Thursday, January 31, 2008

Barack Obama Coming to Wilmington Sunday

If you liked Michelle Obama, who rocked the Grand Opera House earlier today, you'll love the senator himself.
Barack Obama is coming to Rodney Square in Wilmington on Sunday, February 3, 2008. The program starts at 1:15 PM, but if history is any guide, you'll want to be there when the public will be allowed in at 11:30 AM. Obama has been drawing crowds of 10,000 or more for a year.
The are 22 states, including California, New York and Illinois participating in Tuesday's presidential primary on the Democratic side. But Senator Obama is coming to our town for what is being billed as a “Stand for Change” rally.
The campaign "strongly encourages" that those interested RSVP either online or by calling 302-573-2540.

TommyWonk on WDEL this Evening

Allan Loudell has invited me back on WDEL, 1150 AM at 5:35 to discuss the week's news politics and wind power. It has certainly been a busy week. Topic A, of course, is wind power and the economic development value of the Bluewater Wind project.
The News Journal reports that Bluewater and Lt. Gov. John Carney jointly announced that the company plans to make Delaware the hub of its east coast operations if the agreement is approved.
If you miss me during rush hour, WDEL also posts podcasts of recent interviews for your listening pleasure.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I’m Voting for Barack Obama

I intend to vote for Senator Barack Obama in next Tuesday’s presidential primary.
I have often said that how a person thinks is as important as what a person thinks. The major Democratic candidates have largely said the right things about Iraq, the economy and climate change. But the challenges we face are immense enough so that I want someone who looks ahead, and not back, in making decisions. This isn’t about pretty rhetoric, at which Obama excels. This is about looking forward instead of looking back. I want someone who isn’t using the thinking of the last year or the last decade to decide where we’re going in the next year or the next decade.
My vote is not based on any antipathy towards the Clintons. The Washington media may despise Bill and Hillary Clinton, but I remember the 1990s as good years for the U.S., with growing employment, budget surpluses and no protracted military conflicts. Also, I and many Americans admire their toughness under fire, which is where they have spent the last sixteen years of their lives. Lest we forget, it was early in 1993 that Pat Robertson was saying the Clintons engaged in contract murders and the Wall Street Journal hinted at foul play in the suicide of White House lawyer Vince Foster.
I admire the Clintons as superb tacticians, but I’m looking for vision, not tactical skills. Presidential campaigns are useful in revealing who is or isn’t tough enough for the job; Barack Obama seems to be meeting that test.
Perhaps the best way to put it is to say that I’m ready for the future to start happening. I grew up thinking of the 21st century as a time when either marvelous stuff would happen (space travel, medical miracles, clean energy) or disaster would bring us down (overpopulation, environmental degradation). Either way, I always had the sense that we had big stuff to work on when the year 2001 rolled around. But after eight years, the 21st century is a nightmare from which we have been trying to awaken.
Under George Bush, the country has suffered in comparison to the presidency of Bill Clinton. Instead of peace, we have war. Instead of budget surpluses, we have deficits. Instead of economic growth that benefits all, we have prosperity flowing to the wealthiest. Instead of a uniter, we have a divider: a president who has consistently portrayed his opponents as less than patriotic and somehow uninterested in keeping us safe. For all the belligerent talk from the current regime, we have lost influence abroad and seen our military weakened by a perpetual conflict with no end in sight.
It will take at least two terms of a Democratic president to undo much of the damage of the current regime. In many respects, I would like to have the country return to the peace and prosperity of 1999.
But my fondest hope is that we can belatedly get started on the work of this century. I think people are ready to live in the present and get working on the future.
There are some in the mainstream media who, enthralled with his soaring speeches, complain that his style lacks substance. This says more about our lazy media culture than about the candidate himself. Obama, along with all of the significant candidates,
has put forward substantive policy proposals.
On just one subject, energy and the environment, he has the right ideas, and has the numbers right: He has called for reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050 and restoring U.S. leadership in turning back the accumulation of greenhouse gases that is leading inexorably to catastrophic climate change.
There’s another, less lofty reason why I’m supporting Obama. I like candidates who think my vote matters. Even though Delaware is just one of 22 states voting on Tuesday, Barack Obama has set up shop here with 35 paid and volunteer staffers. Michelle Obama will speak to rallies in Wimington (noon at the Grand Opera House) and Dover (2:30 at Delaware State University) tomorrow. If you want to attend, RSVP at or call Obama for America’s Wilmington office at 302-573-2540.
His campaign has told me that their strategy is to compete in all 22 states with contests to win as many states and delegates on Tuesday, instead of focusing on a small number of big states.
So I’ve cast my lot with Obama, and plan to do what I can that he wins here in Delaware on Tuesday, wins the Democratic nomination, and is elected president in November.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Environmental Impact of Meat

The New York Times on Sunday ran an analysis of how our food economy may have to change in response to environmental and energy pressures:
A sea change in the consumption of a resource that Americans take for granted may be in store — something cheap, plentiful, widely enjoyed and a part of daily life. And it isn’t oil.
It’s meat.
No this isn't another number crunching analysis of the food chain from Michael Pollan. It's by food writer Mark Bittman, who writes the popular "Minimalist" column in the Times. His piece, called "Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler," compares eating beef to driving an inefficient car:
To put the energy-using demand of meat production into easy-to-understand terms, Gidon Eshel, a geophysicist at the Bard Center, and Pamela A. Martin, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Chicago, calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius. Similarly, a study last year by the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Japan estimated that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. Grain, meat and even energy are roped together in a way that could have dire results. More meat means a corresponding increase in demand for feed, especially corn and soy, which some experts say will contribute to higher prices.
This graphic describes some of the environmental impact of livestock:
We may be used to such analysis from earnest policy wonks, but reading it from a popular food writer is another matter. These guys are supposed to make food fun, not spoil our appetite:
Because the stomachs of cattle are meant to digest grass, not grain, cattle raised industrially thrive only in the sense that they gain weight quickly. This diet made it possible to remove cattle from their natural environment and encourage the efficiency of mass confinement and slaughter. But it causes enough health problems that administration of antibiotics is routine, so much so that it can result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten the usefulness of medicines that treat people.
Those grain-fed animals, in turn, are contributing to health problems among the world’s wealthier citizens — heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes. The argument that meat provides useful protein makes sense, if the quantities are small. But the “you gotta eat meat” claim collapses at American levels. Even if the amount of meat we eat weren’t harmful, it’s way more than enough.
So the way we raise livestock is wasteful, harmful to the environment and makes us sick. Now what?
What can be done? There’s no simple answer. Better waste management, for one. Eliminating subsidies would also help; the United Nations estimates that they account for 31 percent of global farm income. Improved farming practices would help, too. Mark W. Rosegrant, director of environment and production technology at the nonprofit International Food Policy Research Institute, says, “There should be investment in livestock breeding and management, to reduce the footprint needed to produce any given level of meat.”
The good news is that we can reduce the environmental impact of our food without resorting to a diet of alfalfa sprouts and mashed yeast. If you're hungry, and want to cook some good meals that don't require an intimidating list of ingredients and melting what's left of the polar icecaps, Bittman has a website, which features his books, including the best seller How to Cook Everything.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The State of the Union: Then and Now

