Nigeria – One of Africa’s Most Prosperous Countries Has Collapsing Centralized Grid

This article from yesterday’s New York Times is a good companion piece to my recent post about Kenya’s M’KOPA.  Nigeria, the subject of the Times article, is more than 2000 miles from Kenya, but both countries are part of the same situation.

Over the last 50 years, African governments have seen the mass availability of electricity as a key to ending poverty in their countries.  The problem is that these governments imported highly centralized systems from the US and Europe.  These systems were expensive to build, and imposed heavy long term debt on Africans.  These systems are also very expensive to maintain.

Although wealthy oil-producing countries like Nigeria have a lot of oil to fuel their generating plants, the same ruling classes that rake off billions from oil exports also fail to invest in the maintenance that these expensive systems require for transmission and distribution.

Here is Mr. Adichie’s description of the situation in Nigeria:

Whenever I have been away from home for a while, my first question upon returning is always: “How has light been?” The response, from my gateman, comes in mournful degrees of a head shake.

Bad. Very bad.

The quality is as poor as the supply: Light bulbs dim like tired, resentful candles. Robust fans slow to a sluggish limp. Air-conditioners bleat and groan and make sounds they were not made to make, their halfhearted cooling leaving the air clammy. In this assault of low voltage, the compressor of an air-conditioner suffers — the compressor is its heart, and it is an expensive heart to replace. Once, my guest room air-conditioner caught fire. The room still bears the scars, the narrow lines between floor tiles smoke-stained black.

Sometimes the light goes off and on and off and on, and bulbs suddenly brighten as if jerked awake, before dimming again. Things spark and snap. A curl of smoke rises from the water heater. I feel myself at the mercy of febrile malignant powers, and I rush to pull my laptop plug out of the wall. Later, electricians are summoned and they diagnose the problem with the ease of a long acquaintance. The current is too high or too low, never quite right. A wire has melted. Another compressor will need to be replaced.

Mr. Adichie is a fiction writer, and his technical analysis is not all it should be in this piece, but he paints a clear picture of a distribution system with extremely poor voltage regulation, due mainly to failures to maintain substations and transformers, as well as deteriorating distribution and transmission lines.

Mr. Adichie describes how urban Nigerians (Rural Nigerians, like rural Kenyans simply have no access to centralized electricity.) cope with their collapsing grid.  He keeps a diesel generator available and runs it regularly.  He also owns a battery bank with an inverter to invert the AC from the central grid to the batteries’ DC current and then back again to AC when he uses electricity in his home.  When the centralized grid is on, he charges his batteries.  When power quits completely, he has some backup capacity.

Mr. Adichie’s personal solutions don’t really solve Nigeria’s electricity problems.  In fact, running his battery charger from the electric grid simply adds more loads to a system already beyond its capacity.  Running a generator simply shifts his energy source to the country’s overtaxed retail diesel fuel system.  Fuel is expensive, and, like Nigeria’s electricity, it’s quality is often poor.

Rural West Virginians face this same bad set of choices when our electrical system fails.  My neighbors immediately fire up their gas generators when Mon Power goes down.  For the next two days, all of the local gas stations run out of gas, because everyone needs fuel to keep their generators running.  The problem is not solved, it is just pushed to a different fragile system.  And people burn even more gas just driving around to find an open gas station.

As I have learned, and as people in rural Kenya are learning, we don’t need to consume massive amounts of electricity.  We just need enough.  When we become wise about what electricity we need, we find that we can produce our own electricity.  That lesson is the same in a Kenyan village as it is in Chloe, WV.

There are more connections between WV and rural Africa than you might think.  New Vision in Philippi, WV is bring solar-powered light and real reliable power to villages from Kenya to Liberia.  They are doing what West Virginians do best, helping their neighbors, even when their neighbors are 5000 miles away.

AEP Transmission Line Pulled in Arkansas

The Southwest Power Pool just dumped AEP’s planned 345 kV transmission project in Arkansas.

It was the same old story:

On December 29, 2014, SWEPCO received a notification letter from SPP stating that updated electric load forecasts showing lower future electric demand in North Arkansas than prior forecasts for the area critical to the Facilities, and the recent cancellation of several large, long-term transmission service reservations, establish that the Facilities are no longer needed to meet the reliability needs in the region.

And

Because of SPP’s determination that the Facilities are no longer needed, and its decision to initiate the process of withdrawing its NTC, SWEPCO no longer seeks the relief requested and hereby withdraws its Application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need in order that this docket may be closed forthwith.

Citizens have won another big victory against multi-state holding company AEP’s transmission onslaught.

We already knew from expert Hyde Merrill (yup, that Hyde Merrrill) that the line wasn’t needed, so it was only a matter of time until SPP pulled the plug.

Congratulations to Save the Ozarks and all the citizens who worked so hard to stop this line that wasn’t needed.

Among all the Arkansas/Missouri media outlets, only the Joplin Globe appears to be the only one that went beyond reprinting AEP/SWEPCo’s press release.  The Globe’s story is the only one that includes interviews with citizens.

IL Commerce Commission Blocks Clean Line Speculators

The Illinois Commerce Commission has just issued an order denying utility status to the highly speculative Houston-based Clean Line operation under a state law granting the company powers of eminent domain.  This prevents the Clean Line companies from seizing land through condemnation in Illinois.  The Commission agreed with an earlier administrative law judge that their is no need for their line in Illinois.

The ICC did approve the construction of the Rock Island Clean Line, but with major financial conditions and no condemnation powers.  The IL Commission said, in effect, that Clean Line could build the line if they could get landowners to sell them their rights of way voluntarily.  Yeah, good luck with that.

Block RICL has the full story.

This decision is a huge victory for all the people who have been fighting the Rock Island Clean Line, one of many projects the Clean Line hustlers are working on across the Midwest.  The Illinois project was an important piece of their plan, because it enabled significant transmission connections through PJM to the East Coast.

There are other Clean Line projects across the Midwest in Iowa, Arkansas and Missouri.  Clean Line claims that all the lines are for bringing wind-generated power to eastern markets, but they have some big problems.  MISO, the Midwestern RTO has not designated any of the projects as necessary to insure reliability.  Clean Line’s projects are all speculative ventures with uncertain supply, beyond ludicrous claims that wind-power generators will all get rich selling through Clean Lines.  Demand for power on the other end is also a big question mark.  Although Clean Line has its sights set on selling to East Coast states with renewable portfolio standards, these states have little interest in buying wind power that includes costs for huge new transmission lines.

Our friends in Illinois have won a great victory.  They did it with hard work and smart strategy.

 

TrAILCo Has Too Much Capital — FirstEnergy Wants It

What a great way to start an article:

Insisting that the move will raise no risk of “corporate officials raiding corporate coffers for their personal financial benefit,” Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line Co. asked FERC to confirm that it can pay periodic dividends out of paid-in capital to its parent, FirstEnergy Transmission LLC, without violating the Federal Power Act.

That was part of outlaw FirstEnergy’s appeal to FERC to allow it to withdraw capital from its transmission subsidiary TrAILCo.  TRAILCo is filling up so fast with its extra-high rate payer subsidies from FERC for its obsolete transmission lines that failing FirstEnergy wants to get its hands on some of the loot.  Note also that the quote about corporate raiding was written by FirstEnergy’s own lawyers in the company’s FERC filing.

Back in 2001, Dick Cheney and Enron’s Kenny Lay whined in their secret energy task force report that the US transmission infrastructure was falling apart because there weren’t enough profit incentives in place for investors.  The Republican-controlled Congress obliged them in the 2005 Energy Policy Act by creating rate payer financed giveaways to high voltage bulk transmission owners. TrAILCo’s TrAIL line through PA, WV and East VA was one of those lines guaranteed extra high profits.

A new report has been released by The Power Line’s own Cathy Kunkel and Tom Sanzillo for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis about FirstEnergy’s desperate attempts to rescue itself from a financial death spiral.  They document how FE is grabbing for all the subsidies it can get its hands on and how it is attempting to suck capital from its profitable subsidiaries to shore up its obsolete coal-fired and nuke plants.  TrAILCo is about the only profitable part of FirstEnergy right now, and they want to loot that subsidiary too.

