Thursday, August 22, 2013
Martha Peine isn’t an investigative reporter by profession. But she acts like one. Since getting involved in the opposition to the proposed American Electric Power/Southwestern Electric Power Company (AEP/SWEPCO) high voltage transmission lines, Peine has brought to light important issues that have important considerations regarding whether the Shipe Road to Kings River 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line is approved despite widespread public opposition.
Peine, from Houston, Texas, and her husband are building a house for retirement on land purchased in 2010 on the headwaters of Table Rock Lake south of Beaver. They live here every summer, and have been coming to the area since the early ‘80s to visit. Peine, who has a law degree and currently works as a certified teacher and interventionist at an elementary school in Houston, is practicing what she tells students: “You have to take responsibility for what kind of world you want around you.”
Peine opposes all routes proposed by AEP/SWEPCO for the Shipe Road to Kings River transmission line, not just routes 33 (the preferred route) and route 109 that traverse two lots adjacent to her property line. The lines would be 100 to 200 ft. from their home. All summer Peine has been doing research, attending meetings and making phone calls to “follow the money” and also see what environmental laws and protections might be possible to prevent the project she feels is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive to long term electric grid stability.
Recently AEP/SWEPCO removed three of six routes from consideration after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) said it would not make its land available for a power line at those locations crossing Beaver Lake and the White River. Peine and others have wondered why remaining routes 33, 109, and 108, crossing USACE property would be more acceptable. She went to talk to USACE officials about it at a recent open house at Shell Knob to get public comment on a Master Plan for the district.
“I spoke with Dana Coburn, Chief, Environmental Branch, Planning and Environmental, Little Rock District, USACE,” Peine said. “She is responsible for the Master Plan. She was unaware that AEP/SWEPCO’s preferred routes 33 and 109 cross an area the Corps wants classified as environmentally sensitive. She is aware of the endangered mussels in the area. She appeared to be very displeased by the revelation of actual location of the proposed line, especially since she has been talking with SWEPCO to ‘try and work something out.’ Now she knows AEP/SWEPCO has tried to pull a fast one on her.”
Another issue Peine researched shows it is a misrepresentation that extra high voltage transmission lines increase reliability and improve the security of the transmission system.
“Centralized power sources and extra high voltage (EHV) transmission lines are a huge threat to reliability and national security as opposed to decentralized, low voltage transmission solutions,” Peine said. “One, money spent on EHV lines diverts funding from repair and modernization of existing transmission lines. Of course, the new transmission lines are also much more expensive than repairing and modernizing the old ones because you have to buy new right-of-way. Second, when you connect a new EHV transmission line into an already fragile transmission grid, then carry that power over a larger territory, fragility of the existing grid has not been addressed. So a problem with the grid will cascade over a larger area because of the new line.”
Peine learned about that from researching online about the blackouts in California and on the East Coast. Other opponents of EHV transmission proposals have also made those points about grid instability. “And they are good points,” she said.
Peine also has been spending her summer “vacation” digging into campaign contributions and connections between the utility cartel and the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC). She did Internet searches earlier in the summer without finding what she was looking for. But then connections starting popping up.
“I felt obligated to get the information out there about how AEP and its subsidiary, SWEPCO, are so deep into the pockets of our representatives and our regulators,” Peine said. “The bureaucrats who are supposed to protect us lose their ability to form independent thought and rationally review these proposals.”
Some of what happens is just that people at APSC work regularly with attorneys from AEP/SWEPCO and other utilities. They come to be friends and tell each other about job opportunities. It is no secret how much better paying the private sector is – particularly in the utility industry – so it would only be human for regulators to be impacted by the possibility of getting a better paying job, one where their experience with ASPC might be unduly influential.
Peine lists the following examples of what she calls a lucrative employment pipeline from the APSC to the Energy Sector:
- Former APSC Chair Sandra Byrd is now a vice president with Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp.
- Michael Henderson, previous employee of APSC, now is now a vice president and chief financial officer with Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corp.
- Former APSC Chairman Paul Suskie is now a senior vice president with Southwest Power Pool, a regional transmission group that also until recently employed Mike Ross, a Democratic candidate for governor.
- Former APSC Commissioner Daryl Bassett is now with the nonprofit EmPower Consumers Inc.
“Mr. Bassett lobbies for putting the brakes on ‘green’ energy solutions on the grounds it will be too expensive for poor people and old folks,” Peine said. “But what about how the poor and old who are already disproportionately negatively effected by climate change?”
She said while it is known that transmission expansions are a cash cow for the transmission industry, why are our elected representatives so willing to go along with those plans at our expense? Could it be that the direct amount spent on lobbying and campaign contributions by AEP/SWEPCO in Arkansas was about $2.4 million in 2012?
“Say what?” Peine said. “Was that on my electric bill?
She also sees bias in AEP’s Platinum Sponsorship of Southern States Energy Board (SSEB)’s Annual Conferences.
“As far as I can tell, SSEB functions mainly as a meet-and-greet for politicians and their SSEB sponsors/campaign contributors,” Peine said. “Their meeting agendas provide multiple private opportunities for SSEB members to meet with and collect their scripts from platinum and gold sponsors.”
Peine said the system appears to place the profits a of big monopoly utility over the needs of the environment, the property owners whose land would be taken and devalued, and even the economy of the area.
“These people actually think you can eat, drink, breathe, recreate and appreciate the awe-inspiring beauty of money,” she said. “How sad is that? Try as you might to point out all the inconsistencies in their positions, the flaws, the inaccuracies, the magnitude of the malicious consequences of their proposed actions, they just won’t get it.”
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