Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Ziff Bros & The Russians

It is really pretty much insane that we are having to research one of the primary investors in Clean Line Energy Partners for potential tax evasion in Russia because of a meeting that occurred during the 2016 presidential election.  It's almost unbelievable.  Seriously, what the FERC is going on here?

The media has done a fair job keeping the details of the Don Trump Jr meeting with "The Russians"  out of the press while driving the point a Russian met with Donald Jr and Paul Manafort.  The media has told us details of the meeting aren't as sexy as the headlines and the hypothetical that the Russian might have been attempting to influence or buy the Presidency as they report the speculations and ignore the facts.
It won't be surprising to some that the Ziff Brothers find themselves at the center of this controversy.  The Ziff brothers was the subject of that meeting. 

It sounds as though there was a sell job by this Russian female attorney, Natalia Vesdlnitskaya, to get in the door with Trump Jr.  The dispute with the Russian government and the Ziff Brothers is about not pay 16 million in tax money to the Russian government on an investment, tax evasion. The story first told to the Trump campaign centers on the Ziff's taking some of that money and donated a portion of it to the Clinton Global Initiative to get favorable treatment from the Sec Clinton State Department.  On the surface, it was a tantalizing story that got the Russian attorney into Trump Tower and a meeting with Don Jr. and Manafort. The question remains who was she representing.  

While there is not an extradition treaty between the United States and Russia, there are normal channels for the two governments to work on legal disputes with private citizens. 
"In the interview published Tuesday with News Front, Veselnitskaya said Trump Jr. asked whether she was in possession of any “financial documents” indicating whether Ziff Brothers Investments, an American firm, had transferred what she described as stolen funds to the Clinton campaign. She said she was not in possession of any such documents. "

That is probably where the meeting went south.  The possibility of a bribe to the Clinton Global Initiative was tempting and tantalizing but the details of international tax law made the meeting boring. A campaign position on tougher international tax laws with countries America does not have an extradition treaty benefiting foreign governments over Wall Street investment capital wasn't going to win any votes in an election.

The press did a good job making the Russian lawyer sound as a screwball or "The Russians" like she's KGB.  Half the media was hyping the meeting into a conspiracy between Trump and The Russians while the other half is portraying a halfback Russian floozie acting as a lawyer.   It was reported the meeting was about Russian adoption laws and The Magnitsky Act.  That was part of the details but the meat was probably attempting to force the Ziff Brothers and others to defend themselves with Russian tax audits.
In the end this is was a meeting about a $16 million tax dispute and whether this woman was representing Russian government is unknown, she was looking for a sympathetic cooperation.  On the surface, its doubtful the Russian government would actually send this woman without any documentation or proof the Ziff's donated to the Clinton Global Initiative for beneficial treatment from the State Department in this matter.
Are the Ziff's Brothers international cheats?

That's already been proven to be true with their Och-Ziff Investments and their Africa scandal.

From the Russian position, this dispute is as simple as Ziff's raiding a forest preserve for rocks.   The Ziff's have a history of taking what they want and daring authorities to prosecute.  It easy to surmise Dirk Ziff won't be traveling to Russia in the future.

It is oddly interesting how the same accusations keep arising. A history has been established of the Ziff's take what they want while they are praised by Wall Street media for their investing brilliance to turn inheritance from Ziff-Davis Publishing into billions.

Did the Ziff's donate to the Clinton Global Initiative to buy a favor from the State Department?
Who knows, but the Ziff's also have a history of buying favoritism from the Clinton's.   How do you think made "Selling the Lincoln Bedroom" famous?  Dirk Ziff at $411,000.
Is the Russian accusations true?  It's not surprising the accusation arises and Dirk Ziff is at the center of it.   There might actually be some merit to the Russians position.  It's not the first time such accusations have been made about the Ziff Brothers an their investments.  I won't say the Rusky is right, but this is the Ziff's we're talking about. 

Now getting back to Clean Line Energy, how much money has been invested in CLEP?  Over $250 million?  Perhaps closer to $250 million.  What do they have to show for their time as a venture capital project?  Rock Island is dead, denied in Iowa and Illinois.  Grain Belt Express has been denied three times in Missouri.  In the last days of the previous administration Plains & Eastern Clean Line was approved by the Department of Energy, but P&ECL has no customers.  Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested by the Ziff Brothers, National Grid, and Bluescape Investments and Clean Line doesn't even have 1 mile of transmission built, no property owned, and not even a prototype.

I have to ask, is this a legitimate company or scam?  It's been 7 years an hundreds of millions spent with nothing to show for it.  With CLEP as a "partner" with the Department of Energy, is it time for the feds to audit Clean Line's books?  Something weird is going on here.  How does one spend hundreds of millions to develop projects that have been denied by state regulators, and continue to find investors who are willing to write checks?  Does Michael Skelly ever intend to build a powerline  or is this company simply some kind of "investment mechanism" that was never intended to be legitimate?  I'm no expert in money laundering or fraud but something is weird here.