FirstEnergy’s financial condition has deteriorated since it merged with Allegheny, and its key financial metrics are on a downward trajectory. Over the past three years, it has experienced declining revenues, declining net income, declining stock price, declining dividends, and rising debt. It has retired 4,769 MW of merchant coal plants and has booked impairments totaling $1.1 billion against the value of its coal plants from 2011 to 2013. To shore up its balance sheet, FirstEnergy has relied heavily on “one-time resources,” including proceeds from asset sales and short-term borrowings. FirstEnergy’s poor financial performance stems from the underlying condition that the company’s business – the sale of electricity – is performing poorly and not generating sufficient revenue to cover expenses.
The original quote cited above refers to paying dividends from paid-in capital.  There is no such thing as paying dividends from paid-in capital in standard accounting practice.  When you take capital out of a company, you are simply taking capital out of a company.  This has nothing to do with dividends, which are paid as a share of annual profit or net income.  FE is raiding TrAILCo, plain and simple.

Without the Cheney/Lay-inspired rate payer subsidies, TrAILCo would just be another of FE’s failing business ventures.  Thanks to the 2005 Energy Policy Act, FE doesn’t have to liquidate TrAILCo because the subsidiary is actually an asset that is earning them money, unlike their coal and nuke plants.  Now FE wants FERC to let them milk their cash cow dry.

PJM Unveils New Transmission Projects Under Order 1000

In 2013, PJM Interconnection replaced its goofy transmission “planning” process with a new process that conforms to FERC requirements spelled out in the Commission’s Order 1000.  Under its new process, instead of just picking transmission developers with very little transparency (as with TrAIL and PATH), PJM identifies reliability problems and then sets an annual deadline for project developers to propose solutions.

This year, PJM’s Transmission Expansion Advisory Committee received 106 project applications by its July 28 deadline.  RTO Insider has a good description of these projects.

Here is a map and list of those projects.  Note that none of them involve massive HV lines in WV.  PPL wants to get on the gravy train, though.

Did AEP Just File for Another Rate Payer Subsidy to the WV Coal Industry?

On Wednesday, I read this AP story on the Charleston Gazette Web site.

An American Electric Power subsidiary is asking state regulators to approve a transmission line that the company wants to build in Boone and Raleigh counties.

AEP West Virginia Transmission Company, Inc. filed an application for the Bim Tap Project on Tuesday with the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

The company’s filing says the proposed 5.5-mile 138-kilovolt line would replace an existing line located on property where Independence Coal Company has mining operations. Independence has asked the company to move the line because it plans to conduct operations in the immediate vicinity.

The new line would be located primarily on reclaimed and previously mined land.

The project would cost about $6.6 million.

So, OK, no big deal.  Independence Coal wants to mine where the existing 138 kV line is located.  They asked AEP’s newly split off merchant transmission company to move it onto land they have mined out.  Of course, Independence will pay the $6.6 million to move the line, right?

Probably not.  Let’s look at the certificate of public convenience and necessity application AEP made to the WV PSC concerning the Bim Tap move.  In the text of the AEP application to the PSC, you will not find an answer to the question, “Who will pay for this move?”  You have to look in the attached materials on page 19 to find what looks like the answer.  On this form, you will see information indicating that the cost of this project will be passed on to all rate payers through something referred to as “OATT.”  OATT is the Open Access Transmission Tariff system used by PJM Interconnection through which transmission owners pass on their costs to all rate payers in PJM through PJM assessments on electric utilities.  This means that the cost of this move will apparently be paid by every rate payer in WV through a rate increase that will be hidden away in charges in their power companies’ ENEC rate filings at the PSC.

Back in 2012, I did a post on how PJM OATT transmission costs are passed on to WV rate payers.  The Bim Tap project will not have all the extra added bonuses for transmission that were added to larger projects like PATH, but the mechanism by which PJM transmission charges appear on your electric bill in WV will be basically the same.

In AEP’s application to the PSC, the company notes that its right of way agreements with the big land companies that own the land that Independence is mining require that the owner of the line might have to move it, if the land owners wanted to use the land under the lines.  I’ll bet land owners under the TrAIL line would have liked that clause in their right of way agreements, if AEP’s claim is actually correct.  AEP did not provide copies of these original agreements with its application.

