Sunday, September 30, 2007

TommyWonk Podcasts Up at WDEL

I've had a number of loyal readers ask if podcasts of my segments with Allan Loudell are available as podcasts. The answer is yes; WDEL keeps podcasts of recent interviews up for several weeks.
I spent a few minutes reviewing them and learned that I've been on with Allan as much as anyone over the last three weeks. I must be an easy get.
I also learned that I say "um" more often than I realized. (But then Terry Gross says "um" a lot as well.) Listening back, the monosyllable hangs in my ear as if in bold, capital letters. Which is one reason why I prefer the, um, written word to the spoken.
A review of Allan's recent segments confirms his ability to talk intelligently to anybody about any subject, which is one reason I enjoy the segments I've done with him. Thanks, Allan.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Global Firm Takes Majority Stake in Bluewater Wind

An offshore wind power farm is an expensive thing to build. Bluewater Wind's proposed installation off the shore of southern Delaware is estimated to cost about $1.6 billion.
Up to now, Bluewater Wind has been operating as a start up firm, using its initial capital to try to create opportunities to build wind power projects here, or in Rhode Island or on Long Island. Now that its in serious negotiations to build the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., it needs access to the big bucks. The News Journal reports that global investment firm Babcock & Brown has taken a majority stake in Bluewater Wind. An important consideration in entering into a long term project of this magnitude is the company's financial strength. This deal with Babcock & Brown should provide the financial assurance needed to make such a long term project viable.
Babcock & Brown, which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, reports $52 billion in assets under management in real estate, infrastructure and project finance, operating leasing and structured and corporate finance.
It's a smart way to get the capital Bluewater needs to move forward. If the company had gone public, its investors would have sought a hefty risk premium for this first of its kind project. But the $1.6 billion that Bluewater needs represents just three percent of Babcock & Brown's project investment portfolio. The project risk is tempered by Babcock & Brown's large capitalization and experience in project management. This deal is an important step forward for a project hat once seemed like a long shot at best.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The General Assembly and Wind Power

I have received a copy of an interesting letter on wind power from six legislators to Russell Larson, who serves as Controller General. His office is one of the four agencies tasked with overseeing the energy procurement process along with the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Controls (DNREC). The Office of Controller General serves as the budget and policy staff for the General Assembly and, as such, was intended to represent the consensus of legislators in the implementation of the law that directed the request for proposals (RFP) process under which Delmarva Power has been ordered to negotiate with Bluewater Wind.
The letter points out that Larson is "obligated to return to the GENERAL ASSEMBLY for instructions as to how the GENERAL ASSEMBLY wishes to vote on the matter in question." This language in and of itself is hardly noteworthy. It's the rest of the letter that captured my interest.
Here's the full text:

September 12, 2007

The Honorable Russell Larson
Controller General
Legislative Hall
P.O. Box 1401
Dover, DE 19903

Dear Controller General Larson:

WHEREAS, in the matter of the negotiation for a long-term power purchase agreement, per PSC Order 7199, the four State agencies are to authorize the final decision which must be unanimous among the four agencies; and
WHEREAS, the Controller General is to represent the General Assembly in this matter; and
WHEREAS, these negotiations have been conducted under cloak of a gag order; and
WHEREAS, the General Assembly should be afforded full access to the facts affecting the negotiations before rendering its final decision; and
WHEREAS, new information not available at the time of consideration of HB 6 (EURCSA) and/or at the issuance of the RFP which led to PSC Order 7199 may be relevant to the final decision of the General Assembly; and
WHEREAS, the decision may involve billions of dollars of ratepayer and public monies which may require a substantial rate increase for which the General Assembly may be held accountable;
BE IT RESOLVED that the General Assembly should know the full implications of its vote before, not after, such vote is cast by the Controller General; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that we the undersigned are of the considered opinion that before you cast a final vote binding the GENERAL ASSEMBLY, you are obligated to return to the GENERAL ASSEMBLY for instructions as to how the GENERAL ASSEMBLY wishes to vote on the matter in question.

Harris B. McDowell, III
State Senate, 1st District
Robert L. Venables
State Senate, 21st District
Charles L. Copeland
State Senate, 4th District
Gregory F. Lavelle
State Representative, 11th District
Gerald W. Hocker
State Representative, 38th District
Hazel D. Plant
State Representative, 2nd District
Russell Larson, in a memo dated September 18, replied:
As I have done earlier, it is my intention to meet with the leadership of the General Assembly as well as Senator McDowell and Representative Valihura or, at a minimum, contact each of the aforementioned legislators before I make any decision regarding an agreement for a power purchase agreement.
Should the leadership agree that the entire General Assembly meet before any approvals on proposed Power Purchase Agreements are signed, no decision will be made on my part until the full General Assembly meets in January.
The letter from the six legislators is interesting in several respects:
First, it is dated September 12, two days before the deadline for presenting term sheets to the PSC. There was at that time no immediate decision pending before the PSC and the other state agencies beyond that of setting a timetable for further negotiations. Larson's reply is dated September 18, the Tuesday after the term sheets were submitted.
Second, the letter is couched in the language of a formal resolution, even though it is signed by an ad hoc set of three senators and three representatives.
Third, the letter refers to the negotiations being "conducted under cloak of a gag order" and takes the point of view that "the General Assembly should be afforded full access to the facts affecting the negotiations before rendering its final decision."
The negotiations have been conducted behind closed doors, as is customary with any complex negotiations. However, the term sheets produced by the negotiations were made publicly available almost immediately upon submission to the PSC on September 14, and are available to the public online. Further, the Office of Controller General is almost certainly in a privileged position in terms of having access to information on the progress of the negotiations not available to the public.
Fourth, the letter references "new information not available at the time of consideration of HB 6 (EURCSA) and/or at the issuance of the RFP which led to PSC Order 7199 may be relevant to the final decision of the General Assembly."

I don't know what that information could be; I will do my best to find out.
Fifth, the letter points out that "the decision may involve billions of dollars of ratepayer and public monies which may require a substantial rate increase for which the General Assembly may be held accountable."
This I can understand. The legislators signing the letter don't want to be blamed for any future rate increases.
I won't pretend to understand the larger import of the letter or what it might mean for future legislative action on wind power. I will share what I learn as I am able. Stay tuned.

A General Overview of the Costs and Benefits of Wind Power

I’ve been pondering how to evaluate the costs and benefits of the proposed agreement between Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind. Here are some general thoughts:
At the outset of the 25 year period, the cost of wind power will be higher than the cost of conventional generation, but will remain stable thereafter. (Remember, one of the criteria in the RFP process was price stability.) The cost of conventional power will almost certainly rise well above the cost of wind power over the 25 year period for three reasons.

First, fossil fuel prices will continue to climb. For instance, the wellhead price of natural gas, measured in dollars per thousand cubic feet, increased from $0.44 in 1975 to $3.68 in 2000 — a factor of eight over the 25 year period.
Second, the cost of expected carbon controls will lead to a sharp increase in the price of electricity from fossil fuels, especially coal. An MIT study published earlier this year estimates that carbon sequestration is likely to increase the cost of electricity by 27 percent and reduce effective power generation by 19 percent.
Finally, as Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware point out, including the health costs of conventional power shifts the balance in favor of wind power by about $1 billion.
Again, these are general considerations. I won’t pretend to know enough at this point to offer an economic model. Even so, these general factors point to wind power as offering clear advantages for the people of Delaware.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Drinking Liberally Thursday in Newark

This month's gathering of Drinking Liberally convenes this Thursday, September 27 at 8:00 p.m. at the venerable Deer Park, 108 W. Main Street in Newark.
To keep up to date on the gatherings, which shift between Newark and Wilmington, go to the Drinking Liberally listing of local chapters or go here to subscribe to the email list.
We'll see you there.

Monday, September 24, 2007

TommyWonk to Talk Wind Power on WDEL this Evening

Allan Loudell has invited me back on WDEL (1150 on your AM dial) for an update on the continuing saga of Delmarva Power's reluctance to agree to terms to bring wind power to Delaware. We'll be talking at 5:24 this evening.
It has recently been reported that Delmarva Power has been conducting polling on the issue. As it turns out, Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware have already published polling results indicating that a majority of Delawareans would be willing to pay more for wind power based on environmental and health concerns and a rough sense of the value of long term price stability.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

UD Professors Analyze Costs and Benefits of Wind Power

Delmarva Power has been trying to portray itself as the champion of its customers' interests. The company has balked at agreeing to terms with Bluewater Wind, referring to analysis (not yet released) that cost of wind power would be too great for ratepayers, and by conducting polling (not yet released) that it hopes will show that consumers won't want to bear the cost of wind power.
Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware have been working on these very points. They have produced an estimate of the possible cost of wind power compared to power from fossil fuels:
Based on figures provided by the companies and the state, Firestone and Kempton preliminarily estimate that, at most, the Bluewater bid would cost Delmarva ratepayers on average $5.04 per month more than conventional power over the 25-year contract term.
Would ratepayers be willing to bear that cost?
If one were to spread the $500-550 million premium found in the study over all Delaware households over 25 years, the average monthly household premium would be $4.82 to $5.26 per month, Firestone said. “People (in the survey) were very supportive of wind even when we asked about price premiums much greater than the per-month premium they actually will have to pay,” he said. “Approximately 80 percent of Delaware residents would rather pay at least $30 per month for three years to locate a wind farm off the Delaware coast than to build another coal or natural gas plant.”
Is this rational behavior on the part of ratepayers?
The public's willingness to pay $500 million extra, as found by the survey, is actually sound economic policy, Kempton added.
“By our estimates, health benefits from this much improvement in air quality include approximately eight fewer deaths per year from power-plant pollution-related causes, 3,500 fewer asthma attacks, and 10,000 fewer person-days of restricted activities,” he said. “Over 25 years, the financial value of these health benefits is over $1 billion.”
We will surely hear more from Delmarva Power on these points in the near future, as the company prepares its next move in its strategy to block implementation of the PSC's order to bring wind power to Delaware. I will have more to say on how to make sense of the numbers in the next few days.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Delmarva Power Is Interested in What You Think

Nancy at Delaware Way had the story five days ago, and the News Journal ran the story today: Delmarva Power is conducting polling to help the company shape its PR campaign explaining why it should not have to enter into a contract to bring wind power to Delaware.
If Delmarva Power is so interested what the public thinks, then perhaps it's time the company heard from you. Here's where to send your letters:
Mr. Gary Stockbridge
Delmarva Power
P.O. Box 231
Wilmington, DE 1899-0231
If you want to fax your letter, the number 302 429 3801 connects to the general counsel's office.
In your letter, you might mention that the law gives the Public Service Commission (PSC) the authority to direct Delmarva Power to contract with Bluewater Wind for wind power. Or you might point out that it's the job of the PSC, not Delmarva Power, to represent the public interest. Or you could write that the long term trends in the cost of fossil fuels will almost certainly make them far more expensive than wind over the next 25 years. Or you might mention the environmental and health benefits of clean energy.
Of course, I'm interested in what you have to say as well. Send me a copies of your letters and I will post excerpts.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Pressing the Issue on Delaware's Energy Future

Earlier this week, I wrote that the Public Service Commission (PSC) was considering an order to require Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind to present a power purchase agreement (PPA) by November 30. It didn't occur to me until after I read the text of Order 7287 that this represents an acceleration of the timeline the PSC set in August, which set December 31 as the deadline for a PPA.
As loyal readers learned last week, Delmarva Power adhered to the letter of the law, as it were, by presenting terms sheets as required by the PSC. The only thing missing from the agreement between Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind was Delmarva Power's actual agreement to the agreement.
By moving up the deadline for presenting a PPA, the PSC seems to be forcing Delmarva's hand. Delmarva Power has an appeal filed that challenges the entire basis of the order directing the company to negotiate terms to bring wind power to Delaware. In the meanwhile, the PSC and the other agencies are condensing the timeline to force Delmarva Power to either negotiate a complete PPA by November 30 or proceed with its appeal of the order directing it to negotiate with Bluewater Wind.
I plan to present much more on Delmarva Power's corporate strategy and the public interest in the comong days. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Comprehending the Scale of Mountaintop Removal

Last month, I wrote of proposed federal regulations that would make it even easier for coal companies to destroy the Appalachian landscape using a technique called mountaintop removal.
It is hard to overstate the violence done to the earth by this practice. A recent story in Wired News may help to understand the scale of the damage inflicted on the landscape by mountaintop removal or MTR:
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, MTR destroyed more than 1,200 miles of Appalachia's streams and 7 percent of its forests between 1985 and 2001. Approximately 800 square miles of mountains were leveled. According to the EPA, waste from MTR will bury another 1,000 miles of streams in the next decade.
Isn't there a law against dumping mine waste in waterways?
Activists have fought a losing legal battle against MTR. First they claimed the practice violated Clean Water Act rules against dumping waste in waterways. But in 2002, the Bush administration rewrote or "clarified" the rule, so that MTR debris wouldn't be classified as waste.
In other words, filling in streams with rocks and dirt shouldn't be considered pollution. After all, how can you pollute a stream that has ceased to exist?
The Coal River Mountain Watch is posting updates and alerts about the proposed regulations.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition has much more on this practice. The proposed rules can be found here.
Photo: Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Help for Homeowners in Delaware

Gerry Kelly is Deputy Commissioner for Consumer Affairs in the Office of the State Bank Commissioner, and has been working to create programs to help homeowners caught in the subprime mortgage squeeze. As the News Journal reports, he has teamed up with the Delaware Money School and some other agencies to present workshops on avoiding forclosure:
Housing counselors will be available at each event to schedule counseling sessions and help homeowners in crisis decide what steps to take next, said Debbie J. Andrews, a home ownership program coordinator at N-Call Research, a housing counseling agency in Dover.
"They don't necessarily have to be in default," Andrews said. "The earlier that they can
talk to someone, the more options they would have."
Representatives of the Delaware State Housing Authority will explain more about the Delaware Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program, which offers low-interest loans of up to $15,000 to homeowners who are facing foreclosure due to unforeseen circumstances.

If you or someone you know is falling behind on mortgage payments, these programs can help:
• 8 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The Duncan Center, Fifth Floor, 500 W. Loockerman St., Dover
• 6 to 9 p.m. Church of God, 425 E. Stein Highway, Seaford
• 7:45 a.m. to noon Center on the Riverfront, Wilmington
• 6 to 9 p.m., Local 313 IBEW, 814 W. Basin Road, New Castle

Contact the Delaware Money School online, or by phone (800-267-5002 or 302-792-1200), to sign up for one of the sessions.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Delaware's Energy Future: Who Determines the Public Interest?

When it comes to Delaware’s energy future, who determines the public interest?
When the Public Service Commission (PSC) and other state agencies directed Delmarva Power to open negotiations to bring wind power to Delaware, the company filed an appeal of the decision in court. That suit was put on hold pending the outcome of negotiations.
Friday, Delmarva filed the term sheets as required by the PSC, without actually agreeing to the terms. Just as it did when it filed suit to block the PSC’s decision, Delmarva is citing the interests of its customers as the primary reason for its recalcitrance:
As discussed further below, Delmarva cannot agree on certain key terms because the best offers proposed by the bidders pose unacceptable costs and risks on Delmarva’s electric customers.
In short, it is the position of Delmarva that the PSC and other state agencies made the wrong decision, and that agreeing to the negotiated terms based on that decision is not in the public interest.
Bluewater Wind and Matt Denn have publicly asked that Delmarva provide the methodology it used to reach this conclusion. Certainly, it would be useful to allow a public review of the methods and criteria used by Delmarva Power to claim that its conclusions about the negotiated terms are correct and that the other parties should acquiesce to the company’s views on the wisdom and even the legitimacy of the RFP process as directed under state law.
Delmarva Power is not the only informed party to the process. The PSC, Office of Management & Budget and the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Controls have a legal, legitimate claim to represent the public interest under state law. Delmarva Power, on the other hand, has a legitimate responsibility to represent the interests of Pepco Holdings, Inc. and its shareholders.
Further, Delmarva Power is not the only knowledgeable private sector party to the process. Bluewater Wind, NRG and Delmarva’s sister company Conectiv have all negotiated terms that have been submitted to the PSC. In doing so, they have presumably acted in the interests of their investors. While these companies may offer arguments as to why their proposals would be in the public interest, they have not sued the state to prevent the process from going forward. Delmarva’s suit hinges on one crucial argument: that it understands the public interest better than any other party to the process.
When the PSC meets tomorrow, it will take up a proposed order to set November 30 as the deadline for filing a formal Purchase Power Agreement based on the term sheets delivered on Friday. From what I have learned, the PSC, which exists to protect the public interest, intends to move ahead with the timetable.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Delmarva Power's Filing Lands with a Thud

Delmarva Power delivered terms sheets outlining a proposed deal with Bluewater Wind and backup energy proposals with Conectiv and NRG. The Public Service Commission has posted the 95 page document, along with Bluewater's letter and a letter from Matt Denn. Maria Evans at the WGMD blog also posted the document and provided a quick first take on the terms.
Delmarva gets right to the point in its filing:
As discussed further below, Delmarva cannot agree on certain key terms because the best offers proposed by the bidders pose unacceptable costs and risks on Delmarva’s electric customers.
As the News Journal reports, Bluewater Wind takes exception to Delmarva's conclusion:

"We're disappointed that Delmarva has not agreed to more terms that we've negotiated for over three and a half months," said Bluewater Wind spokesman Jim Lanard. Bluewater is committed to resolving the outstanding differences, and is willing to get back into the negotiating room next week, he said.

"Contrary to what Delmarva has said in its filing today, the Bluewater Wind prices in the term sheet will result in great benefits to Delmarva's ratepayers," Lanard said.

Bluewater wants Delmarva to release its methodology for evaluating the costs to consumers, a point of view Matt Denn quickly echoed in a letter to the relevant state agencies:
The state should not blindly rely upon the company that is the chief opponent of the Bluewater Wind project to calculate that project’s cost.
Denn goes on to raise the issue of the health benefits of wind power:
Once a real determination of the cost of the Bluewater Wind project has been calculated, I hope you will consider the project’s health benefits in making your ultimate decision in this matter.
By the way, Denn isn't the only statewide official paying attention to recent developments; I have heard that other officials have been on the phone to the parties involved. I would expect to hear more in the next few days.
I plan to take the weekend to review the 95 page filing. Besides reviewing the economics of the proposed deal, I plan to take a closer look at the threat of litigation, the matter of how Delmarva would evaluate the proposal's impact on ratepayers and Delmarva's stated concern over the impact of an arcane accounting rule call FASB Interpretation No. 46. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 14, 2007

TommyWonk to Talk Wind Power on WDEL this Evening

I've been invited back on WDEL 1150 AM to discuss the latest news on the wind power negotiations with Allan Loudell. I'm coming on at 5:23 this evening.
As I noted below, Delmarva Power is submitting a term sheet to the PSC for an agreement that the company hasn't agreed to. Confused? Tune in and we'll try to clear it all up for you.
UPDATE: Allan and I managed to get to the heart of the story, which is Delmava's including a provision that it could hold up the deal by proceeding with litigation already filed challenging the legal basis of the negotiations. Delmarva is again citing concern for the effect on ratepayers as the reason for balking. Presumably we can trust our public agencies to look after the public interest.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind: Deal or No Deal?

Do we have a deal? That depends on what you mean by the word deal.
Tomorrow is the deadline for the negotiations to bring wind power to Delaware. Bluewater Wind, through its attorney Tom McGonigle, has released a letter referring to a term sheet to be submitted to the Public Service Commission and other agencies overseeing the negotiations:
With this letter, Bluewater is pleased to notify the State Agencies that key commercial terms (the "Term Sheet") have been finalized for a proposed 450 MW wind energy facility to be constructed and operated off the coast of Delaware.
(I want to thank Maria Evans, who edits the WGMD blog, for sending me the link to the letter. She has also posted an informative interview with Bluewater's Jim Lanard.)
In his letter McGonigle writes that Delmarva will submit the term sheet to the PSC. But the News Journal reports that Delmarva Power isn't ready to actually agree to the terms outlined in the term sheet:
“These term sheets do not reflect an agreement or a contract,” said Bill Yingling, spokesman for Pepco Holdings Inc., Delmarva’s parent company. “It’s our job to fully evaluate the costs on behalf of our customers.”
As it did when it first balked at the prospect of negotiating an agreement to bring wind power to Delaware, Delmarva is conflating its interests with those of its customers. Delmarva could use its concern for its customers as the rationale for balking at the deal, as McGonigle writes:
Although Bluewater acknowledges and very much appreciates that Delmarva worked diligently during these negotiations, we fear Delmarva may oppose approval of this Term Sheet. To that end, Delmarva may argue that this project is too expensive for its ratepayers, citing its own evaluation to support this claim.
This rationale is part of Delmarva's appeal of the decision to require it to negotiate with Bluewater, an appeal that has been shelved but not withdrawn. Delmarva could have left a trap door in the deal, as McGonigle writes:
Bluewater is concerned with contractual provisions that allow Delmarva termination rights and delay damages resulting from such litigation caused delay.
In other words, Delmarva could scuttle the agreement by litigating the state's order underlying the negotiations, based on its own analysis of the deal. Bluewater is right that if Delmarva holds up the deal based on its own view of the public interest, the public should be allowed to review the analysis used to determine how Delmarva defines and measures what it calls the public interest.
As murky as things stand at this hour, there are more technical details to be digested in McGonigle's letter, and I haven't yet seen the term sheet. Please stay tuned for more on this breaking story.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Christina School District Unveils Plans to Keep City Schools Open

The Christina School District earlier this year had proposed shutting city schools while building an expensive new suburban school. In response to a suit filed by parents, Chancery Court declared that the plan failed to meet the requirements of the Neighborhood Schools Act. As the News Journal reports, the school district has returned with a plan to make better use of its existing city schools.
The district previously argued that it had to close city schools because the growth of charter schools had drawn students away from district schools. Now the district has decided that better serving its city students might actually keep more of them in its classrooms. And in keeping with the Neighborhood Schools Act requirement for public consultation, the district has scheduled a series of public meetings on its plans:
Wednesday, September 19, 7:00 p.m. Bancroft School, 700 N. Lombard Street, Wilmington
Thursday, September 27, 7:00 p.m. Leasure Elementary School, 1015 Church Road, Newark
Saturday, September 29, 1:00 p.m. Newark High School, 750 East Delaware Avenue, Newark
Wednesday, October 3, 7:00 p.m. Gauger-Cobbs Middle School, 50 Gender Road, Newark
Saturday, October 6, 1:00 p.m. Bayard School, 200 S. DuPont Street, Wilmington
The district has presented two proposals: One requires a referendum; the second will be implemented if the referendum fails.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Delaware's Diminishing Demand for Political Order