If a legitimate electricity company, like Commonwealth Edison, invested even half the money were talking here, say $100 million in failed projects, heads would roll.  CEO's, vice presidents, project managers would be fired.  Yet Clean Line continues to find new investment money?  Something funny is going on here, and with Dirk Ziff in the center of it, I have to think there is some merit to the Russian's position in tax evasion.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Illinois Supreme Court Denies RICL

How long have we been dealing with the Rock Island Clean Line?  6 years?  The original docket at the Illinois Commerce Commission was dated October 2010.  7 years of the company saying this is not about eminent domain has gotten old.

Don’t you love the spin, the propaganda, and sometimes the gnashing of teeth, of corporate public relations?  There is a lot of pouting and sour grapes at Clean Line Energy this week as the Illinois Supreme Court denied their appeal and grant the Rock Island Clean Line public utility status.  This negativity is not good for a corporation.  Suck it up boys and girls at Clean Line.  Here’s some suggestions for positive talking points and turn these lemons into lemonade.

I wonder if the Clean Line Energy executives remember being asked when testifying at the ICC “Why are you applying for this Certificate Need and Public Necessity”.  No one had an answer beyond “Our attorney says so”.  The 800 pound gorilla in the room was eminent domain.  The CNPN was needed to ask the ICC and courts for eminent domain approval.  Each time the subject of eminent domain was brought up, the response was “Clean Line is not applying for eminent domain at this time” or “we might need eminent domain at all”.

The Illinois Supreme Court has finally spoken.  The court has given its blessing to Clean Line Energy to build its powerline.   ICC approval and public utility status is not necessary.  This project can be built without a Certificate of Need and Public Necessity.  The Court has given its blessing to go buy easements and build this proposed Merchant Transmission Line.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has also authorized Clean Line to negotiate rates with the “risks and rewards” of being a Merchant Transmission Line.  The Illinois Supreme Court has stated RICL as a Merchant Transmission Line is not bound to the restrictions of being a public utility.  RICL has been given freedom to pursue the risks and rewards of their dream to build a powerline from Northwestern Iowa to Channahon, Illinois where it can plug into the grid and wheel wind energy to the east coast market.

This should be good news for Clean Line Energy Partners (Ziff Brothers, National Grid, John  Wilder, Michael Skelly, Jimmy Glotfelty, and others).

So what’s the problem?

It will be a cold day in Houston before Clean Line Energy Partners ever gains eminent domain authority in Illinois.

The Illinois Supreme Court has essentially told Clean Line “If you really don’t need eminent domain authority like you claim, then you don’t need public utility status either.   Go build your powerline and good luck with that.”

Sitting through the oral arguments at Springfield, I wondered how many times the state’s Supreme Court hears cases where an outside company with no connection to Illinois attempts to distort Illinois laws for their benefit.  The court heard two cases that day and both cases were about companies attempting to swindle Illinois laws.  In the other case, a warehouse in Grand Rapids, Michigan had a roof collapse.  The tenant lost a bunch of frozen fish.   The fish company was attempting to sue the Indiana warehouse company in Cook County because the warehouse company also had a warehouse in Joliet.  Like RICL, that was another case where a company with no affiliation or ties to Illinois was attempting to distort Illinois laws for their financial benefit.

Thank you Illinois Supreme Court for placing the security of Illinois residents over that of a company looking for a quick buck through eminent domain.

Go build your powerline as a private Merchant Transmission Line with all the risks and rewards of a private business Clean Line, just don’t use the Illinois Public Utility Act to place the risk on Illinois residents.  I double dog dare you!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Farmers Defeat RICL at the Illinois Supreme Court

Here is an edited version of the Supreme Court's opinion to uphold the Appellate Court and deny the proposed Rock Island Clean Line (RICL) project.   This is not the entire version, just an edited piece of the Court's analysis and conclusion.   No attempt was made to distort in this edited version.   It started with looking for key quotes and it ended in a good condensed version of 20 pages.  So if you despise legalese, get a bowl of popcorn and try this version.

Underlying the law is a belief that these objectives can best be met through governmental supervision of public utilities and regulation of competition between them…. Because unrestrained competition prior to adoption of the Act had frequently resulted in the financial failure of utilities, the law adopted the principle of regulated monopoly…and aims to ensure efficient public utility service at reasonable rates by compelling established public utilities occupying a given field to provide adequate service while at the same time protecting them from ruinous competition.