The WV PSC staff and the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division should certainly intervene in this certificate of need case to get answers to the question of who is paying for Independence Coal’s private convenience.  It certainly shouldn’t be WV rate payers, or any other rate payers in PJM.

Or will the WV PSC and the Consumer Advocate Division just let another $6.6 million hidden subsidy to the coal industry slide by?

 

An American Electric Power subsidiary is asking state regulators to approve a transmission line that the company wants to build in Boone and Raleigh counties.

AEP West Virginia Transmission Company, Inc. filed an application for the Bim Tap Project on Tuesday with the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

The company’s filing says the proposed 5.5-mile 138-kilovolt line would replace an existing line located on property where Independence Coal Company has mining operations. Independence has asked the company to move the line because it plans to conduct operations in the immediate vicinity.

The new line would be located primarily on reclaimed and previously mined land.

The project would cost about $6.6 million.

– See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140611/GZ01/140619842/1102#sthash.9GPzWlR5.dpuf

An American Electric Power subsidiary is asking state regulators to approve a transmission line that the company wants to build in Boone and Raleigh counties.

AEP West Virginia Transmission Company, Inc. filed an application for the Bim Tap Project on Tuesday with the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

The company’s filing says the proposed 5.5-mile 138-kilovolt line would replace an existing line located on property where Independence Coal Company has mining operations. Independence has asked the company to move the line because it plans to conduct operations in the immediate vicinity.

The new line would be located primarily on reclaimed and previously mined land.

The project would cost about $6.6 million.

– See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140611/GZ01/140619842/1102#sthash.9GPzWlR5.dpuf

An American Electric Power subsidiary is asking state regulators to approve a transmission line that the company wants to build in Boone and Raleigh counties.

AEP West Virginia Transmission Company, Inc. filed an application for the Bim Tap Project on Tuesday with the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

The company’s filing says the proposed 5.5-mile 138-kilovolt line would replace an existing line located on property where Independence Coal Company has mining operations. Independence has asked the company to move the line because it plans to conduct operations in the immediate vicinity.

The new line would be located primarily on reclaimed and previously mined land.

The project would cost about $6.6 million.

– See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20140611/GZ01/140619842/1102#sthash.9GPzWlR5.dpuf

Arkansas PSC Orders Rehearing on AEP 345 kV Line

Big news out of Arkansas.  This week, the Arkansas PSC ordered a rehearing of the certificate of need case for the 345 kV line proposed by AEP subsidiary Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCo).  This is an historic win for citizens and the main opposition intervenor, Save the Ozarks.

What was AEP’s problem?  The PSC determined that while the regional transmission organization, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), had made a general determination that transmission upgrades were needed in Arkansas, AEP failed to demonstrate that their particular power line was needed.  As we have seen before, Save the Ozarks’ expert witness, Hyde Merrill, took apart AEP’s claims about need, pointing to a variety of alternatives that would resolve AEP’s and SPP’s problems more simply and at less cost to rate payers.

Considering all the evidence provided to date, the Commission finds that, whiIe some transmission development in the area appears warranted, the record is presently insufficient to determine: the need for the particular 345 kV project that has been proposed, whether that project is consistent with the pubIic convenience and necessity, and whether the project represents an “acceptable adverse environmental impact, considering . . . the various alternatives, if any, and other pertinent considerations.” A,C.A. 5 23-18-519 (b)(4).

Accordingly, the Commission grants rehearing for consideration of additional evidence on the need for, and the potential environmental impact of, the proposed 345 kV project, The parties should provide additional testimony and more recent, comprehensive evidence on whether the proposed 345 kV project is needed, whether transmission requirements in the region might be met by alternative options, such as expanding, upgrading, or building lower capacity facilities, including 161 kV lines, and if not why not, the comparative costs associated with the options, the environmental impact of the options, and the long term sufficiency of the options.

The Commission also grants rehearing for consideration of additional evidence on the routing of the proposed transmission line. The parties should provide additional evidence on SWEPCO’s proposed routes. If SWEPCO chooses to propose or modify a route, it should submit proof that all landowners have received the statutory notice.