What was the state of our union ten years ago? Here's something Bill Clinton said in 1998 that George Bush has never said, and won't be able to say tonight:
I will submit to Congress for 1999 the first balanced budget in 30 years.
George Bush won't be able to say this either:
And if we hold fast to fiscal discipline, we may balance the budget this year, 4 years ahead of schedule.
That would put Bush six years behind schedule, except that he started with a budget surplus.
But back to Clinton:
Here is the really good news. If we maintain our resolve, we will produce balanced budgets as far as the eye can see.
These were of course replaced with deficits as deep as we could dig. But what about tax cuts?
We must not go back to unwise spending or untargeted tax cuts that risk reopening the deficit. Last year, together, we enacted targeted tax cuts so that the typical middle class family will now have the lowest tax rates in 20 years.
And how did Bill Clinton propose we use this good fortune?
What should we do with this projected surplus? I have a simple, four-word answer: Save Social Security first. Tonight I propose that we reserve 100 percent of the surplus, that is every penny of any surplus, until we have taken all the necessary measures to strengthen the Social Security system for the 21st century. Let us say, let us say to all Americans watching tonight, whether you are 70 or 50 or whether you just started paying into the system, Social Security will be there when you need it.
This is in sharp contrast with the record of our current president, who ran through the record surplus in record time, and then proposed carving out Social Security taxes to replaced guaranteed benefits with investments in the stock market.
We can't go back to the 1990s. I'm for looking forward, not back. But it is useful to remember a time when fiscal prudence meant something, before Dick Cheney said deficits don't matter.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

The State Senate to Hold Hearings on Doing Something Else

After more than a year of hearings, studies, analysis, negotiations and public comments, Harris McDowell wants to hold hearings on doing anything but actually approving the Bluewater Wind agreement. The News Journal has the story:
McDowell, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Transit Committee, said in the statement the purpose of the hearings is to get answers to the questions of "what the state can do to ensure Delaware consumers are getting the best deal possible for green energy."

McDowell plans no fewer than five hearings, one of which will be open to the public at large:

Hearing topics include "Process & Procedures," looking at the process that led to the Bluewater contract; "Technology, Resources and Alternatives," examining the proposed wind farm itself and Delmarva's proposed alternatives; "Cost & Risk Analysis" and "Emerging Technology."
McDowell said the purpose of the meetings were "informational."
"These hearings are going to be fair, above board and impartial," McDowell said. "We'll be calling on all parties interested in green energy, including Bluewater Wind, to discuss their ideas."
That's fair and above board of him to invite the company that has actually negotiated the deal to bring wind power to Delaware.
If you're wondering about the purpose served by the hearings, consider the reactions of environmentalists on one hand and Delmarva Power on the other:
Pat Gearity, spokeswoman for Citizens for Clean Power, said the hearings could be the beginning of an endless round of delays for the Bluewater project.
"We think it's very unfortunate that Senator McDowell has chosen to reopen the debate on this matter after the record was closed in December. The evidence is already in, in the form of thousands of pages of analytical documents, professional commentary and public comment," Gearity said in reference to state consultant reports that supported the Bluewater project.
Bill Yingling, spokesman for Delmarva Power, said: "We look forward to the hearings. This is about getting the best prices for our customers."
As my loyal readers will note, the calculation that wind power will cost an extra $6.46 a month depends on the assumption that natural gas prices will go down over the next four years. As for Mr. Yingling's concern for ratepayers, I have pointed out that it is the State of Delaware, not Delmarva Power, that represents my interests.
The Public Service Commission staff report summarizes the findings of the yearlong process and recommends approval of the agreement with Bluewater Wind. Any legislative hearing that doesn't open by placing that report on the record as its first order of business should be viewed as a stalling tactic or worse.
The attitude of Harris McDowell and Delmarva Power seems to be: We're for renewable energy, just not here and now.
Not here means not in Delaware. Not now means let's scrap the agreement produced by the negotiations and start the whole process over without the requirement that Delmarva actually make a long term commitment to buy renewable energy.
The hearings are scheduled for Feb. 7, 13, 26, 27, and March 5. Stay tuned.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Delmarva Power's Economic Interests

Delmarva Power has devoted an entire section of its website to opposing the Bluewater Wind agreement. The company's president, Gary Stockbridge, says he's balking at the agreement with Bluewater Wind because it will cost us too much:
We recognize the hardship that rising energy prices have had on our customers. That is why it is important to protect the environment while also protecting the consumer.
I simply don't believe him on this for two reasons:
First, the wind power project will cost us extra if fossil fuel prices go down significantly over the next four years — an assumption so far fetched as to border on delusional.
Second, Gary Stockbridge doesn't represent my interests. He reports to the management of Pepco Holdings, which reports to a board of directors, which is accountable to its shareholders. Pepco Holdings exists to earn a profit for its shareholders, to the extent allowed by the law.
By way of contrast, Arnetta McRae, who chairs the Public Service Commission (PSC), does represent my interests. She is appointed by the governor, who is elected by popular vote. The PSC exists to regulate utilities, to the extent allowed by the law.
There are various theories as to why Delmarva Power is fighting the wind farm so vigorously: The company is protecting the interests of its sister company, Conectiv, which operates power generating plants. The company doesn't want to tie up its buying power with a long term power purchase agreement. The company's management sincerely believes in the magical restorative powers of the free market.
I don't need to know which is true. (I do know that Delmarva is spending millions to kill offshore wind, and sending me the bill.) In the end, all I need to know is that Delmarva Power doesn't work for me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Economics of Wind Power, Part 2