I had an interesting conversation on the governor's race with Allan Loudell on WDEL this evening, which gave me reason to ponder the varying reactions to the primary (only 52 weeks to go) between John Carney and Jack Markell.
It seems to me that the prospect of a primary offends some Delawareans' sense of order. Apart from 2000, when voters gently moved an elderly Bill Roth aside in favor of Tom Carper, Delaware hasn't seen a significant upheaval in statewide politics since the 1960s and 1970s. (While two other incumbents have been beaten since then, I would argue that these were cases of enforcing the political order rather than overturning it.)
In 1968, Republican Russ Peterson beat Charles Terry, who had kept National Guard troops in Wilmington longer than any governor anywhere in the U.S. In 1972, Joe Biden upset U.S. Senator Caleb Boggs, and Sherman Tribbitt beat Peterson, who had emerged wounded from an acrimonious primary. In 1976 Tribbitt, who proved to be a poor manager of state finances, was beaten by Pete duPont, setting the stage for a generation of orderly succession at the top of Delaware politics.
The only statewide incumbents to lose in the 1980s and 1990s did so by violating Delaware's rules of political decorum: Congressman Tom Evans, who had shacked up with a lobbyist who had posed for Playboy (you couldn't make this up), was defeated by Tom Carper in 1982. And state treasurer Janet Rzewnicki, whose campaign had through a surrogate accused Carper of beating his wife in 1996 (you couldn't make this up), was punished by voters two years later, losing to Jack Markell, whose slogan that year was "The Delaware Way."
An entire generation of Delaware voters have lived through an era of relatively tidy politics, and are comfortable with an orderly line of succession to the top ranks. But an increasing number of voters didn't live through the untidy 1970s, and thus don't understand the tidy impulses of Carper and the party leadership. Those who have grown up since, or have moved to Delaware in recent years (a sizable number in Sussex County), don't understand why the party leadership seems so intent on avoiding a primary.
This partially explains what I see as a generational split among voters: Those 50 and older, who came of political age in the 1970s or earlier, are more likely to support Carney. Those 40 and younger, who have known nothing but this neat and tidy era of Delaware politics, are more likely to support Markell. With more young voters coming of age, and more moving to Delaware, we are seeing a diminishing demand for the orderly politics of the last thirty years.

TommyWonk to Talk Politics on WDEL This Evening

I've been invited on WDEL 1150 AM to discuss the governor's race with Allan Loudell. I'm coming on at 5:23 this evening. Listen in if you can.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

John Carney and Jack Markell: One Year to Go

We're now a year away from the primary, and the campaign for Democratic nomination for governor is fully underway. John Carney let us know he's running on Return Day last year. But it was Jack Markell's announcement in June that really set the wheels in motion on both sides.
John Carney had tried to preempt a primary by portraying himself as the natural successor, and by building an impressive list of supporters within the party. Markell has compiled a pretty good list of his own, which includes former Gov. Russ Peterson. Tom Carper tried to fend off Markell by proposing a deal that never got very far. (Call it the done deal that never got done.)
Markell, who never closed his campaign operation after winning his third term as treasurer, brought in Andrew Roos to manage the campaign as soon as he announced. Roos previously worked on Bill Bradley's campaign and ran Indiana governor Joseph Kernan's election campaign in 2000, in between sporadic graduate studies in philosophy.
Carney recently brought David Hamrick on board as a consultant. Hamrick is a specialist in building field organizations; he ran the party's coordinated campaign in 2000, and has focused on the ground game with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the consulting firm Hildebrand Tewes. Carney has also hired a fundraising consultant and pollster, Jefrey Pollock, who conducted a poll back in June, according to the Carney Website:
Pollock conducted the June 7-June 10 poll with a sample of 405 likely Democratic Primary Voters and a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. The results showed Carney with a 10 point lead over primary opponent Jack Markell. Carney’s lead increased to 20 points when voters were read balanced profiles of each candidate.
How reliable is the poll, which was conducted over the four days immediately after Markell announced? We don't know whether Carney's reported ten point margin is the difference between 15 and 25 percent or 35 and 45 percent. We don't know what the poll found in terms of name recognition. (A Fairleigh Dickinson poll conducted in February found that Carney led Markell in name recognition by 62 to 46 percent.) And we don't know the language used in the poll for the "balanced profiles" of the two. This sort of polling is used by candidates to help them sharpen their message and differentiate themselves from their rivals. It's not a reliable technique for gauging genuine public support this early in a campaign. As far as I know, the Markell campaign has not conducted any polling.
Earlier in the year, I described the two campaigns as a contrast between the inside game and outside game. Carney is trying to make the most of his position within the party and state government; his resume touches all the bases of the Democratic Party establishment in Delaware. Markell wants to capitalize on his individual vote getting prowess; he led the pack last year with 70.5 percent in his election to a third term as treasurer.
A year is a long time in politics, and Delaware isn't used to campaigns that get started this early. I'd be reluctant to offer a prediction or even suggest a narrative for the coming year.
But I do think that one key question will be the extent to which Carney runs as an incumbent. As Lt. Gov., he presides over the Senate, and will effectively function as a member of the current administration, at least through to June 30 when the current General Assembly wraps up its business.
Jack Markell opened his campaign with a mild but unmistakable message: "We can do better." Beyond that, he has avoided any direct criticism of the current administration, instead asking policy oriented questions about issues like management of the Delaware Psychiatric Center and the deal with NRG. Carney has on two occasions allowed himself a small bit of daylight between himself and Gov. Minner on wind power and education. But his comments two weeks ago that cited Minner as a role model has evoked winces across the state:
I’ve learned a few things about what it takes to be Governor watching Tom and Ruth Ann, and one of the most important things is the value of leadership.
As I have said before, I think both are qualified to serve as governor. I for one am not bothered by the prospect of a primary; as Delaware turns bluer the action shifts to within the party when a vacancy opens up at the top. As a citizen and party member, I appreciate the chance to vote. As a blogger and old political hand, I appreciate the chance to observe a fascinating race.
The polls close at eight o'clock a year from tonight. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Northern Liberties Music Festival Saturday