With regard to routing, the parties should provide evidence whether existing 161 kV lines could be upgraded or existing rights-of-way used or expanded so as to limit adverse environmental impacts.

Because the Commission grants rehearing for consideration of additional evidence, the prior grant of the CECPN for Route 109 is vacated. Whether a CECPN for transmission facilities should be granted and, if so, along what route will be determined after consideration of all the evidence.

This is not a denial of the certificate of need.  It is an order for rehearing at which SWEPCo and AEP have to provide the specific evidence required by the PSC.

Congratulations to the citizens of Arkansas and Save the Ozarks.  If you want to know more about Save the Ozarks and their fight, here is a link to their Web site.

NY Times Pushing New Transmission in the Hudson Valley

Well, here they go again.  Instead of pushing HV transmission in other parts of the US, like WV, the NY Times is now pushing projects in their own backyard.

Note the peculiarities of reporter Penelope Green’s story: exotic specialty farmers, references to the effects of ionizing radiation, and descriptions of NIMBY objections.  What you won’t find is any detail about what lines will be built and why.  Nothing about the specifics of the project and the NY ISO process that brought it to the drawing board.  No details about the company, Transco, that is supposed to build the new lines.

Oh, and there’s lots of the vague talk about reliability and “relieving congestion” but no specifics on NY ISO’s reasoning.

But this piece isn’t about the facts.  It is the usual propaganda designed to portray line opponents as quirky rural eccentrics and their quixotic attempts to stop a project that is already a done deal.  Where have we seen this before?  Yup, in just about every transmission project that has been proposed in the last decade.

So Ms. Green continues the NY Times’ clueless propaganda for HV transmission in the grand tradition of Matt Wald.

Matt Wald Changes His Tune on Big Centralized Solar Plant

A little over three years ago, NY Times writer Matt Wald was singing the praises of the Sunrise Powerlink, claiming the now-approved HV transmission line would bring green power from big solar farms in the Mojave Desert to power hungry cities on California’s coast.  (Yeah, I know, it all sounds too familiar, resource rich colonies feeding “power hungry” coastal population centers.)

Well, now one of those huge new solar power plants just went on line.  What did Mr. Wald have to say about it?

The Ivanpah solar power plant stretches over more than five square miles of the Mojave Desert. Almost 350,000 mirrors the size of garage doors tilt toward the sun with an ability to energize 140,000 homes. The plant, which took almost four years and thousands of workers assembling millions of parts to complete, officially opened on Thursday, the first electric generator of its kind.

It could also be the last.

Since the project began, the price of rival technologies has plummeted, incentives have begun to disappear and the appetite among investors for mammoth solar farms has waned. Although several large, new projects have been coming online in recent months — many in the last quarter of 2013 — experts say fewer are beginning construction and not all of those under development will be completed.

“I don’t think that we’re going to see large-scale solar thermal plants popping up, five at a time, every year in the U.S. in the long-term — it’s just not the way it’s going to work,” said Matthew Feinstein, a senior analyst at Lux Research.

“Companies that are supplying these systems have questionable futures. There’s other prospects for renewables and for solar that look a lot better than this particular solution,” he said, including rooftop solar systems that are being installed one by one on businesses and homes. [emphasis mine]

Oops.  Politically connected corporate mouthpieces from BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google convinced the Obama administration to provide $1.6 billion in loan guarantees for the Ivanpah project.  It looks like they are going to need it.  Like the few big coal plants that have reached completion recently, these kinds of big centralized solar thermal plants are obsolete before they are built.

Too bad Congress refuses to even consider passing a national renewable portfolio standard new financing programs for thousands of small businesses and homeowners to create massive new investment in decentralized small scale solar power generation.  $1.6 billion in that program would have resulted in real sustainable renewable power generation capacity.

As Mr. Wald is wont to do, he continues to wring his hands about intermittent renewable power and the whining of grid operators.  What he doesn’t mention in his story is that widely dispersed, small scale solar generators put a lot less stress on the grid, because they are so spread out geographically.  Wide dispersal of small solar and wind generators naturally evens out disparities in sun and wind, because they are spread over such large areas.