Yesterday, I revealed that the estimate that offshore wind power would cost customers an extra $6.46 a month is based on the assumption that natural gas prices will go down over the next four years.
In other words, those who are opposing the wind power agreement are betting that energy prices will go down, making wind power too expensive.
The question is not simply one of setting a price; it is whether we can trust the free market to move in our favor over the long term. As with most significant buying decisions, risk must be weighed along with price.
Senate minority leader Charles Copeland summed up the argument for letting the market work without government intervention:
“We ought to let private investors compete against one another to get us the best price point and price stability. I think the marketplace would do that better than some regulatory regime,” Copeland said.
Putting aside the point that the wind power agreement is the product of a competitive process, and that all proposals were financed by private investors, Copeland is conflating two very different questions: The best price is time specific. Price stability is a measure of prices over time.
It may be the case that energy prices will fall below the price negotiated with Bluewater Wind, and electricity from a natural gas plant may be cheaper at a certain point. But will energy from fossil fuels be cheaper than wind power over 25 years?
The economic evidence points to energy prices continuing to rise in the near future and in the long term. The projections that natural gas prices will drop come from an agency (the Energy Information Agency) that in 1997 predicted that natural gas prices would remain flat or rise slightly over the next ten years. Instead, natural gas prices tripled. Futures contracts for delivery of natural gas next January are running 13 percent higher than current prices. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its most recent World Energy Outlook, projects that overall energy demand, including natural gas, will increase by 55 percent by the year 2030.
As I said yesterday, the optimistic belief that energy markets will drive prices down betrays a misplaced faith in the benevolence of energy markets. H.B. 6, which created this process, was passed in the wake of the 59 percent rate shock brought on by deregulation. Those who characterize offshore wind as risky forget that ratepayers already shoulder the considerable risk associated with rising fossil fuel prices.
The News Journal reports that Delmarva Power is seeking proposals for alternative energy based on the increased renewable energy standard passed by the General Assembly. Senator Harris McDowell is expected to schedule hearings on finding other sources of alternative energy.
But the economic question is not whether Delmarva Power buys more renewable energy; the company is already required to do so. The fundamental economic question in this decision is whether any short term purchase of energy can provide the price stability as specified under H.B. 6.
The answer is no. No short term purchase or other market mechanism can provide the price stability offered by the long term agreement with Bluewater Wind now on the table.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Economics of Wind Power, Part 1

Let's get right down to it. The decision about wind power in Delaware is about cost.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) staff report projects that the wind farm would cost the average customer an extra $6.46 a month. That's $6.46 compared to what? How is that figure calculated?
I have been reviewing these assumptions and found the methodology behind them to be astonishingly optimistic when it comes to future energy prices. The argument that Bluewater Wind’s offshore wind farm would cost ratepayers is based on the startling and unrealistic assumption that natural gas prices will go down over the next four years and will remain below current prices for years to come.
The scenarios used by the PSC staff and the independent consultant are based on energy price projections published by the Energy Information Agency (EIA), which, as a federal agency, provides a convenient benchmark — convenient, perhaps, but unlikely to be accurate.
The PSC staff report dated October 29, 2007 gives us the $6.46 figure, which is based on assumptions described in this chart in Appendix C, found on the next to last page of the report:

The chart offers three scenarios: ICF Ref, ICF+30% and AEO 2007. Think of them as low, middle and high. Each scenario, even the most pessimistic one, shows natural gas prices dropping starting next year.
If you ask an average ratepayer whether energy prices are likely to go down over the next year, the next four years or any length of time, the answer would almost assuredly be no. But gut instinct is not the only basis we have for questioning the assumptions that energy prices will go down and stay down for the long term.
First, the EIA has missed the mark in previous projections. In 1997, the agency predicted that natural gas prices would remain flat or rise slightly over the next ten years. Instead, natural gas prices tripled.
Second, those who trade energy for a living don't believe the EIA projections that show prices going down. The New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) trades futures contracts in natural gas. The price of delivery for 10,000 million British thermal units in January, 2009 is running more than a dollar higher than current prices — a 13 percent increase.

Third, long term demand is going up. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its most recent World Energy Outlook, projects that overall energy demand, including natural gas, will increase by 55 percent by the year 2030. Increasing demand and limited supply can only lead to higher prices.
The unlikely belief that energy markets will drive prices down isn't just a matter of picking an overly optimistic number. It betrays a misplaced faith in the benevolence of energy markets. I will trace the history of this misplaced trust in the market in my next post.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Arc of the Moral Universe

Perhaps my favorite speech by the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was delivered at the end of the march from Selma to Montgomery on March 25, 1965. The speech (the full text is available here) was delivered on the steps of the Alabama state capitol building:
I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because "truth crushed to earth will rise again."
How long? Not long, because "no lie can live forever."
How long? Not long, because "you shall reap what you sow."
How long? Not long:
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.
Stanford has a collection of King's most notable speeches. The definitive collection of King's speeches and writings is A Testament of Hope, published by HarperCollins. has new and used copies for sale. If you want to know what he thought, read what he had to say.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Understanding the Economics of Wind Power

With the General Assembly back in session, the factoids about offshore wind are flying around with renewed vigor and velocity. I've been talking with some people about how to counter the misinformation that keeps popping up like rodents in a whack-a-mole game.
But the best way to counter the nonsense is to review the fundamentals of why a long term contract for offshore wind power makes sense for Delaware. I plan to review the economic costs, risks and benefits over the next few days.
But here's an interesting point that has been buried in the reports and analyses that have piled up on my desk over the last year: The projection that the wind farm would cost $6.46 a month is based on the assumption that natural gas prices will go down, significantly, over the next four years, and stay below current prices for much longer.

That's right; the cost of wind power is based on the market working its magic and driving natural gas prices lower. Of course, some may recall that market forces didn't quite work out for us back when electric deregulation led to the now infamous 59 percent rate hike.
H.B. 6 was passed in response to that unpleasant experience. Now those who want to derail the wind power proposal are, in effect, asking that we once again trust in the market.

Friday, January 18, 2008

TommyWonk Going on WDEL with Allan Loudell

Allan Loudell has invited me back on WDEL, 1150 AM, to discuss the week's news politics and wind power. It has certainly been a busy week.
If you miss me during the 4 o'clock hour, WDEL also posts podcasts of recent interviews for your listening pleasure.

