Thursday, March 28, 2013

Clean Line Energy's Grain Belt Express and the Sunflower Energy Coal Plant

Wow.  This is certainly interesting!

John in Kansas turned me on to this proposed coal plant expansion in Holcomb Kansas by Sunflower Electric Power Company.  Apparently this project is about 80 miles from the start of the Grain Belt Express.  I don’t know if this project is dead or still in the works.  Sunflower conceived this coal generation plant under the Cheney Administration when coal was king and a very economical form of energy.  Now we have the Obama Administration where the motto is either “We can’t drill our way out of this” or “All of the above…except coal or nuclear, or natural gas pipelines or off shore drilling, or frac….but after all that it’s ALL OF THE ABOVE!” 

It’s my understanding through second hand that, Mark Lawlor of Clean Line Energy says this Sunflower coal is dead and the Grain Belt Express is not being built for new coal energy from this plant.  I don’t know if that’s true, but this plant was planned to 2,100MW’s.  A third of this power was going to Colorado, a third to Texas, and a third would stay in Kansas. 

Even if Sunflower is dead, there are still several questions that deserve to be asked

1.       Why is Clean Line wheeling 3,500 MW's in the opposite direction to the northeast?  Grain Belt Express is Maryland, New York New Jersey and such.

2.      If it was acceptable for the people of Kansas to request an Environmental Impact Study for Sunflower, it should also be acceptable for the People of Kansas to request a proper Environmental Impact Study for GBE, including the 200 square miles of wind farms.  Yes, 4,000 MW’s of 2MW wind turbines at 65 acres per windmill is over 200 square miles of windmills. This shouldn’t be a pseudo-wanna-be study by HDR Engineering but a REAL Environmental Impact Study  Sunflower should provide an adequate example.

3.      If 2100 MW`s was going to be divided between Kansas, Texas and Colorado and no talk of building additional transmission, it is reasonable to ask why 3,500 MW's are going in the opposite direction with GBE.  Yes, Clean Line only gets paid to build an unnecessary powerline to the east. 

4.      When Sunflower was proposed, one of the arguments was why should Kansas be exporting energy rather than keep in within state is.  This is still a valid argument.

5.      Next, the Kansas government has a track record for prematurely approving projects without having them fully vetted.  Sunflower is further evidence it happened again with Grain Belt Express.

Once the people of Kansas became aware, Sunflower was turned around and rejected after initial approval. 

So can Clean Line Energy’s Grain Belt Express.

 Oh yeah, some old business.  I still can't believe Michael Skelly was arrogant enough to write the letter to the Houston Chronicle about government mandates for land use.  Maybe deep down in his heart he knows we're right.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Michael Skelly and Clean Line Energy, FERC, Federal Governmental Siting, and Parking Lots

Oh heck, I have to make some comments about the Skelly letter in the Houston Chronicle.  Perhaps he wrote it to provoke people.  I doubt he thinks that far beyond the want, desire, or lust before his eyes.
If you haven't read Michael Skelly's letter to the editor for the Houston Chronicle here it is.  Keep in mind this man wants the government to take 60,000 acres of land away from the public and give it to his company.  
Skelly says “Government regulation inevitably leads to too much parking, since one-size-fits-all rules mandate the same requirements…..”
The same is true for powerlines!
Mr. Skelly says “If a business believes its customers need more parking, it will have every incentive to figure this out. “
The same is true for energy generation! Local generation is better than hundreds of miles of transmission and far away generation.  
If the market says more generation is needed, the marketplace will have every incentive to create the generation locally without working politicians to chose specific projects as "winners".
Mr. Skelly says “The space that is occupied by that parking spot can't be used for money-making purposes such as more retail space, offices or housing.”
But Michael Skelly wants to cut through fields with his HVDC power line and limit the usefulness of our land!
Skelly says “It's not just the business that pays the cost for providing unnecessary parking - we all do!”
Is Mr. Skelly talking about parking lots or having the government force landowners to give “Clean” Line Energy our land for them to build his power lines and have all of us pay for it through our electricity bills?
Seriously, I think this letter from Skelly shows some insight into how the man thinks.  For one thing, this letter shows Skelly spends a lot of time doing his research.  Makes me wonder how much time he's spent reading ever Letter to the Editor written in Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois.  We wonder how much time he's spent at to write this letter of his.  We've coached him well and in his arrogance he chooses to use such arguments for his own needs in Houston.  
 At least Michael could have given some credit for his research.  
Then again, originality is the art of hiding your source.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Let Businesses Decide Parking by Clean Line Energy Michael Skelly

Michael Skelly recently wrote a Letter to the Editor in the Houston Chronicle.  It was about the government forcing landowners of privately held properties to build parking lots.  His point was the government needs to stay out of situations with its heavy hand and let the marketplace work this out on its own. 

His comments are priceless.  To tell the truth, I don't know if he is talking about parking lots in Houston or eminent domain and powerlines across the Midwest.  There is so much to be said about the letter.  Perhaps the best thing to do is to just quote Michael Skelly and let you decide for yourself. 

This is perhaps the most hypicritially absord and arrogant letters I have read coming from a man who wants to use eminent domain to take over 60,000 acres of land from thousands of private landowners. 

Again, I get confused.  Is Michael talking about parking or powerlines here?

The verdict is in. Rice University sociologist Steven Klineberg recently documented that most Houstonians prefer walkable urbanity over suburban development. In November, Houston voters approved a parks and green space initiative by a lopsided 68-32 percent margin.

But how do we get to this more dense, greener, walkable urban city? The answer is not more parking spaces.

Recent proposals to tighten Houston’s parking ordinance are a step in the wrong direction. While the proposal offers some relief to certain businesses, the revisions miss the point. The New York Times recently reported that Houston leads the country in parking. Many of these countless acres of pavement are required by law. Our city mandates parking for every class of business - from offices to veterinary clinics to art galleries to barber shops to car washes. Implicit in every one of these rules is the presumption that government knows customers’ needs better than the businesses that serve them. Why don’t we let businesses decide parking for themselves?

Government regulation inevitably leads to too much parking, since one-size-fits-all rules mandate the same requirements for FM 1960 as for Montrose, regardless of walkability, transit or on-street parking.

If a business believes its customers need more parking, it will have every incentive to figure this out. On the other hand, a business that is forced by law to provide more parking spaces than it needs will pay a significant cost. A surface parking spot costs many thousands to acquire and build, and a space in a parking garage costs tens of thousands. The space that is occupied by that parking spot can’t be used for money-making purposes such as more retail space, offices or housing.

It’s not just the business that pays the cost for providing unnecessary parking - we all do. Every space means all of us will have to swallow the incremental visual blight; our heat island effect will get a bit more fuel and our city will become a bit less walkable. And if a lot stays vacant because parking requirements make development economically infeasible, we all pay the cost in a loss of vitality.

The proper role for government is the competent management of government-provided parking - otherwise known as on-street parking. Most, if not all of the parking conflicts in places such as Montrose arise because residents, not unreasonably, lay claim to on-street parking in their neighborhoods and resent “outsiders” taking their spots. Other cities around the country have found that the best resolution is a combination of residential permits, metered parking, strict enforcement and often the development of public/private garages - not mandating acres and acres of private free parking.

We don’t need more planning or zoning-like ordinances to build the denser, walkable city Houstonians want. A better Houston answer is for city government to provide the basic drivable and walkable infrastructure through measures like Complete Streets and from there unleash our entrepreneurial energy.

As the Museum District expands our cultural assets, let them figure out the right mix of money spent on parking vs. art acquisitions. As Midtown matures, let the entrepreneurs decide if they want to give a free beer to a Metro riding customer (instead of a free parking space). As buildings find new uses, let’s not gum up the works and instead allow new tenants to figure out what their customers want. And as Houston urbanizes, and we think strategically about how to keep ours a low-cost city, let’s help our businesses keep their costs down, and let’s not tax pedestrians by forcing cross-subsidization of parking by pedestrians.

A more urban Houston is in our future. Most residents embrace this new world. As this reality comes about, we should take measure of our strengths. Higher density development will provoke strong reactions along the way.

But you can’t get to high density if you mandate paving every other square foot in the city - which is roughly what Houston requires of its businesses

Clean Line Energy, FERC, Section 1222, and EIS

FERC recently has asked for comments on what should be included in an environment impact study for their venture politics endeavor with the vulture capital funded Clean Line Energy with the Plains & Eastern Clean Line Project.

With Arkansas rejecting "Clean" Line Energy's application for public utility status, the company is working towards federal eminent domain through Section 1222 of the 2005 Energy Act.  To my knowledge, this has never been used before for federal eminent domain.