Centralized renewable systems generate concentrated electricity bumps when they are on, and little or nothing when they are off.  In that respect, they replicate all the unreliable, non-resilient aspects of centralized fossil fuel plants.

Kochs/Kennedys Suing Cape Wind Again to Require Imported, Instead of Power Produced in their Own State

Just when it looks like Cape Wind is ready to go, the Kochs and the Kennedys sue them again.  Now, they are suing Cape Wind because they don’t want Massachusetts producing its own renewable power.  The Kochs and the Kennedys are suing because they think the higher priced contract for Cape Wind’s power should be set aside and the state should import power instead from out of state sources.

Won’t the boys at the Clean Lines love that.

FERC Audit Spanks FirstEnergy’s Transmission Company

FERC has released the results of its audit of FirstEnergy’s trumped up cost reporting for its TrAIL transmission line.  Keryn has the story over at StopPATH WV.  Keryn quotes FERC’s account of the history of TrAIL, linking it directly to Project Mountaineer and transmitting coal-fired power from west to east in PJM.  She also notes that they never once gave Keryn or me credit for this account, which could have come directly from any number of posts on our blogs.

Keryn also has another post detailing how power companies collect their transmission costs from us with little or no oversight, except when citizens like Keryn and Ally do their work for them.

Both posts are worth your time to read.

Korean Farmers Fight 765 KV Transmission Project

The PATH fight has connected many of us to people fighting other transmission projects across the US and across the world.  Keryn has an account of a recent visit she and her Eastern Panhandle neighbors got from Hyosil Kim, a reporter for the Korean newspaper The Hankyoreh.

Ms. Kim has covered the continuing fight against a Korean Electric Power Company 765 kV line in southeastern South Korea and came to WV to learn about our experience here.

The Korean fight has a lot of parallels to the PATH fight.  One of the most striking connections is that the fight in Korea is being led by farmers who are protecting their land and their communities from an industrial project.  I spoke with farmers and land owners across central WV between 2009 and 2011, and I see a lot of the same themes in Korea.

This is from the NYT story linked above:

Now, a more modern Korea — in the form of imposing electrical power lines — is encroaching on the villages, including their burial grounds. The villages lie in the path of a major transmission route expected to distribute nuclear-generated electricity. Already towers are built along the spines of some nearby mountains, and 50 more are scheduled to be built in Miryang, some of them in the mountains.

But not if some of the villagers have anything to say about it. For the past two years, the villagers have staged protests that included a rare self-immolation, demonstrations in Seoul and a two-year sleep-in by older women who have built tents on the tops of mountains on the plots the utility company cleared for some of the towers. The women take breaks to go back to their homes, but most of the women sleep there in rotations, warmed in the winter by kerosene heaters. They fly Korean flags from their plastic-covered shelters.

“My family has lived here for 500 years, and all our ancestors are buried in these mountains,” said Sohn Hee-kyong, a 78-year-old rice farmer whose husband’s grave is nearby and who stays in the encampment. “I can’t let those steel monstrosities pass over here. Over my dead body.”

The other connection is that the Korean 765 kV line is about saving a dying nuclear industry in Korea, in the same way PATH was designed to save a dying coal industry.

The US media, including reporters in WV, try to characterize rural West Virginians as isolated and insular, just as the Korean media portrays farmers there as backward and stubborn.  Our connections to the fight in Miryang, South Korea makes it clear that we are connected on many, many levels.

Grid Sabotage – “Dress Rehearsal” in CA?

RTO Insider has this story about sabotage at a substation near San Jose, CA.

The saboteurs who shot up a Pacific Gas & Electric Co. substation in April were “very experienced marksmen,” a former PG&E executive told PJM’s Grid 20/20 conference Tuesday.

At least two gunmen were believed involved in the attack on PG&E’s Metcalf 500/230 kV substation near San Jose about 2 a.m. April 16.

Mark Johnson, formerly vice president of transmission operations for PG&E, said the gunmen targeted transformer radiators, firing an estimated 150 rounds. The gunmen hit 10 of 11 banks, causing a “slow bleed” resulting in the loss of 52,000 gallons of cooling oil.