21 Representatives and 7 Senators

This resolution has been circulating in Leg Hall since last week:
Rep. Valihura & Rep. Kowalko & Sen. Sorenson & Sen. Sokola;
Reps. Schwartzkopf, Johnson, Carey, Carson, Ewing, Hastings, Maier, Manolakos, Mitchell, Mulrooney, Oberle, B. Short, Booth, Walls, Plant, Blakey, Spence, Lofink, Williams; Sens. Bunting, Ennis, Bonini, Cloutier, Simpson




WHEREAS, House Bill 6 of the 143rd General Assembly (the Electric Utility Retail Customer Supply Act of 2006), signed into law by the Governor on April 6, 2006, establishes a process for procuring a new energy source based in Delaware; and

WHEREAS, House Bill 6 set forth the criteria for selecting a new energy generating source, including the cost-effectiveness of the project in producing energy price stability, reduced environmental impact, the benefits of adopting new and emerging technology, siting feasibility and the terms and conditions concerning the sale of energy output from such facilities; and

WHEREAS, the Public Service Commission, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Energy Office and the Controller General were given authority under House Bill 6 to select a bidder; and

WHEREAS, the Request for Proposal issued under House Bill 6 established a competitive process in which three proposals for power were submitted, an IGCC coal power facility, a new natural gas facility and an offshore wind power facility, all of which were reviewed and evaluated; and

WHEREAS, on May 22, 2007, the Public Service Commission, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Energy Office and the Controller General directed that Delmarva Power enter into negotiations with Bluewater Wind to build an offshore wind power facility in Delaware, and to submit a term sheet outlining the major provisions of an agreement; and

WHEREAS, on November 20, 2007, the Public Service Commission, Office of Management and Budget, the Energy Office and the Office of the Controller General held a hearing on the Bluewater Wind term sheet and directed Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind to submit a Power Purchase Agreement for consideration on December 18, 2007; and
WHEREAS, the negotiations that were held between November 20, 2007, and December 10, 2007, resulted in a more favorable agreement from the perspective of Delmarva residential ratepayers than was embodied in the term sheet; and
WHEREAS, the negotiations have produced a Power Purchase Agreement to build and operate in Delaware the nation's first offshore wind power facility; and

WHEREAS, the Public Service Commission staff report finds that the Power Purchase Agreement meets the criteria established by House Bill 6, including price stability, reduced environmental impact, and the use of new technology; and

WHEREAS, operation of the proposed offshore wind farm would provide jobs for Delawareans and make Delaware a leader in a new industry at a time when manufacturing jobs are disappearing; and

WHEREAS, construction of the proposed offshore wind power facility would make a significant contribution to a reduction in greenhouse gas and toxic pollution emissions; and

WHEREAS, citizens of Delaware have offered thousands of comments and letters in favor of the proposed wind power facility; and

WHEREAS, the Public Service Commission, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, the Energy Office and the Controller General did not act on the Power Purchase Agreement because of the lack of a consensus among the four entities; and

WHEREAS, approval of the Power Purchase Agreement would endow Delmarva Power's customers with protection against future price increases and price volatility due to the rising cost of electricity produced from fossil fuels and international political uncertainties.


BE IT RESOLVED by the House of Representatives of the 144th General Assembly of the State of Delaware, the Senate concurring therein, that it is the recommendation of the General Assembly that the Controller General vote to approve the Power Purchase Agreement between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power because, in the opinion of the majority of the General Assembly, the proposed wind power facility meets the criteria established by House Bill 6 of the 143rd General Assembly and is in the best interests of the citizens of this State; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Public Service Commission is hereby requested to determine if it is in the public interest to distribute costs for the Bluewater Wind contract among all Delmarva Power customers consistent with its authority set forth in House Bill 6 of the 143rd General Assembly.

This Concurrent Resolution recommends that the Controller General vote to approve the Power Purchase Agreement between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power because, in the opinion of the majority of the General Assembly, the proposed Power Purchase Agreement meets the criteria set forth in House Bill 6 of the 143rd General Assembly and is in the best interests of the citizens of this State. This Concurrent Resolution further requests that the Public Service Commission determine if the costs for the Bluewater Wind contract should be distributed among all Delmarva Power customers.
The News Journal has the story:
Twenty-eight lawmakers have co-sponsored a resolution that recommends passage of an offshore wind power contract. It was filed Thursday by Rep. Robert Valihura, R-Talleyville; half of the Republican-controlled House, including Speaker Terry Spence, had signed on as co-sponsors. The resolution says Controller General Russ Larson should approve a 25-year contract for Delmarva Power to buy offshore wind power from Bluewater Wind. At a meeting with three other state agencies last month, Larson declined to sign the contract because of division among Legislative leadership.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wilmington City Council Supports Wind Power

Wilmington City Council has weighed in on the wind power issue. Councilman Cam Hay sponsored the resolution that, after a string of "Whereas" clauses, concludes:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Council of the City of Wilmington that City Council respectfully requests that the Delaware General Assembly take note of the findings of the Public Service Commission staff that the Power Purchase Agreement between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power meets the criteria set forth in H.B. 6; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that City Council respectfully requests that the Delaware General Assembly direct that the Controller General vote to approve the Power Purchase Agreement between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that City Council respectfully requests that the Wilmington Delegation to the Delaware General Assembly support efforts to approve the Power Purchase Agreement between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power.
The vote was nine yeas and two present.

Delmarva Power Sends Us the Bill

The News Journal reports that Delmarva Power will ask its customers to cover its expenses relating to the year-long effort to find a new source of energy here in Delaware:
Delaware's stalled effort to find home-grown sources of electricity will cost Delmarva Power ratepayers about $4.6 million.
Delmarva insists its $3.7 million share was money well-spent. Others contend it was spent in a way to discredit offshore wind power.
Delmarva spent the money on consultants and legal fees to address a legislative mandate to seek new in-state power sources, Delmarva spokesman Bill Yingling said. He offered no breakdown, and noted that the total is a preliminary estimate.
Delmarva Power has fought this every step of the way, and ratepayers are being billed for the company's intransigence.
As for Bluewater Wind, investors are picking up the tab for developing a new source of clean energy. This is your free market economy at work.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Will the General Assembly Act on Wind Power?

There seems to be a growing number of legislators interested in seeing to it that the wind power agreement is adopted. I will have more to report when I have something more definitive. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Little Lasting Environmental Impact from the Cape Wind Proposal

Concerns have been raised about the uncertain regulatory envrionment for offshore wind projects. Since the federal government has never reviewed an offshore wind proposal, how long would it take to formulate guidelines, let alone actually offer findings?
Not so long, as it turns out. The Boston Globe
has the story:

The nation's first proposed offshore wind-energy project cleared its most formidable hurdle yesterday as the US Minerals Management Service declared that the wind farm off Cape Cod would have little lasting impact on wildlife, navigation, and tourism.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement finds that the impacts of the proposal to be mostly "negligible" or "minor," with an occassional "moderate" thrown in. In no particular, did the MMS find that the project would have a "major" impact. Volume I of the report runs to 712 pages and covers 120 categories of potential impact during construction and operation of the wind farm. The Cape Wind project is similar in scale to the Bluewater Wind proposal, with 130 turbines instead of 150. As for those who worry about the lifespan of the equipment in the open water, the report points out (on page E-2) that turbines might last longer than comparable land based equipment:

The wind turbine generators have a stated design life span of twenty years. However, this estimate is based on experience generated from land-based machines which are subject to higher levels of turbulence and arguably experience greater wear and tear than can be expected offshore where winds are less turbulent. It is possible that the proposed action could be operational beyond the minimum design life of twenty years.

