM footprint except in parts of New Jersey. The RTO price for Annual Resources was $59.37 per megawatt-day (MW-day). Prices for Limited Demand Resources (Limited DR) and Extended Summer Demand Resources (ES DR) mirrored the Annual Resource price at $59.37/MW-day.

The PJM-wide price (“RTO price” above) for cleared capacity at last year’s auction was $136.00 and in 2011, the price was $129.55.

Here is the graph that PJM provided with their report:

PJM 2013 BRA graph copyApologies for the quality of the graph, but that’s the way it copied over from the report.  The blue line represents PJM’s system wide clearing price.  You can see the 2016/17 capacity prices on the far right.  No matter how you spin it, there is no upward trend in capacity prices on PJM’s system.

What does this mean for FirstEnergy?

Three things:

  1. The Harrison plant is facing lower prices for the capacity it sold in this year’s BRA.  This means lower profits for Allegheny Energy Supply on the 80% of the plant they currently own, when they deliver power in 2016/17 to the utilities that purchased capacity on the plant in this auction.  Mon Power will face lower prices, too, but they only own 20% of the plant.  So, more than ever, falling profits for Allegheny Energy Supply increases pressure on FirstEnergy to dump the Harrison Plant on WV rate payers.  This ain’t charity, folks.  FirstEnergy isn’t generously selling Harrison to Mon Power because the plant is an, in the words of Mr. Delmar, “an exceptional asset.”
  2. If Mon Power needs capacity, which they are claiming, they can continue to reserve capacity on PJM at lower cost.  Purchasing the 80% of the Harrison plant that Allegheny Energy Supply owns now would be a much more expensive choice than reserving capacity on PJM, given the lower prices on PJM through May 2017.
  3. So far, FirstEnergy predictions about rising capacity prices are wrong.  The price for capacity deliverable in 2016/17 is less than half the price of capacity deliverable in 2015/16 that cleared in last year’s BRA.

Beyond the impact on the Harrison case, here are some other facts about this year’s BRA:

  • Flat electricity demand is driving power prices in PJM.  PJM says that clearly.
  • New generation capacity, mainly from new gas plants and retrofits of coal to gas, is more than replacing the retirement of dangerous and obsolete coal plants.
  • While cleared demand management resources fell this year, cleared energy efficiency resources increased in the BRA.
  • Cleared wind generation capacity also increased this year.

An interesting, and under-explained, feature of this year’s BRA was an almost doubling of imported capacity.  The figure is still small, compared with overall cleared capacity, but the change raises some questions.  PJM says much of these new imports came from MISO, but doesn’t describe the source of this capacity further.  Was it from Midwest land-based wind farms?  Was it from coal plants in MISO?  PJM doesn’t say.  PJM does ominously report that:

Of the 7,482.7 MW of imports that cleared in the auction, 4,788 MW (64%) has firm transmission service from the resource into PJM that is in confirmed status and the remainder has submitted firm transmission service requests for the complete required path that are now under study.

In other words, if you live in Illinois or Ohio or Indiana, be ready, PJM has you in its sights.  You may have some 765 kV or 500 kV lines in your future.

AEP/FirstEnergy Dumping PATH Properties in the Eastern Panhandle – They Want You to Pay

Keryn and others at StopPATH WV have been tracking AEP/FE and their real estate goat rodeo in the Eastern Panhandle.  PATH was supposed to go through a lot of housing developments over there, and the power companies went on a buying spree with what they thought was rate payers’ money.  They would have gotten away with it if PATH had ever been built.  Now, with the abandonment case at FERC, the inflated prices AEP/FirstEnergy paid for these properties will come under scrutiny.

Under FERC rules, AEP/FirstEnergy can recover costs that were prudently incurred.  “Prudently incurred,” that is the standard at FERC for the power companies recovering their lost capital costs on the dead PATH project.

Take a look at Keryn’s post on the situation.  Despite the fact that FERC’s Commissioners warned AEP/FirstEnergy not to dump these properties for bargain basement prices, leaving rate payers to pay for the losses, the power companies have started dumping these properties.  Here is Keryn’s list:

So, how “reasonable” are PATH’s “fair market value” sale prices compared to “fair market value” amounts PATH spent purchasing each property?

PATH purchased this property for $50,000 in April of 2010.  It’s on sale today for only $9,000!

PATH purchased this property for $64,000 in April of 2009.  It’s on sale today for only $12,000!

PATH purchased this property for $307,185 in March of 2009.  It’s on sale today for only $229,900!

Let’s add up the difference between PATH’s purchase price and PATH’s sale price, because that is the amount PATH wants YOU to pay for its little unnecessary and overly generous property buying spree:  $170,285!  Even if PATH sells these properties at list, that’s how much of a loss PATH expects ratepayers to absorb for just these three properties.  And it’s going to get worse, much worse.

Click on the links above to see the realtor’s descriptions of the properties.  On the first property, consisting of .62 acres, AEP/FirstEnergy paid $50,000 for a “cabin, now uninhabitable.”  The third property, for which AEP/FE paid over $300,000 is 17 acres of bare land in a development.

This is a clear picture of how PATH’s costs were not “prudently incurred.”  Keep in mind that AEP/FirstEnergy will want to collect that more than $170,000 loss from all rate payers in PJM.  That’s you and me.  And there are dozens and dozens of properties just like these that AEP/FirstEnergy rushed to buy before any of the three states had even approved PATH.

As Keryn says, this will get much, much worse.

