Big Push on Eminent Domain Bill HB198

by jhwygirl

The Senate Energy & Telecommunications tied 6-6 today in committee on HB198, and then subsequently voted to table the bill, effectively killing it.

Senate Legislative Rules allow for the committee to reconsider its votes providing the committee has not yet reported to the Secretary of the Senate.

Which is the likely explanation for why Sen. Olson, chair of Senate Energy & Telecommunications, called a special meeting of his committee for tomorrow at 3 p.m.

Reporter Mike Dennison the story on what happened today.

Despite continued reading of information concerning HB198, I still think it is a dangerous door to open. Eminent domain statutes are situation under Title 70, Chapter 30. Public uses are defined there under Part 102.

Only that isn’t where HB198 changes the law. It adds a more expansive definition of what a public utility is under Title 69 – a definition that was exclusive to that Title….and applies it to the not-that-narrow constraints of eminent domain in Title 70.

The key word there in Title 70 resting on public uses that are used by the public in Montana. Title 70 allows for condemnation of a long laundry list of things – including distribution lines for electricity. To suggest that some major crisis happens should pass-through lines owned by private companies be unable to condemn is hysterics.

What is different here with MATL is that those lines are passing on through Montana. They will not be regulated for Montana. There is simply no assurance that that these lines can be used by smaller users.

Nor is there any guarantee of fairness to those seeking accessibility to these lines.

Until such time that the state can guarantee a true fair and equitable public use of those transmission lines.

The current bill, as it stands, is lazy and inadequate to protect the citizens of Montana against unchecked private interests. If approved it will surely stand as yet another famous Montana give away to private interests.

By relying on the Major Facilities Siting Act, it allows major decisions to be made about private property large and small without any input whatsoever from the private property owners. Keep in mind, at least one county has sued for being left out of the loop – so involvement and scoping under the Major Facilities Siting Act is clearly flawed (to say the least).

So, like I wrote yesterday, please take the time to contact members of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee and let them know that HB198 has significant flaws and does NOT provide for public uses and as such should not allow for condemnation of private property for purely private purposes.

Information on contacting your legislators can be found here.

You can also contact the entire Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee by calling 406-444-4800 and leaving a message.

The legislative desk begins taking calls at 7:30 a.m.

Here are the members of Senate Energy and Telecommunications. The ones with a * voted NO today…and are being pressured to change their vote:
Chair: Alan Olson (R-Roundup)
Vice Chair: Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell)
Vice Chair: Ron Erickson (D-Missoula)
*Shannon Augare (D-Browning)
*Jeff Essmann (R-Billings)
Bob Lake (R-Hamilton)
*Lynda Moss (D-Billings)
*Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge)
*Mitch Tropila (D-Great Falls)
*Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings)
Chas Vincent (R-Libby)
Edward Walker (R-Billings)

  1. Max

    I regret to inform you and hopefully your readers that at least on one point you are wrong. The Federal Regulatory Energy Commission oversees merchant transmission lines. It guarantees “fairness” and “accessibility” to transmission lines.

    New transmission is not guaranteed to provide green power, but in practice it almost always does as new fossil fuel generation has waned dramatically.

    Which might be why environmental groups like MEIC support this bill.

    • I understand that MEIC supports it.

      Your assertion that there is a guarantee of fairness and accessibility is disputed by many.

      And since when does Montana line up to hand over authority to the feds? Again – I am amazed by the hypocrisy.

      This is a lazily written bill that allows for takings of private property for no real gain to Montana citizens. I wouldn’t see fit to let you condemn my land either for that slim reasoning.

      • Max

        Okay. Some dispute it but a fact is a fact. Do the research into how FERC ensures accessibility and fairness. If you do an honest job you’ll come to an honest conclusion.

        And no one is handing authority over to the federal government. It is the federal government’s domain to regulate merchant transmission lines, not the state’s.

    • Don Kronenberger

      If MEIC is so convinced that lines like MSTI will “in practice” provide “green power” and thereby “wane” fossil fuel generation, why is MEIC so unwilling to allow use of public lands for that purpose?

      Perhaps they are not so convinced, really?

  2. Rep. Mike Miller, HD84

    I have a hard time taking private property in Montana for a foreign company to make a profit selling something outside of Montana. That does not meet my definition of “for the public good”. Especially if rate payers in MT end up with higher rates.

    The way I heard 198 explained was that it gave eminent domain powers to anyone that had a certificate under MFSA.

    I also heard that DEQ required the entire EIS be redone just to move one short section of the power line. There never would have been a court case without that.

    The MTSC will undoubtedly resolve this issue eventually.

  3. Hanneman

    A couple comments – fossil fuel transmitted on power lines has not waned. Where do your facts come from? On the MSTI line alone, brown energy will most likely occupy at least 65% of the line. And FERC watching out for the citizens of this country??? Right – FERC has just allowed MISO (Midwest Independent Systems Operators) to spread the costs of building new transmission lines among their rate-payers. And – you guessed it – that is the template that FERC is strongly considering for the rest of Montana (right now it’s only eastern Montana that is under the MISO ruling). And DEQ – well, had DEQ done their job correctly in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this mess. But instead, SB 206 (the mile-wide energy corridor bill) awards DEQ with a new full time appointment. Is it any wonder that Director Opper changed his position from opposing SB 206 to supporting SB 206?