By the way, Mitt Romney opposed the project while he was still governor of Massachusetts.
The MMS is accepting public comments through March 20 and is expected to issue a final decision on the project by early next year.

Monday, January 14, 2008

After Cherry Island, Where Will We Bury Our Trash?

In response to my latest post on recycling yard waste, Fritz Schranck at Sneaking Suspicions asks a troubling question:
Where should we put the next New Castle County landfill, when the Cherry Island facility finally fills up?
I have written that the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) estimated the cost of a new landfill to be $106 million, a figure I think is likely to go much higher given the rising price of land. But Schrank writes that the needed land may not be available at any price:
First, here’s a link to a Google satellite photograph of the Cherry Island landfill site.
Second, here’s
a link to a Google satellite photograph of the DSWA’s landfill that serves Sussex County, near Millsboro.
Both of these photos are on the same scale, at roughly 1 inch = 2000 feet.
Now click back to the Google map of New Castle County above, and while keeping to the same scale, try and find another location equivalent to either of these two current landfills anywhere above the
Chesapeake and Delaware Canal.
Not easy, is it?
Isn't there any open land still available?
Much of the apparently vacant land above the Canal is already a State Park, such as White Clay Creek SP, Brandywine Creek SP, or Lums Pond SP. Beyond those out-of-consideration parcels, look at all of the other development crowding around what little remaining open space remains above the Canal.
It’s not appreciably easier below the Canal, either, and down there is the additional obstacle of all the wetlands dotted throughout southern New Castle County.

As New Castle County gets paved over, the cost of land to build a landfill, including an adequate buffer zone, will go through the roof. A landfill will have to compete with other land uses, which means the price of land for a landfill could be comparable to the price of land for residential use. And if existing land use has to be displaced to build a landfill, the cost will go even higher. To compare, the cost of displacing 167 homes on 52 acres was $34 million. A new landfill would require at least ten times as much land. Keep in mind that trash disposal is something that our modern civilization needs; it's not something we can do without if the price of land goes too high.
Even if the land and the money could be found, siting and building a landfill takes time, 17 years as Schranck points out in one case.
In this context, the eagerness with which some legislators want to pile more and more trash at Cherry Island seems shortsighted, even foolhardy. Landfill space is not a renewable resource.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Party Reform and the Presidential Nomination

Every four years it seems we hear the argument that the presidential nominating process has gotten more democratic than is good for us. Wilmington attorney and Democratic Party stalwart Chuck Durante offers a convincing response to this nonsense, which was published in the News Journal:
Party reforms served cause of Democrats

The presidential nominating reforms adopted by the Democratic Party after 1968 were critical to the Democratic Party, wresting control from the aging oligarchy that had run the party aground. John Sweeney's Jan. 4 column castigating those reforms misunderstands that era and the need for those changes.
In Sweeney's view, the spittoon-filled rooms did "pretty well" in picking presidential nominees. This overlooks six decades of humdrum nominees, beginning in the 1870's, Republican marionettes from Ohio facing Democratic Bourbons, each subservient to their plutocratic patrons and the party bosses who fed on their table scraps.
The bosses guessed right with Franklin Roosevelt, but FDR ran for a third term because he knew they would otherwise have gotten it wrong in 1940. The party elders were right about John Kennedy, but had nothing to do with the ascent of Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman or Lyndon Johnson, all accidental presidents.
In 1968, Democratic chieftains had lost touch. After readying to renominate Johnson, whose earlier accomplishments were drowned by the unpopular Vietnam War, they nominated his vice president, Hubert Humphrey, who ducked every primary, where the war was repudiated. There remains a viewpoint -- to which I don't subscribe but cannot be ruled out -- that even had Robert Kennedy lived, his nearly unbroken streak of primary victories would not have led to his nomination. Bereft of legitimacy, Humphrey's campaign foundered, notwithstanding his valiant closing rush.
Out of office after 36 nearly uninterrupted years of power, and facing a changing population, the old guard knew it was time to retool, mandating a commission to study the system, chaired by Sen. George McGovern (S.D.) and Rep. Donald Fraser (Minn.). Its proposals now seem elementary: basing convention delegations on Democratic turnout, not raw population; including women in proportion to their numbers, abolishing the "unit rule," by which party barons could steamroller dissent. One-fourth of Humphrey voters were black, but the convention that nominated him was nearly all-white. Primaries were not required, only an open process, such as a state convention (which Delaware Democrats used in the 1970s) or a caucus (used in Delaware from 1980 to 1992).
In short, the McGovern-Fraser Commission made candidates earn their nomination.
In 1972, McGovern himself was nominated because his antiwar campaign, run by Gary Hart, motivated the Democratic electorate far more than the vacillating Edmund Muskie or Humphrey. It was the last time that the left-most Democrat was nominated.
Sweeney romanticizes "the big-city bosses," but the parties needed to change. Madison and Jefferson didn't create the Democratic Party to dispense patronage, paving contracts, judgeships and half-pints. The purpose of a party is to advance ideas and elect candidates. In the 1970s, Delaware's Republican Party pioneered modern techniques in candidate recruitment and grass-roots organizing. Over the last 18 years, Delaware Democrats have followed suit.
Sweeney suggests that the reforms took power away from "working-class Catholics" and unions. But Catholic voters, edging away from Democratic candidates since 1940, continued their evolution to representing the electorate as a whole. Unions remain a key Democratic constituency.
There is much wrong in the current nominating process. The absurdly compressed primary schedule, a recent development. The insipid coverage by a dumbed-down national press obsessed with trivia and tactics. The debased tenor of politics generally, to which the deliberation of the New Hampshire and Iowa voters is a dose of tonic. The arbitrary gamble that remains our vice presidential selection process. Blaming these ills on the McGovern-Fraser Commission is like holding Jelly Roll Morton responsible for soft rock.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Could U.S. Debt Be Downgraded?