As a part of the process FERC has opened up for comments from the public on what should be included in an Environmental Impact Study.  Below is the letter I submitted to FERC in this matter.

Clean Line Energy’s Plains & Eastern project being proposed in conjunction with FERC in regards to a potential Environmental Impact Study has created some concerns.  
First, the environmental impact of comparable projects to bring renewable energy should be considered.  There are always alternatives and other options, such as bringing offshore wind energy from the Atlantic into this market.  While the Plains & Eastern Clean Line (P&ECL) option is traveling 750 miles to bringing the energy to the west end of the market, how much environmental impact would a shorter transmission line cause to bring energy to the eastern end of the same market? 

Distributed Generation, Demand Response and Energy Efficiency initiatives should also be reviewed as potential alternatives and the environmental impact of these options should also be reviewed.  New England ISO has shown great results from Energy Efficiency initiatives with no negative impacts to the environment.    

There are clearly economic alternatives.  It is not within the scope  of an environmental impact study to evaluate the economics of the alternatives,  but the environmental impact of those alternatives are relevant and need to be reviewed.  Perhaps the alternatives will bear a milder impact to the environment and show that a different course of action should be considered by FERC.
Also, Clean Line Energy has claimed this project will provide 5,000 temporary jobs and 500 permanent jobs.  This kind of economic modeling is taking into account all the jobs of the multiple wind farms plus any ripple effect allegedly created by the supposed economic benefit of this transmission line and wind farms in the surrounding communities.  This same approach should be applied to an environmental impact study.  While this project is just a 750 mile transmission line that can cover approximately 18,000 acres of right of way, P&ECL will also create wind farms that can cover a 200 square mile area.  

Whether this is 200 square miles of one big wind farm, or 200 square miles of a collection of smaller wind farms cover an even greater area, 200 square miles is still 200 square miles.  This estimation of 200 square miles is based on 2MW windmills and using 65 acres per windmill.  Over populating windmills less than 1 windmill per 65 acres will also create a larger environmental impact.

200 square miles of wind farms in Oklahoma and Northern Texas will have an environmental impact including a warming effect in that community.  Bird deaths from a 200 square mile wind farm should be accounted.  Winter migrations should also be accounted.  Bird species in this area should be known and considered, especially bald eagles.

Finally, the EPA has identified environmental justice as being a necessary component of an environmental impact study.  The EPA recognizes projects such as P&ECL historically take the path of least resistance.  Consequently whether the project is a refinery, coal mine, or transmission line, these projects tend to migrate towards economically depressed areas and avoid the resistance of wealthier and potentially more knowledgeable areas, where the public has a greater means to oppose such projects.  

With projects, like P&ECL, going through economically depressed areas, there is a compounding effect on the environment.  Future positive projects, such as tourism, will migrate away from P&ECL and more negative projects that are more harmful to the environment will be drawn closer to areas near Clean Line Energy’s transmission line as a 750 mile magnet.  The EPA recognizes those people living in these areas will have a more difficult time developing out of the economic disadvantage and the environment will suffer more.  

With Clean Line Energy’s offer price of $2,300 per acre for the Right of Way, this is clearly an economically depressed area.  Even with limited knowledge of transmission Clean Line Energy’s starting price for right of way’s in Illinois is more than three times greater the price the company is offering for landowners along P&ECL.  It is also known energy companies in Illinois have paid far more than what Clean Line Energy is offering in Illinois for right of ways.  Northern Pass is offering even more in New Hampshire.  For P&ECL to offer only $2,300/ acre for a right of way shows this is an economically disadvantaged area of the nation.  For FERC to complete an environmental impact study here, a proper review of Economic Justice as described by the Environmental Protection Agency needs to be done.  

Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency should be consulted on this matter and their opinion and approval should be sought.  Going back to the example mentioned above of potential other sources of renewable energy, will this 750 mile transmission line covering approximately 18,000 acres of right-of-way create a greater economic injustice than if FERC promotes and creates incentives for wind farms off the Atlantic coast?  Yes, there could likely be more opposition from more affluent people along the coast of North Carolina or South Carolina, but like the EPA has known, this should not place the residents of Oklahoma or Arkansas at a greater disadvantage with the creation of Plains & Eastern Clean Line.  

Respectfully submitted,
Scott A Thorsen