Philly's hippest neighborhood is putting on the Northern Liberties Music Festival 7.2 in Liberty Lands, a unique community owned park at Third Street between Poplar and Wildey Streets. The music starts at 4:00 with what looks like a great lineup, and runs until 9:30.
The festival is put on by the NLNA, an organization I once had the privilege of managing. Besides owning and maintaining Liberty Lands, the NLNA is on the front lines of the effort to reverse the ill-considered decision to place a casino on the waterfront between Northern Liberties and Fishtown. So if enjoying outdoor music on a late summer day isn't reason enough to head out there, you'll be supporting an organization that is fighting to improve and preserve one of Philadelphia's great neighborhoods.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Jack Markell Asks Three Questions About DNREC and NRG

In contrast to those who imagine that their political leaders should have all the answers, I'm happy when one asks the right questions. Jack Markell asked three such questions in his blog today, in relation to the recent agreement between the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Envrionmental Controls (DNREC) and NRG.
Two weeks ago, Patricia Gearity and John Austin of Citizens for Clean Power wrote an oped criticizing the agreement. They estimated the health costs of the deal to be $174.4 million, and pointed out that the delay in compliance was due not to technical considerations, but to the question of how long NRG would continue to operate two antiquated units:
However, it appears the rest of the settlement was driven not by NRG's technical inability to meet Regulation 1146 requirements, but by corporate financial considerations. NRG made no secret of its refusal to comply with Regulation 1146 for Units 1 and 2 (now 50 years old with no pollution controls and no capital expenses). Compliance would require retrofitting the old units at great expense, or shutting them down. Since Units 1 and 2 provide NRG with massive profits, it makes business sense to keep them operating as long as possible.
Markell mentioned their oped in his blog post, and asked three pertinent questions:
First, let’s assume for a moment that NRG does, in fact, meet the timeline prescribed in the new settlement. What is the dollar value of the fines they avoided by not having to meet the original regulations?
Second, if NRG does not fully meet the timeline agreed upon in the settlement, what level of fines will be assessed?
Third, again assuming NRG does not meet the new timeline, will fees be retroactive to the original regulations? Similarly, will any additional punitive actions be taken?
I have to admit that the first question had not crossed my mind. Considering that extending the deadline for complying with Regulation 1146 will allow NRG to garner further profits from a (demonstrably dirty) cash cow, it seems that including a negotiated fine as part of the agreement would be appropriate in terms of providing our state government some funds to defray the public health costs created by the continued operation of the number one source of air pollution in Delaware.
Markell goes on to point out that the terms of the agreement with NRG set the stage for similar talks with Conectiv Energy, which has also challenged Regulation 1146 in court.
The answers to these questions are especially important because this issue doesn’t end with NRG. Conectiv is also aggressively pursuing a similar appeal. According to papers filed with DNREC, Conectiv acknowledges it has the ability to meet the emission standards but chooses to appeal the regulations instead.
I've been around long enough to know that no one political leader will have all the right answers. But I am encouraged when I hear a guy like Jack Markell ask the right questions. As I have often said, how one thinks is at least as important as what one thinks.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Defining Debacle Downwards

Now that the General Accounting Office has reported that only three of 18 benchmarks for progress in Iraq have been achieved, our feckless leader is casting about for ways to make this slow motion trainwreck look like a scheduled stop. Which brings us to the headline in the New York Times that reads, "Bush Shifts Terms for Measuring Progress in Iraq."
WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 — With the Democratic-led Congress poised to measure progress in Iraq by focusing on the central government’s failure to perform, President Bush is proposing a new gauge, by focusing on new American alliances with the tribes and local groups that Washington once feared would tear the country apart.
It's not so much moving the goalposts as shrinking them, to roughly the size of the 18 inch Stonehenge stage set from This Is Spinal Tap.
White House officials say that ever since his January speech, Mr. Bush has been pursuing a dual strategy, pressing for “top down” change from Baghdad as well as “bottom up” change from the provinces.
Maybe there are some local Rotary Clubs that could take a hand in rebuilding the country. Instead of adopt-a-highway, they could start an adopt-a-power-line program, in which local organizations sponsor an hour of electrical service in Baghdad for instance.
Imagine a big city mayor trying to divert attention from a growing murder rate in his city by meeting with a new block watch in one neighborhood or having a picnic with a group of former gangbangers in another. While these may be nice gestures and useful in some small way, the more urgent priority of any mayor in those circumstances is to bring down the homicide rate.
This is what has become of our foreign policy in the 21st century. There was a time when supporters of invading Iraq grandly spoke of a domino effect in which the liberation of Iraq would set in motion a wave of western style democracies springing up throughout the region. Now they get excited when they can identify militia bosses, half ward healers and half gang leaders, who are willing to take our money and pose for pictures with U.S. troops. Our president is defining success down so low you could hardly trip over it.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Jack Goldsmith and the Rule of Law

I have not yet had time to absorb the full meaning of the profile of Jack L. Goldsmith by Jeffrey Rosen to be published in this coming Sunday's New York Times Magazine, which may be why it was posted so far in advance of its publication date.
Jack Goldsmith was a conservative legal scholar who had taken an extreme view of the breadth of the executive branch's ability to set aside international law in detaining terrorists and what came to be called enemy combatants. After being hired to run the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, even his expansive views on executive powers were pushed beyond the breaking point by the Bush administration's continual striving to place itself outside the rule of law, as in the now infamous late night visit to the sick bed of then attorney general John Ashcroft:
Goldsmith also witnessed perhaps the most well-known confrontation over the administration’s aggressive tactics: the scene at Ashcroft’s hospital bed on March 10, 2004, when Gonzales and Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff, visited the hospital to demand that the ailing Ashcroft approve, over Goldsmith and Comey’s objections, a secret program that was about to expire. (Goldsmith refuses to identify the program, but Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, has publicly indicated it was the terrorist surveillance program.) As he recalled it to me, Goldsmith received a call in the evening from his deputy, Philbin, telling him to go to the George Washington University Hospital immediately, since Gonzales and Card were on the way there. Goldsmith raced to the hospital, double-parked outside and walked into a dark room. Ashcroft lay with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires coming out of his body.
Suddenly, Gonzales and Card came in the room and announced that they were there in connection with the classified program. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.”
After a bit of silence, Goldsmith told me, Gonzales thanked Ashcroft, and he and Card walked out of the room. “At that moment,” Goldsmith recalled, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.”

As Glenn Greenwald points out, Goldsmith and Ashcroft can hardly be considered to be shirkers in the conservative legal crusade that set up camp in the halls of power after Bush took office:
Goldsmith is commendable only by comparison to the truly extremist and reprehensible likes of Cheney, Addington, Gonzales and Yoo. He is, by and large, a True Believer in the Bush "War on Terror" and in theories designed to expand substantially executive power. That is what makes his revelations all the more credible, and all the more disturbing.
Apparently, only the truest of true believers could stomach the legal power grab perpetrated over the last six years. Al Gore, speaking generally about the Bush administration, expresses the cognitive difficulty of comprehending the excesses of the current regime:
I have a lot of friends who share the following problem with me: Our sense of outrage is so saturated that when a new outrage occurs, we have to download some existing outrage into an external hard drive in order to make room for a new outrage.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Let There Be Light

Some stained glass windows are pictorial; they portray the saints or scenes from Bible stories. Others, notably the great rose windows, are abstract; they simply delight us with the beauty of light itself. The painter Gerhard Richter created this pixelated stained glass window for the Cologne cathedral. The pattern is modern, but the tradition of presenting light for light's sake is as old as stained glass itself. Click on the image to see a much larger version.
Photo: CAPL via BoingBoing