Rock Island disputes this, arguing that it is not currently seeking eminent domain authority and may never do so if it succeeds in obtaining the easements it will need for the project through negotiated agreements with affected landowners.

The company’s second justification for seeking to place itself within the provisions of the Public Utilities Act and obtaining a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Commission is similarly pragmatic. If it is under state regulatory authority, it will avoid the need to obtain local approval from each governmental unit through which the project will pass.

Whatever Rock Island’s motives for seeking a certificate of public necessity and convenience, the central question remains: Does it even qualify as a public utility under Illinois law so as to be eligible for such a certificate under section 8-406 of the Public Utilities Act (220 ILCS 5/8-406 (West

First, pursuant to the express language of section 3-105 of the Act (220 ILCS 5/3-105 (West 2012)), the company must also own, control, operate or manage, within this State, directly or indirectly, a plant, equipment, or property used or to be used for or in connection with (or must own or control any franchise, license, permit, or right to engage in) the production, transmission, sale, etc. of one of the specified commodities or services. Second, it must own, control, operate, or manage the plant, equipment, property, franchise, etc. “for public use.”

Rock Island fails to meet the first of these requirements. When referring to the ownership, control, management, and operation of a plant, equipment, property, franchise, etc., the statute is phrased in the present tense…. Rock Island does not presently own, control, manage, or operate any plant, equipment, property franchise, etc., in Illinois or elsewhere… It merely holds an option to acquire a parcel of real property. That is insufficient. Even though the parcel is the planned location for part of the yet-to-be-built transmission system, having an option to buy something is not the same as owning or even controlling it.

Under a prior version of the Public Utilities Act, such an interpretation would have been valid. Section 10 of the Public Utilities Act of 1913… the predecessor to section 3-105 of the current law, defined a public utility to mean and include every corporation, company, association, joint stock company or association, firm, partnership, or individual that “now or hereafter *** may own, control, operate or manage”

When the General Assembly repealed the prior Public Utilities Act and replaced it with the present statute, the “now or hereafter *** may” language was removed.

The real disagreement concerns the construction of law.

…and because Rock Island cannot meet the ownership test necessary to qualify as a public utility, the Commission’s  order granting Rock Island a certificate of public convenience and necessity fails as a matter of law and cannot be sustained.

Nothing in the Public Utilities
Act prohibits new entrants such as Rock Island from commencing development of transmission lines immediately as a purely private project. So long as they do not transact business as a public utility, they will not be subject to the Public Utilities Act…

Requiring new entrants to proceed in this way may make the initial phase of their operations more difficult and cumbersome.  For example, they will not have the benefit of eminent domain to obtain the property on which their facilities will be located. In Rock Island’s case, however, that particular problem should be no obstacle. As we have noted, the company has not sought, is not seeking, and represents that it may never ask for eminent domain power.

Because Rock Island cannot meet the ownership requirement for qualification as a public utility, there is no need to reach the additional question of whether it also fails the “public use” requirement, as the appellate court concluded. Should the company elect to move forward with the project and reapply for a certificate of public necessity and convenience as a public utility once it moves beyond planning and actually owns, controls, operates, or manages transmission assets, the question of public use can be revisited under the facts and circumstances then present.

For the foregoing reasons, we agree with the appellate court that the Commission erred in finding that Rock Island is a public utility. The company does not qualify as a public utility under Illinois law and was ineligible for a certificate of public convenience and necessity from the Commission. The appellate court was therefore correct when it reversed the Commission’s order granting a certificate of public convenience and necessity to the company, and it properly remanded the cause to the Commission with directions to enter an order consistent with its opinion. Accordingly, its judgment is affirmed.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Clean Line & Social Media for Beginners

Ha! Looks like someone different is the Admin to the Clean Line social media accounts.   

This really is refreshing.   The original person was very good,  but it was becoming mundane.  It was like playing views with the same person for 5 years.   This new person is a bit unrefined but still fresh.   We'll work to get this guy into shape. 

On the surface this is a nice innocent tweet,  but Clean Line doesn't really want to be a part of an orchestra.  Clean Line wants to be "Slash"  the rock star with the bass guitar.

Clean Line has shown no indication or willingness to adapt to the existing transmission models at the Regional Transmission Organizations, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or at the state level.   The Clean Line Merchant Transmission Model is basically the pipeline model where all regulatory approval is done in Washington,  but that's not how transmission is done.  

Transmission is regulated at the state level with regional organizations operating the grid.   Yes,  like an orchestra, in a sense the RTO is a conductor to insure each,member does ones part.   When a need is recognized,  it is filled.

Clean Line has refused to adapt but demand everyone else accommodate to them.   They are the bass guitarist wanting the orchestra to adapt to them.  