The shooting occurred minutes after the suspects are believed to have cut underground fiber optic cables a half mile from the substation, briefly knocking out phone and 911 service in the area.

“These were not amateurs taking potshots,” Johnson said. “…My personal view is that this was a dress rehearsal” for future attacks.

No high tech Internet hacking, just two guys and two rifles.

The incident underscored a risk raised last year by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff.  Wellinghoff told Bloomberg News that he feared saboteurs with guns could target transformers. Transformers are often custom built and can take 18 to 36 months to replace, Wellinghoff said.

Note that these transformers were designed to step down electrical current from 500 kilovolts to 230 kilovolts.  The substation was thus a link between the larger bulk transmission grid and smaller transmission lines that fed into the local distribution grid.  When this link was broken, a large number of customers was threatened.

The shooting prompted the California Independent System Operator to issue an alert asking residents in the region to cut their electricity use. (See Substation Sabotage Raises Concerns over NERC Alerts.)

It took nearly a month to replace the radiators and return the substation to normal operations.

“It clearly demonstrates that a chain link fence is not enough to secure a substation,” Johnson said. “Obviously solid perimeters would be nice but that can be very expensive.”

This is another sign that the US electrical system is just too big, too expensive and too interconnected.

FirstEnergy Busted by FERC – Caught with Merger Costs in TrAIL FERC Accounts

Back in 2011, Keryn Newman busted FirstEnergy for illegally charging PJM rate payers for costs associated with the Allegheny Energy merger.

Her discovery finally bore fruit last Friday when FERC ordered FirstEnergy to pay us all back for its scam.

Here’s how Keryn describes it over at StopPATH WV:

This has been a long time in coming, but FirstEnergy was ordered on Friday to “submit a detailed plan for implementing audit staff’s recommendations and correcting journal entries reflecting an approximate $1.2 million refund to affected customers from its transmission-only subsidiaries with formula rate recovery mechanisms, including Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line Company, Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, LLC, and American Transmission System, Incorporated.”

The first time this problem reared its ugly head was during the July 2011 PATH Open Meeting to review its 2010 actual transmission revenue requirement.  At this phone “meeting” I notified PATH that I had found expenses of the Allegheny Energy/FirstEnergy merger in its PATH rates.

In September, FirstEnergy subsidiaries PATH and TrAILCo made entries to their quarterly FERC financial filings to effect a credit for amounts wrongly charged to ratepayers in violation of the company’s “hold harmless” guarantee to the Commission that it would not charge merger expenses to ratepayers except under certain circumstances.  Over a million dollars was credited, but because PATH and TrAILCo made the correction in the normal course of business, it did not credit ratepayers for interest on the amounts wrongly recovered.

So all of us PJM rate payers owe Keryn and Ali a big thank you for their hard work fighting FirstEnergy’s scams at FERC.

Power Companies Apply to Push CapX2020 Line Through WI

The power companies pushing the CapX2020 complex of new high voltage transmission lines in the upper Midwest have applied to the Wisconsin PSC for the WI segment of their proposed project.  This segment, called the Badger-Coulee line, extends from La Crosse on the west to Madison on the east, right across the state.

The CapX2020 lines are also about coal.  They extend from the lignite fields in the Dakotas to more urban areas in MN and WI.  Lignite, or “brown coal,” has so little heat content that shipping the lignite destroys any profit companies could make on it.  So lignite mining is always associated with mine mouth generation plants that need high voltage generation lines to sell their power in distant markets.

Below is the press release issued by citizens groups today.  How many similarities can you notice between the Badger-Coulee situation and PATH?  Note also that these people know how to spell frac.

Those challenging the need for new high voltage transmission lines in Wisconsin say an application filed with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) could create the incorrect impression that additional high voltage lines are the only option to meet Wisconsin’s energy needs.

“The energy direction determined on the Badger Coulee proposal by American Transmission Company and Xcel Energy will have profound consequences on Wisconsin’s energy future,” said  Rob Danielson, secretary, Town of Stark Energy Planning and Information Committee.