Transmission Industry Creates New Threat to Citizens and Land

It seems that a new corporate front group, the Council of State Governments (an innocuous name that implies that state governments actually control it), is pushing a new transmission industry agenda in state legislatures.  Keryn has the complete analysis of this new tactic over at StopPATH WV.  Go over to the link and then come back here for my comments below.

Welcome back.

As Keryn points out, the transmission industry has had some difficulty using the tools that the Cheney administration gave them in the 2005 Energy Policy Act (also sometimes referred to as the 2005 EPAct or the 2005 Federal Power Act).

The CSG attack on state sovereignty is designed to sidestep all these obstacles and strip citizens of their due process rights guaranteed by both federal and state constitutions.  CSG and transmission developers will use their multi-state compact mechanism to get state legislatures to hand over approval of new transmission projects to completely unaccountable shadow entities that are beyond the reach of guaranteed to citizens of our country.

Here is the current situation in WV.  Only the state government has the right to seize private land for public use.  There are a few exceptions created by acts of the WV Legislature.  One of those exceptions is for new high voltage transmission lines that have been awarded certificates of convenience and necessity in an open case process at the WV Public Service Commission.  The US 4th Circuit decision linked to above guarantees that if a state PSC fails to approve a high voltage transmission project, then the project is dead, and there is no way that the federal government can interfere with this decision.  The US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of this decision, so in WV, which is governed by 4th Circuit decisions, this is the law.  Period.

Although the WV Legislature gave high voltage transmission developers the right to seize property under the state eminent domain statutes, property owners and rate payers have extensive rights to intervene in the PSC cases that would grant that right.  WV law states that anyone who has a legal interest in a PSC case may intervene in that case, with full rights to introduce evidence, conduct discovery on evidence presented by the power company, cross examine witnesses and fully participate in the case.  WV law also allows any individual citizen to intervene in a PSC case without an attorney, as long as the citizen representing his/her self accepts all the responsibilities that come with being a full party to the case.

So while WV does allow the PSC to grant condemnation rights to private companies, there are a number of ways that property owners and rate payers can fully participate in that process.  These rights to due process are guaranteed by both the WV constitution and the Constitution of the US.

If the CSG front group can talk (or deceive or bribe) state legislators into passing its multi-state compact law, all of the rights I have just described disappear.  In one act, the Legislature would be betraying its solemn duty to protect the rights of citizens to redress and due process.  This is serious business.

If you didn’t go to the link above to Keryn’s post, you can do it here.

We have to watch the bills that are being introduced in the WV Legislature this year, and every year, to protect ourselves and our fellow West Virginians from this kind of industry depredation.

Remember when we stopped Gov. Manchin’s attempt to ramrod the PATH line by sneaking in his power line tax bill?  Any new “multi-state compact” bill is that kind of threat.

I’ll leave you with one word: Vigilance.

“Kemptown” Substation at Mt. Airy Shot Down in Frederick County

Here is Ginny McColl’s MacColl’s (sorry for the earlier spelling error, Ginny) Facebook post in its entirety:

It’s official! Zoning Text Amendment #ZT-12-14 – passed unanimously by the Board of County Commissioners. An electric substation of 500kV or more must be in a LI or GI (industrial) zone, not AG!! Also, the Board of Appeals may take into consideration homes within 1000 feet of a special exception.

Ginny and all the other Citizens Against the Kemptown Electric Substation (CAKES) have won their great victory in Maryland.

This victory removes a huge weight that still hung over the heads of Mt. Airy’s homeowners.  PATH was just one of many high voltage transmission lines that FirstEnegy wanted to connect at the proposed substation.  The elimination of PATH did not necessarily mean the elimination of the substation.  Now, the Frederick County Zoning Board of Appeals Commission has killed the substation too.

Will AEP/FE try to claim that buying the land for the substation was “prudently incurred” when they didn’t even apply for a zoning exception until after they bought the property?  What prudent person in their right mind would do that?  You can bet they will try to make us pay for this huge mistake, as well as PATH.

Update:  Ginny has added a link to the Frederick News Post story here.

Not So Good News from WV PSC on TrAIL Complaint

Last Friday, the WV PSC issued its final decision in the complaint concerning Allegheny Energy’s clearing practices for the TrAIL transmission line, which was energized in May 2011.  This was a difficult case for the citizens who filed the complaint, but citizens are always at a disadvantage at the PSC compared with the deep pockets of the corporations they face across the table.

The two PSC commissioners who wrote the final order picked apart every aspect of the complainants’ case.  I am not going to go into all those details.

However, this case illustrates a fundamental problem with the PSC process.  By law, the Commission is required to “balance” economic needs with environmental impacts.  The WV PSC rarely turns down a major project that WV’s two power monopolies want.  The task for the PSC is then to come up with a smokescreen during the application case that they can use to allow the companies to do whatever they want once their application is approved.

Such was the case here.  Evidence submitted by Allegheny in its application for TrAIL contained all kinds of promises about how they would do their construction work.  At the same time, in asides and oblique references, they qualified all of the pretty window dressing they used to hide the fact that they were going to do what they wanted to anyway.  When Allegheny was challenged to justify what they actually did, the Commissioners dug around and found every instance where Allegheny qualified or denied the evidence that their own witnesses presented in the application case.

From start to finish, this TrAIL complaint case has revealed that, in many ways, WV PSC cases are elaborate dances always designed to produce the same result — the power companies get what they want.  When all the shouting is over, they always end up at the same place.

Land owners beware.  Once a case is in the hands of the WV PSC, the power companies will win, and you will lose.  As I have said before, our goal should be to never let a case like this get to the WV PSC.  It is a sad state of affairs.  But it is true, as the TrAIL complaint case clearly illustrates.