  4. John Vincent

    Max and readers, It gets difficult to explain in a limited space and it sounds counter intuitive, but any new so-called “green lines” carrying wind power out of Montana will really be “brown lines,” because they will have to carry anywhere from 67% to 80% coal generated power. Because wind power (depending on the geographical dispersion of the wind factories) is only 33 to 20 percent efficient, coal (or methane loaded natural gas) must always be instantly available to replace wind power when the wind dies down or stops all together.(Called spinning reserve) Even the BPA (for now “off the record”) has determined that all the wind power in Washington and Oregon hasn’t cut CO2 emissions at all and has, in fact, actually increased them, even in a depressed economy. In short, the more wind generation, the more spinning reserve needed, the more coal or natural gas burned. It would take 7 to 8 of the world’s largest wind factories (“on paper only” because of spinning reserve and other variables) to “negate” or cancel out the CO2 emissions from Colstrip.
    But it doesn’t work that way (except on paper) because you ALWAYS have to have (in the case of Colstrip and Montana wind) 2,000 Megawatts of coal generation instantly available to back up 2,000 megawatts of wind power. You just can’t shut down or cut back on coal generation, even when the wind is producing at near 100% efficiency because it could drop to 0 % efficiency in a matter of minutes . It must be instantly replaced by the coal fired back up.

    No matter how much wind power Montana ultimately develops, it will always require a near equal or equal amount of fossil fuel generation backup. That will be mostly coal for obvious reasons.

    In short, if no other coal fired generation plants are built in Montana, Colstrip will be putting no less than just as much CO2 into the atmosphere 10 years from now as it is today, and, very likely, much more.

    MEIC is wrong on this one. Not easy for me to say as a long time legislative friend and supporter.

    John Vincent, Montana Public Service Commissioner

  5. very well, clearly and succinctly said john. i also am amazed that MEIC would sign on to this particular bill. something’s amiss.

  6. John Vincent

    Max, again. Not a single coal fired plant has been shut down in the United States because the power it produced was replaced by wind. Most have been shut down simply because they were old and inefficient. Most of power they produced hasn’t even been replaced, which says something about the amount of electricity we waste because we don’t need it (at least at the time it’s generated) and it just gets “dumped;” generated, paid for by ratepayers but simply “thrown out” without producing any positive economic benefit.

    “Big Coal” has won in Congress. At least 30 coal fired generation plants are at some stage of construction, planning or permitting in the United States today. It is true that a relatively significant number of proposed coal plants have been canceled, but not one of them has been canceled because of wind power being added to the grid. In fact, many of the “at least 30” coal fired plants mentioned above weren’t built in 2009 or 10 because banks and the markets weren’t going to lend a cent to corporations planning coal fired plants, not with Climate Change/Cap and Trade legislation pending in the Congress. That threat to coal is given up for gone.

    To take this issue one step beyond, why should we be generating any new power at all when 1. As a country we already waste 70% of what we generate, transmit and use, 2. Regardless of the kind of centralized, industrialized generation, conservation and efficiency cost at least 8 times less and saves ratepayers money on top of that, and 3. We’re not reducing CO2 emissions. If bringing on 2,000 megawatts of wind generation meant taking 2,000 megawatts off coal generation, (or even something close) that would be one thing.
    But that’s not what’s happening. And it won’t until we get smart and fully utilize energy conservation, efficiency, and on-site commercial, residential and community distributed energy resources (most likely thin film solar). I won’t live to see it, but one day we’ll see Greensburg, Kansas as our energy future. Blown off the map by a class whatever tornado, the citizens of Greensburg rebuilt their town. “Tornado proof” homes, Smart, energy efficient homes, on-site solar, wind and geothermal. Pretty much off the grid.
    Until then, if you build or buy a house, build or buy on facing South, put in double panes and save 33% on lifetime energy costs. Then wait a year or two until thin film solar prices drop another 40 to 50% and install thin film solar to heat your water, save (on average) another 40%.

    Here Comes The Sun!

    John Vincent, Montana Public Service Commissioner

    PS Those of you in Mizzou can be especially proud of my good friend Senator Dave Wanzenried. Voting a big “NO” on HB 198. Damn special, especially with the governor applying the heat. Great job, Dave!

  7. Don Kronenberger

    To read Dennison’s headlines today, one would think that only landowners opposed eminent domain for billion dollar merchant/export transmission. Not so. Here are some suggested replacement headlines:

    “Grassroots challenges special interest power grab by NWE, Jensen, Two Others”

    “Taxpayers recover over $100 million of wasted ‘stimulus'”

    Temporary MATL Jobs Slightly More Temporary than Expected, Ranching Less

  8. mdsu2d201

    Governments often sweeten the deal to attract corporations that provide jobs. This is the first time I’ve seen a government attempt to sweeten the deal so that coroporations can create jobs somewhere else.

  1. 1 Montana Blog Roundup 17 April 2011 | Intelligent Discontent

    […] always, jhwygirl offers in-depth looks at issues that simply don’t get enough attention in the media or on other blogs. Her look at HB […]

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