“Expanding transmission and centralized power does not fit with the image most people have of the energy future,” said Jane Powers, who operates a Mauston area dairy farm that has been in her family more than 100 years. “Building these lines across the state would be like us spending billions on expanding land line phone service as we move more and more toward cellular phones. We are at a fork in the road: We can either invest in cutting waste and developing local, self-sufficient solar power, or in promoting continued waste and increasing our dependency on power that sends our dollars out of state.”

More than 90 municipalities across WI have filed resolutions and more than 2000 ratepayers signed petitions asking the PSC to do a cost-benefit comparison between the proposed lines and alternatives. They seek a study comparing benefits if the total amount ratepayers would pay for all the new high capacity lines was instead invested in accelerated energy efficiency, development of local power, and improvements made to low voltage lines needed for in-state reliability.

“I agree with the dozens of municipalities and county boards that passed resolutions calling for a wiser approach to our energy future,” said Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center). “Before we acquiesce to Wall Street investors on how and where billions of our utility rate dollars will go, we, the Wisconsin community, can look at alternatives to putting all our eggs in the grid build-out basket.  We should have an inclusive discussion on questions like what benefits the alternative directions offer for local jobs, energy independence and sustainability.”

State Representative Fred Clark (D-Baraboo) adds, “The PSC reported in their Strategic Energy Assessment that we have more than adequate and reliable energy supplies for the foreseeable future.  That’s why we’re calling on the PSC to protect the public interest by evaluating all of our options for meeting energy needs in Wisconsin before considering large scale transmission projects.  We need to adopt policies that assure Wisconsin energy users are actually benefiting from energy investments.”

Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden called for scrutiny of all options.           “When a new power line is built, it’s not going through empty space — it’s cutting through farms, towns, and scenic natural areas that are important for recreation and tourism,” he said.  “Before we allow a power line to have that kind of permanent impact on peoples’ communities and livelihoods, we should have all the alternatives on the table.”

“The CapX2020 line was approved without verifying benefits to Wisconsin communities,” said Debra Severson of Citizens Energy Task Force. “The utilities are seeking greater access to regional markets using bulk transfer of power through our state and asking us to fund their profit plans.  This comes at a time when other states are questioning whether high-voltage transmission expansion is financially and environmentally sustainable.  Keeping our energy dollars in state using local generation and reducing the energy wasted through energy efficiency makes better ratepayer sense even if at the  expense  of utility profits.”

Kathy Byrne of Crawford Stewardship Project sees direct ties between new transmission lines and frac sand mining. “We’ve been informing ourselves about utility planning and are concerned about the increasing emphasis placed on regional transmission expansion and new, natural gas power plants. If we make fossil fuel energy such a high investment priority, the more our lands and communities will suffer the numerous, adverse impacts of industrial sand mining.  The loss of good, productive agricultural lands, excessive water withdrawal along with ongoing pollution of our waters and air would be exacerbated even further.  If we prioritize energy efficiency to slash our glaring, unnecessary waste, it removes pressure on our lands rather than adding to it.”

“Every dollar we spend on efficiency goes three times as far toward eliminating carbon emissions compared to spending that dollar on renewable power,” says Jim Olson of E3, an energy consulting business in Viroqua. “Renewables are important, but efficiency saves everyone money and dramatically cuts emissions at the same time. Investing in centralized power results in a tiny fraction of the number of jobs compared to the local trade jobs created improving our homes, farms and businesses.”

“Part of the challenge is that the state could be more pro-active in informing ratepayers of our rights and energy solution options,” Danielson said. “We feel every household and business owner in Wisconsin should be invited to provide their own energy priorities. It’s our money. We will lose control of it if we do not come forward.”

“SOUL of Wisconsin is offering an energy priority form to all Wisconsin ratepayers and we hope the Commission will follow suit,” said Keith Ashley Wright, president. “We need to proactively assist Wisconsin ratepayers in these decisions, especially as our use of electricity flattens out and more solutions surface.”

When a transmission project was considered for the Milwaukee area, ratepayers did not understand how the review process works, said Barbara Agnew, Friends of the Monarch Trail. “As a result, the utilities never had to fully account for need or alternatives and we found out too late that load reduction through efficiency was never even considered. Ratepayers and landowners have to participate in the review and insist over and over on good information.”