So who is handling the Clean Line social media accounts now? Judging by writing and artistic styles, it appears to be a third Admin of the social media accounts.   So suspect Beth is still around.   There is a certain sing-song style to some posts.   As the office shrinks, it's definitely not Jimmy Glotfelty.   Get a couple late night beers in him and he goes full Scaramucci.   So has Mike gone full Donald J. Trump and taken command of the Twitter account?

Saturday, April 29, 2017

CLEP MEME Outtakes

It's not easy to make a meme that makes the cut for the editorial board.  Here are several outtakes. A couple made the rigorous approval process.  Most didn't make the cut.

Skelly and "Pocket Approval" was a joke 2 years ago.  It's unbelievable that joke is 2 years old and this circus is still going on. Looking back, this story is a good example how a free meal, or such, can buy a positive story from the mainstream news media.  I wonder if the reporter even bothered to ask "What's a pocket approval?"

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Clean Line's Dream is Almost Over

The RICL case before the Illinois Supreme Court is nearing!  I do hope we can all gather on the steps of the court with Mike Skelly, Jimmy G, Hans Detweiler, and even Mark Lawlor for a group picture to commemorate the last 6 or 7 years this has been going on. Whatever the outcome, it will be a precedent for the Illinois Public Utility Act and eminent domain in Illinois.

Did anyone ever wonder what is going on at "Clean" Line headquarters about now?  They've got to be near broke and running low on investor's cash. The Rock Island "Clean" Line is dead in Iowa.  The state legislatures are moving forward with a bill to deny eminent domain with proposed for-profit Merchant Transmission Line.

Illinois is approaching oral arguments at the Illinois Supreme Court where CLEP will attempt to justify being a Public Utility with no guarantee to serve the public. If RICL is determined by the state's court not to be a Public Utility, then no eminent domain, and no eminent domain for Grain Belt Express.

Missouri has denied CLEP public utility status twice and in the process if denying the Grain Belt Express for a third time.

The Tennessee Valley Authority still has no desire to purchase 3,500 megawatts of overpriced wind energy when they have enough generation within the region for years.

It makes one wonder what the atmosphere is at "Clean" Line headquarters in Houston.  Just playing the odds and speculating here, but the culture at CLEP Central is probably very toxic, if not septic. Negativity spreads and there isn't much to be positive about there.  They've got to be close to broke.  It wouldn't be surprising if many are wondering when us their last day to work at CLEP as their seed money from investors dwindles. There is a good chance some arguing is going in about who frittered money away on this or that.  When someone misses a simple deadline with a lawyer, it wouldn't be surprising Jimmy Glotfelty goes into a hell tirade about doing your job, letting the team down, and there is no tomorrow if they fail.  Fear can be a powerful motivator for a leader.  Fear and desperation can also make a leader do some irrational things. 

With a new Administration in Washington determined to “drain the swamp” and "Clean" Line Energy desperate, does Team CLEP choose to sulk or suck up to the new Administration?

After investing so much time in lobbying the previous Administration as a proposed “clean” energy project, looks like “Clean” Line is choosing to spin as “shovel ready” projects that needs a little federal help ramming their projects through the state regulatory process.  Getting three projects added to a fake lobbyist created shovel ready infrastructure list was a slick move. 

Where does one go after spending years to forge a sweetheart deal for Plains & Eastern Clean Line?

The TVA still doesn't want their high priced wind energy from 750 miles away.    "Clean" Lie has gotten more aggressive with their politicking claiming wind energy can be delivered for a competitive 20 cents a kilowatt. The TVA is being polite but they know that's a dirty lie from Clean Line.   There isn't a single actual wind company willing to go public claiming such an absurdly low price. It looks like Clean Line is choosing vinegar over honey option when dealing with the TVA now as the company chooses an aggressive media campaign claiming to be “cheap” wind energy without providing specifics. It’s an interesting high pressure negative public relations campaign to pressure the TVA in buying high priced wind energy. 

In "Clean" Line's desperation, they've gone public with another dirty lie.   Clean Line Energy Partners llc is actually a wind energy company.   After literally years of denial, "Clean" Line is officially developing a 1,000 megawatt wind energy project out west, probably for their Centennial West "Clean" Line project.   So much for the "Clean Line Energy is not a wind company" they told the public at the informational meetings, but desperate times call for desperate measures.  Skelly probably didn't want to go public with the wind farm development until after the transmission easements were secured but they're running out of money and running out if time with states denying them Public Utility Status.

It's probably a bit lonely at CLEP headquarters. They don't seem to be speaking at wind or transmission trade shows much anymore.   It makes a person wonder if the industry is shunning the "Clean" Line name for drawing focus on the worst of the industry.

Admit it Mike, the dream is almost over.  Clean Line's death is probably closer to imminent.  Then again, one man's dream is another's nightmare and this one is nearing an end.