The bond rating agency Moody's is thinking the unthinkable. As the New York Times reports, it has publicly questioned its Aaa rating of United States debt:
In a warning shot fired at Washington, one of the nation's leading credit-rating services announced late today that it was considering lowering its rating for $387 billion in Treasury securities because of its growing fear that the budget deadlock of Congress and the White House could lead the Government to run out of money by the end of next month.
Wall Street executives said the announcement, which came late this afternoon as the bond market was closing, was clearly an effort to force the White House and Republican leaders in Congress to resolve their differences over raising the debt limit, the Congressionally set ceiling on Government borrowing.
Late last year, the other major ratings service, Standard and Poor's, warned that Washington's political gridlock could result in placing the United States on a general "credit watch" list.
The warning itself, they said, could force down the price of the specific United States bonds named by the agency, Moody's Investors Service Inc. And it would signal that the United States might soon have to pay more to borrow money.
It has been a while since we heard the upbeat chatter about Bush being our first MBA president. Chief executives are expected to take responsibility for financing their enterprises. But as I observed back in 2005, perhaps Bush slept through class the day the finance professor told students to never talk down your own securities:
The president drew a laugh when, in arguing that big changes are needed, he spoke disparagingly of "the paper i.o.u.'s in a file cabinet in West Virginia" that make up the $1.7 trillion Social Security trust fund. He did not point out those i.o.u.'s are Treasury securities backed by the full faith and credit of the United States, and that the government has never defaulted on its obligations.
It has been ten long years since our president stood in front of Congress and spoke confidently of "surpluses as far as the eye can see." Those with long memories may recall that he spoke of using the surpluses to shore up Social Security. Bonus points if you remember that the U.S. Treasury had to resurrect the long bond in 2005 to finance Bush's deficits. Now it's deficits as deep as we can dig, to the point at which the cost of servicing U.S. debt could go up.
Robert Rubin, who served as treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, understood why deficits matter, and summed up his reasoning in a NYT op-ed in 2005:
Virtually all mainstream economists agree that, over time, sustained deficits crowd out private investment, increase interest rates, and reduce productivity and economic growth. But, far more dangerously, if markets here and abroad begin to fear long-term fiscal disarray and our related trade imbalances, those markets could then demand sharply higher interest rates for providing long-term debt capital and could put abrupt and sharp downward pressure on the dollar. These market effects, plus the adverse impact of continuing fiscal imbalances on business and consumer confidence, could seriously undermine our economy.
Dick Cheney famously said back in 2001 that "deficits don't matter." It seems that Iraq is not the only example of how ideology has blinded these folks to the risks they have incurred on our behalf.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A Bleak "What If" on Wind Power

The letters to the editor on wind power are popping up just about every day. The best recent letter, excerpted below, is from Nancy Feichtl of Millsboro, who neatly summarizes the decision before the General Assembly:
Here is a scenario that we who love Delaware would regret if it came true.
Let us suppose that legislators and Delmarva Power lobbyists delay and weaken the chances of Bluewater Wind working out a deal. Then Bluewater Wind, having invested millions of dollars and researched sites, decides to go ahead with a wind farm. Only next time, it negotiates with New Jersey or Maryland and is successful with one or both states.
A decade from now, we stand a strong chance of having a wind farm off our shores, but with no financial benefit from fixed electricity rates. We'd be held hostage by the Delmarva Power monopoly indefinitely, while taxes, jobs and benefits of a wind farm went to the states that could get their act together.
As for those who kept Delaware from getting its act together:
The thousands of us who embraced the Bluewater project for Delaware will recall each and every naysayer who produced this bleak future.

Yard Waste Bill Tabled

Rep. Greg Lavelle's bill to force the Delaware Solid Waste Authority (DSWA) to accept leaves and grass clippings at the Cherry Island landfill didn't make it out of committee yesterday. This means, as the News Journal reports, that the yard waste ban will take effect later this month:
Both [DNREC secretary] Hughes and Rep. Gregory F. Lavelle, R-Sharpley, who sponsored H.B. 278, said the measure was unlikely to come back up again before Jan. 24 effective date of the ban.
Lavelle said he wanted to block the ban because of complaints from constituents. He also said that the Delaware Solid Waste Authority was unfairly competing with private haulers by offering a backup, $1 per bag yard waste pickup service. Waste picked up under that program would be composted or mulched.
The ban was postponed last year in response to complaints from residents about the lack of alternatives for disposing of leaves and grass clippings. This made sense. What is harder to understand is Lavelle's heartfelt concern for private waste haulers. Since when do their complaints outweigh the public interest?
Leaves and grass clippings don't belong in a very expensive landfill. The capital cost of raising the height of the Cherry Island landfill is about
$3.7 million per vertical foot. And when the landfill is topped off, the cost of building a new one will run at least $100 million, according to a DSWA estimate in 2005.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Unintended Consequences

Perhaps the opponents of wind power thought the whole thing would just go away, buried in a bureaucratic maze deep inside the four state agencies tasked with finding a new source of power here in Delaware.
Maria Evans of WGMD serves up a
blistering account of why wind power is stalled, and offers an interview with Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, who neatly summarizes the meaning of price stability:
“They can tell you on day one and they can tell you on day 3005 what you’re going to pay for power.”
By the way, there is no other source of electric power that can offer that kind of guarantee. The Wall Street wizards who figured out how to transform subprime mortgages into AAA securities would laugh if you asked them to find a way to guarantee energy prices 25 years down the road.
The News Journal editorial board is no kinder to those who hope the proposal would simply disappear from view:
Almost two years ago the General Assembly came up with a piece of legislation that some of its members now view with horror. They had hoped it would soften the criticism they were receiving for a huge increase in the price of deregulated electricity.
The face-saving legislation launched a search for a renewable energy source. But the Legislature never expected what it eventually got: a plan for an offshore wind farm that also is wildly popular with many voters. The members also didn't expect that the proposal from Bluewater Wind would make its way through a variety of regulatory obstacles as well as the determined opposition of Delmarva Power. As the Bluewater proposal came closer to fruition, some members of the Legislature, answering to who knows which special interests, did what they always do: They got the whole thing tabled, in hopes that it would die a quiet death.
Talk about unintended consequences: We might actually get what the law calls for. How did that happen? Instead of casting about for a way to avoid doing what the law calls for, legislators could start by reviewing precisely how the agreement to build the wind farm meets the requirements of the law they passed nearly two years ago.

