2009 Annual Power Plant Siting Act Hearing

Filed under:Brookings Routing Docket — posted by admin on December 22, 2009 @ 5:16 am

I’ve been ranting at these meetings for over a decade now…

Once more with feeling, here we go…

Deja vu all over again…

For those of you who have experienced how the Power Plant (transmission too) Siting Act works and doesn’t work, here is your opportunity to tell them in technicolor.  Does it do any good?  Well, not that I can see, other than a way to keep your blood pressure odown.  There’s supposed to be a report to the PUC, but typically minutes and comments aren’t posted until just before the next one, a year late.  Unfortunately, I feel pretty strongly that it’s one way open to register my disgust at how the system is worked by the utilities and by the Dept. of Commerce, how the people in the footprint of these projects are being trampled, the concept of notice goes out the window, environmental review is a farce, it’s so bad that if I wasn’t hypotensive I’d blow a gasket, as it is, it’s just aerobic exercise, but anyway, I feel a compulsion to weigh in.  Gotta exhaust all administrative options — color me exhausted, but not completely — not yet!

The comments I made last year reflect my exhaustion and exasperation:

2008 PPSA Annual Hearing Notes

Here’s Bob’s notice that arrived in the inbox:

Public Hearing

Annual Review of Power Plant Siting Act Programs

Tuesday, December 29, 2009    10:00 AM
3rd Floor Large Hearing Room
121 7th Place East
St. Paul, Minnesota 55101

Notice of Annual Hearing

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN that the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will convene the annual public hearing on the Power Plant Siting and Transmission Line Routing Program from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Tuesday, December 29, 2009, in the Large Hearing Room at the Commission’s offices on the third floor of the Metro Square Building, 121 7th Place East, Suite 350, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55101.

The annual hearing is required by Minnesota Statute 216E.07, which provides that:

The commission shall hold an annual public hearing at a time and place prescribed by rule in order to afford interested persons an opportunity to be heard regarding any matters relating to the siting of large electric generating power plants and routing of high-voltage transmission lines. At the meeting, the commission shall advise the public of the permits issued by the commission in the past year.

While the Commission has multiple statutory authorities for the permitting of several types of energy infrastructure, the scope of the annual hearing is limited to the above cited statute and associated administrative rules in Minn. Rule 7850. The purpose of the hearing is not to take testimony regarding open dockets before the Commission.

The Commission has prepared an Agenda for the meeting, which is available on its webpage at www.puc.state.mn.us (click on December 29 under Upcoming Events). Docket number E999/M-09-1351 has been opened for creation of a record in this matter.

AGENDA

I.          Introductions
II.        Overview of Programs
A. Public Utilities Commission – Facility Permitting Unit
B. Office of Energy Security – Energy Facility Permitting Unit
C. Role of Other State Agencies

III.       Projects Reviewed
A. Projects completed in 2009
B. Pending and anticipated projects

Electric Facilities Subject to Power Plant Siting Act
1. Generating Plants
2. Transmission Lines
IV.       Public Questions and Testimony
V.        Adjourn

At the hearing the public will be afforded an opportunity to be heard through presentation of oral or written statements. Written statements and relevant exhibits may also be submitted for inclusion in the annual hearing record by eFiling (see PUC website link above) or by delivery to the Commission’s offices at the address above by the close of business on February 1, 2010.

The staff recognizes that the time and location may make it difficult for all interested persons to attend, and emphasizes that written comments are encouraged and will be given equal consideration.

The report of the 2008 Annual Hearing is available at in edockets for Docket 08-1426. Direct all inquiries and written comments regarding the annual hearing to: Bret Eknes, Phone 651-201-2236, email: bret.eknes@state.mn.us.

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Here are some comments that have come over the wire in the last couple of days:

Thank you Mr. Cupit.

I do not intend to attend the annual hearing. As you know, this will be the first time since 1996 that I have missed the hearing. Please consider this e-mail an initial comment from me. I will submit additional written comments for the record.

As you know, I have submitted numerous recommendations and request for format changes in recent years — that provide for constructively structured interactions around:
a)  questions of interest to the Commission regarding the administration of the PPSA;
b) catagories of historic public concern or interest, as documented in previous PPSA hearing records; or
c) other specific interests raised by the previous hearing;
d) review and evaluation of the previous year’s report.

It is documented thoroughly, both in the PPSA hearing record and public participation literature, that the public hearing format provides for very limited inputs, provokes antagonism, and isolates public comments and concerns in a ‘record’ that appears to goes nowhere. “Touching the bases” of a rules requirement does not fulfillment of a rule make. Reviewing and updating the public and other agency personnel on activities under the PPSA is a valuable thing. Providing a hearing at which members of the public can voice concerns or complaints also has value. However, the issues raised through the years have varied little: notice, EMF, alternative routes and technologies, etc. The annual hearings and report have provided little opportunity for progress. There is some public malaise about the effectiveness of the hearing, and signficant doubt as to whether or not the Commission has any real interest or use for the input received.

It has also been unclear whether or not notification of the annual hearing is provided to persons from the current and previous year’s proceeding. These are the individuals with the most immediate and relevant experience. Discussion of process should not include discussion of open dockets. While it may take some clarification and directive management to ensure this distinction – the input of persons most recently affected by the siting and routing processes which the hearing is meant to address.

The Commission and the public have a basis for mutual interest in the effectiveness of  the Annual Hearing as a feedback and evaluation mechanism for the program.  This venue could and should provide mechanisms for a sense of mutual progress toward the goal in statute and rule of improving and optimizing public engagement. The Commission and OES have extensive authorities and capacity for providing for a more interactive and constructive experience. I look forward to returning to the hearings, when these opportunities are embodied in an agenda and format that provides for meaningful interaction and follow through.

Most sincerly and respectfully yours,
Kristen Eide-Tollefson

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Dear Kristen, Staff:

I have attended several of these hearings. I do not see their current structure as a productive use of time. None of the recommendations made by citizens every seem to be acted upon, whether expressed as a strongly-held belief of a person with experience in the system, as a detailed legal brief or as a request for more assistance and support for public participation. Sometimes, as with the CapX2020 utilities’ convening of meetings on their proposed power lines for several years, the meetings have the effect of making members of the public feel less likely to change any aspect of the process, rather than empowered as stakeholders. Oh, and did I mention that the public or the public’s representatives are the only ones whose time attending these meetings is uncompensated.

If, at some future time, the Commission or the OES were to be authorized or directed to improve the process by which the citizenry can provide a check or balance to the desires of the utilities please let me know. Some areas that might be productive include assuring the consideration of generation and transmission alternatives to high voltage power lines in an iterative way; requiring utilities to make the demonstrations required by law, rather than get exemptions for data and make blanket assertions that since permits will be obtained later they need not make the showing required by statute pertaining to compliance with state and federal rules; providing citizens with technical and procedural assistance in developing alternatives in their advisory task forces; intervenor funding; public funding of transcripts so that citizens can have access to the record from hearings;  changing the role of the State agencies in the CON process so they serve as regulators rather than advocates for the utilities; or addressing any of a myriad of other ways in which the current circumscribed and imbalanced process operates.

If a meeting were to be convened with a goal pertaining to protecting the public interest in these or other specific ways, I believe many stakeholders, including me and the clients whom I represent, would be very interested in working with you.

Thank you,

Paula Maccabee, Esq.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace