Monday, May 25, 2015

Clean Line's NEED for Federal Eminent Domain to Trump State's Rights

A while back, Clean Line Energy’s Chief Operating Officer, Jayshree Desai sent a letter to the Department of Energy complaining that state's regulators are beneath Clean Line, state regulations are cumbersome and an unnecessary burden for Grain Belt Express Clean Line, (ICC Docket # 15-0277).    Jayshree would much rather the federal government give GrainBelt the power of eminent domain than have GBE justify the project to the ICC and Missouri Public Utility Board. 

About that same time, Connecticut's US Senators Liebreman and Blumenthal wrote a letter to FERC requesting the agency keep a closed eye on RTO's like PJM and MISO a while back.   If built, GBE wants PJM, the Regional Transmission Authority, to manage and operate the GBE powerline, but Clean Line doesn’t want PJM to study the need and necessity of the project.  The Senators question FERC and whether RTO's are responsibly lookout for consumer’s interests and providing economical energy.  According to a press release from Senator Blumenthal:

Under federal electricity restructuring legislation, RTOs were provided with the authority to develop their budgets and implement electricity distribution and generation policies subject to FERC’s oversight.  Because RTOs are predominantly operated by transmission line operators and electricity generators, the consumer must rely on effective intervention by state public agencies charged with representing the consumer’s interests and FERC’s careful scrutiny of RTOs.  Unfortunately, the experience since establishment of the seven RTOs in the United States has been one of relatively lax oversight, budgets that have grown out of proportion to the economy and policies that have been subject to intense consumer criticism.

It's great to see there are a few men in Washington who see the value of state agencies to protect the consumers and keep energy prices economical.  Too often Washington is full of people who think solutions can only come from the federal government.

Without the state utility commissions, consumers have little of a voice.   This letter from the Senators is further proof RTO's, who are ran by powerline companies, can have biased judgments weighted against the consumers. Senator Blumenthal's office went on to say the joint letter urges FERC to strengthen consumer agency input and involvement around the RTO budget process.

While this letter from Senators to FERC is a couple years old, and somethings have changed.  PJM is acting a bit more responsibly, but there still needs a mechanism for ratepayer’s input.  It has also become more obvious the problem is not at the Regional Transmission Organizations, but at FERC itself.  The federal government regulators have become a rubberstamp machine, all too eager to approve projects and find state regulators as inconvenient hurdles. 

Grin Belt Express in the letter from Jayshree to the Department of Energy is simply wrong.   She believes powerlines such as the Grain Belt project are too big and authority should be taken away from Illinois and the ICC.  In 2012, she has asked the Department of Energy to take the authority and the power to grant eminent domain away from states and give it to the Department of Energy or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  

 Clean Line Energy believes projects such Grainbelt Express Clean Line should not be burdened with proof that it will benefit the residents of a state, such as Illinois.  

“Without federal siting authority, Clean Line is proceeding with state-by-state permitting and sitting, often forced to utilize out-of-date, ill-fitting statues.  Existing state statutes and regulations are often not designed for multi-state, or inter-regional projects like those being developed by Clean Line, and may prove insufficient to the task”

                “…requirements that local/state utility –customers be “served” by the project may inhibit siting of beneficial regional projects.”

The problem arises when those sacrificing for utility transmission projects (farmers and landowners) are the customers and the state residents.  Typically, state residents are not asked to sacrifice their property and land for a unregulated project that only benefits the residents of other states.  Clean Line is attempting to claim a project is worthy of siting and eminent domain in a specific state because another state or another region several states might benefits in some fashion.  However, there is no federal agency setup to determine if a project is worthy of siting because the project might be “beneficial” to another region either.   

It complicates the matter even more when Clean Line refuses to be a part of a Regional Transmission Organization’s Expansion Plan.  How can FERC and state’s determine a project is necessary when the Regional Utility Organizations do not say the project is necessary?

 As a consumer, it is offensive and scary that a speculation company would lobby the Department of Energy to take regulatory powers and perhaps eminent domain authority away from the states.  Deregulation for the benefit of speculation capital into the power industry has gone too far.  There is clearly a need for state agencies (ICC) to regulate where Washington has become tainted with political influences and insulant to the public’s concerns.  The letter sent from the Connecticut Senators proves the need is there to limit Washington powers.

Who else will protect consumers?  Not the Department of Energy or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Who else will be an advocate for landowners across the state but the ICC in Illinois?   
If we don’t prevent Grain Belt Express in Illinois, more looser and liberal abuses of eminent domain will follow.

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