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama

The voters of New Hampshire, especially the women, reminded us that there remains a deep reservoir of goodwill for Sen. Clinton. Over the last four days, we have heard and read endless talk about Obama's groundbreaking campaign and the word "change." We forgot that for women, it's Hillary who's breaking new ground. While some see her as representing the establishment, she is still the first woman with a significant shot at becoming president.
As for the media who were quick to declare an end to her ambitions, well the Clintons have endured previous near death experiences, while their critics were busy typing up the death certificate.
The widely reported incident of Hillary's eyes welling up with tears did more than show a rare glimpse of her human side; it demonstrated her toughness. I respond more
positively to someone who can keep going through low moments than someone who never show emotion at all. I don't think the reaction was so much one of sympathy, but of admiration for someone who has perservered for years despite unrelenting criticism and derision. If Hillary Clinton is elected, it will be in part because people thinks she's tough enough for the job.
Of course, Obama has shown some staying power himself, and could well rebound in South Carolina and Nevada, setting us up for a stack of primaries on February 5 that still won't decide the nomination.
It is amusing and infuriating how the media careen from one story line to another. The
New York Times called her 3 point margin an upset and a "resounding victory," perhaps forgetting that last week it was Obama who delivered the upset. Welcome to short attention span theater.
It has often been observed that the big media have hard time presenting more than one narrative at a time. Yesterday's Democratic primary leaves us with three: Obama's hope, Clinton's resilience and Edwards' stubborn populism. On the GOP side we have at least five: the second coming of John McCain, Huckabee's geniality, Romney's message tested talking points, Rudy's limited vocabulary and the insistent sound of Ron Paul pounding on the door.
It's a big country, and voters make decisions for a variety of reasons. That's why we have election campaigns.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Opening Day

It promises to be a busy day in Leg Hall today as the 144st Session of the Delaware General Assembly resumes.
Proponents of open government plan to gather at 2:00 this afternoon to voice their support for Senate Bill 4, which would open the deliberations of the General Assembly to the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, which I learned in my service in city government can be used as a verb: "He FOIAed the records."
Wind power proponents will be canvassing senators and representatives to see where they stand. My guess is that legislators can be grouped into three categories: For, Against and I Have No Idea, Will Someone Please Explain This To Me.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Please, Somebody Else, Somewhere Else, Do Something Else

The opponents of offshore wind power in Delaware are scrambling to make it look like they're actually in favor of renewable energy. The News Journal reports that they've hit on a diversionary tactic to make it look like they might actually consider doing something:
On Friday, [Sen. Harris] McDowell announced that three senators had asked him to schedule hearings to look at all of the state's options for "affordable, environmentally friendly energy," including on-shore wind. Those senators were [Thurman] Adams, Majority Leader Anthony DeLuca, D-Newark East, and Majority Whip Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere.
So what do you do if you're a legislator who fervently opposes the Bluewater Wind agreement, but still wants to look like a proponent of renewable energy? You hold hearings about somebody else, somewhere else, doing something else, some other time.
To be fair, most members of the General Assembly, including Senators DeLuca and Blevins, probably haven't had a chance to make up their minds. Rep. Dick Cathcart sounds like he hasn't:
House Majority Leader Richard C. Cathcart, R-Middletown, said the majority of the discussion at the leadership meeting was what the wind farm would cost, and that remains uppermost in legislators' minds today. The PSC staff report came out too soon before the vote, he said.
Cathcart said legislators are more cautious given their experience with deregulation and the big rate increase that followed. They don't want to get bitten twice, he said.
"A lot of us are gun-shy," Cathcart said. "I'm a big believer in wind as an alternative source of energy. It's something we should pursue aggressively. I think it's something that we should be proud of being the first state to do it. I think that we need to make sure that we've explored every option we have in order to reduce the ultimate cost to the consumer while we're getting there."
Here's a thought: Instead of holding hearings about doing anything but what the Public Service Commission (PSC) staff report recommended, how about holding a hearing reviewing the findings of the PSC staff, and then acting on those findings?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf on Wind Power

Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf has sent this letter on wind power to his colleagues:
To the Members of the General Assembly:

Many of you know that I am an ardent supporter of bringing the wind power proposal to Delaware and, in particular, off the coast of Rehoboth Beach. On 4/6/06, HB 6 was overwhelmingly passed in the House and the Senate and signed by the Governor. That was all done in one day which highlights the importance that we placed on the process at that time. The process proceeded over the past year and a half and Bluewater Wind emerged with their proposal for a wind farm approx. 10 miles offshore.
Of the four entities mandated by HB 6 to vote, Controller General Russ Larson’s vote is supposed to represent the wishes of the legislators. The final vote to accept the offshore wind proposal was scheduled for 12/18/07. The week before that vote, Russ met with the House and Senate leadership for their input. One of their concerns was spreading out any increase in initial costs over a larger customer base which reduces the individual cost per household because HB 6 only pertained to residential and small commercial customers of Delmarva Power. The PSC staff recommended that the cost be spread over Delmarva’s entire customer base and that was acceptable and could be accomplished by the PSC without any legislation. I wasn’t there but I think that was agreeable to the members of leadership.
Now here is where the facts get a little fuzzy. Sometime after that meeting and before the scheduled vote, the initial recommendation of the PSC was misrepresented and the idea was put forth to spread the cost over all of the energy users in Delaware. That is not acceptable to those legislators who primarily represent Delaware Electric Co-Op customers and I agree with them. Part of my district uses the Co-Op but the majority are Delmarva customers. It would not be fair to impose what could be considered a tax on a company to help pay the costs of another company when the first company receives no benefit for the increased cost. With that proposal, some of the legislative support collapsed and Russ was left dangling in the wind on the day of the vote. He did the best thing he could have possibly done by asking to postpone the vote. Forcing a vote at that time with such uncertainty on the part of the legislature would have surely doomed the proposal.
I was extremely disappointed that a vote was not taken to bring a wind farm to Delaware. I think we are missing a great opportunity to provide stable energy pricing, environmental and health benefits, and much needed tourism and economic development possibilities. The public has spoken very loudly on this issue. The polls that I have heard about completed by U.D. have over 90% approval for the wind proposal even if the initial cost is a little higher. There have been hundreds of letters and emails sent to all of us and the PSC has hours of testimony in favor of the wind. We know exactly what we will be paying for wind for the next 25 years. Can we say that about any other power source such as coal? And, there is no risk to the State or Delmarva should Bluewater falter. The risk and financial backing is strictly on Bluewater.
Since the delayed vote, it has been very difficult to ascertain what actually transpired because of all the rumors, deceptive comments and misrepresentations which are being bandied around. I have heard so many versions some of which are obviously untrue. I have also talked to several of you who have many questions about HB 6, the process itself, the pros and cons of a wind farm, the cost spreading alternatives if there is an increased initial cost, and overall just what happened leading up to the vote. Are there questions? Yes, but we need to set a course and I think wind is the proper direction. We need to have those questions answered by someone who does not have any personal or financial interest in the wind farm proposal.
I ask that you join me in requesting the House and Senate leadership to convene a meeting either jointly or separate and allow the independent consultant, not Bluewater Wind or Delmarva or the PSC, to address the many questions that we have followed by an explanation as to what happened leading up to the vote on 12/18/07. If Russ is voting on our behalf, then we need to be fully informed so that we can express our will on our leadership to represent us fairly.

Rep. Schwartzkopf
Rep. John Kowalko seconds Rep. Schwartzkopf:
I would like to join Representative Schwartzkopf in respectfully requesting a briefing with the independent consultant to better inform the members of the General Assembly and objectively address their concerns.

Jack Markell on the Stalled Windpower Agreement

Jack Markell writes to members of the General Assembly:
January 3, 2008

Dear [legislator],

The debate on the offshore wind proposal has drifted off course.
All around the world, wind farms are producing energy, on shore and off. We have known that for a long time. HB 6 was not a renewable energy bill or a bill about off-shore wind, and those who now pretend it was are playing games.
This extremely public debate in which we have been engaged was started by a bill that passed both chambers of the General Assembly with overwhelming margins and that set in place a COMPETITIVE process to STABILIZE ENERGY PRICES by building generation capacity in Delaware. The purpose of HB 6 was, in part, to help our state take control of our energy future. It does not in anyway prevent any of our current energy suppliers from contracting in the future with other renewable energy producers such as onshore wind.
I have released a detailed plan that will help make Delaware a national leader in renewable energy, but that is simply not the question we are currently faced with.
HB 6 did not set out searching for a way to fill in some small part of a renewable energy allowance; it called for finding our best option to stabilize pricing in the aftermath of the huge spike in energy prices. After a competitive process ordered by HB 6 and after considerable analysis and public scrutiny, the offshore wind proposal was judged to be the state’s best option. The process by which this was determined was public and fair.
Not moving forward with the proposed bid sets in place a precedent that can only lead to madness. If we spend another 18 months getting new bids looking for on-shore, and out of state renewable energy, as well as a broad array of other options there might be some very incrementally better alternative in 2010. But what happens then? After we proceed through a process, make a selection, and come up to the very brink of an agreement, won’t there be at least the possibility that starting over could lead to an even better alternative in 2012? The possibility of getting an incrementally better deal a few years down the line after that will always exist. This, by itself cannot be a reason to fail to act, now. Delaware needs to lead, not follow.
We need to refocus this debate on the real question at hand:
Does the proposed Power Purchase Agreement fulfill the full intent and mission of the process that set us down this path?
The answer is clearly “Yes.” The fact that there exist renewable energy sources in other states is not a reason to turn our back on the very mission we have undertaken. We have come so far in this process, and so much evidence has mounted that Delaware can become home to the nation’s first off shore wind farm, that any agency head not prepared to accept the Power Purchase Agreement must answer this question:
What new evidence has come forth that leads us to believe the Power Purchase Agreement is not the best possible outcome of the process anticipated and directed by legislators in passing HB 6 in the first place?
So far no such evidence has been brought forth, and if there is still information that casts doubt on this fact, the public deserves to see every one of those details immediately. Absent that evidence and absent following through on the results generated by HB 6’s process, there is significant danger that the people of Delaware may be left blowing in the wind for several more years.

Jack Markell

Friday, January 04, 2008

Barack Obama

Maybe there's something to the hope thing, after all. The New York Times reports that Barack Obama won in Iowa by attracting new voters:
A record number of Democrats turned out to caucus — more than 239,000, compared with fewer than 125,0000 in 2004 — producing scenes of overcrowded firehouses and schools and long lines of people waiting to register their preferences.
The images stood as evidence of the success of Mr. Obama’s effort to reach out to thousands of first-time caucusgoers, including many independent voters and younger voters. The huge turn-out — by contrast, 108,000 Republicans caucused on Thursday — demonstrated the extent to which opposition to President Bush has energized Democrats, and served as another warning to Republicans about the problems they face this November in swing states like this.
According to an entrance poll, 57 percent of those attending the Democratic caucus did so for the first time. Obama won 41 percent of these votes.
As for race:
For Mr. Obama, especially, the ratification of his candidacy by Democrats and independents in a predominantly white and rural state suggests that he may be able to build a broad and multiracial coalition in his bid for the White House.
Writing in Open Left, Chris Bowers sums up Obama's accomplishment:
Tonight, Obama won because he did something many campaigns have claimed they would do in the past, but never until now had never actually accomplished: he turned out young voters and new voters in record-smashing numbers. This has long been the holy grail of progressive politics, and until now no one had been able to pull it off. Well, Obama pulled it off.
The entrance poll cited above shows that Obama won 57 percent of voters 29 and younger. If he can get young voters to show up throughout the year, pollsters will have to recalibrate their models.
As for our own Joe Biden, we can be proud of the way he conducted his campaign, which gave us the most memorable put-down of Rudy Giuliani: "a noun, a verb, and 9/11." More significantly, Joe Biden demonstrated that the place to go for grownup discussions about the mess in Iraq is the Democratic Party.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Fuel Prices and Dead Fish

Two stories in the News Journal underscored the economic and environmental benefits of the proposed offshore wind farm. First, the paper ran this blaring headline across the top of page one this morning:
Gas could reach $4 a gallon this summer
The prospect of rising fossil fuel prices isn't a distant threat on the horizon. On the contrary, we've become numbed by ever rising prices. When $3 a gallon becomes routine, here comes $4 a gallon. Crude prices yesterday came close to $100 a barrel.
The only way the proposed wind farm will cost us money is if the inexorable upward march of fossil fuel prices somehow gets turned around, in defiance of all we know about economics.
Natural gas prices tripled over the last decade. Was this just a spike, soon to be tempered by a long period of smooth and stable prices? Not bloody likely. The International Energy Agency (IEA), in its most recent World Energy Outlook, projects that overall energy demand, including natural gas, will increase by 55 percent by the year 2030.
When you take a fixed supply and an ever growing demand, the inevitable result is higher prices.
The second story
details the number of fish killed by the Indian River coal plant run by NRG:
Although a company-commissioned study concluded that the operation had no "adverse impact," the plant chewed up the equivalent of 800,000 year-old winter flounder during one year studied, more than 518,000 year-old Atlantic croaker and nearly 2.7 million bay anchovy. Those figures assumed that huge numbers of tiny fry and larvae would have survived to age 1 had they not been sucked into the plant.
State Sen. George H. Bunting Jr., D-Bethany Beach, is among those who asked for a hearing. "Here we've gone to a great extent in Delaware to come up with a fishing license so we know how many fish are taken in our waters, and those intakes alone kill more fish than all the fishermen I know in my district will ever catch," Bunting said.
At issue is a water discharge permit for the plant:
DNREC's current permit for the plant expired in 1992, with progress blocked until recently by disputes over the effect of the plant's heated water on the environment near its discharge. Federal and state negotiators recently developed a compromise proposal on temperature limits for plant discharges.
While the number of dead fish is startling, the temperature of the discharge could have the more profound effect on the inland bays. Just on this one point, burning coal is so damaging to the inland bays that the plant has operated without a permit for more than fifteen years. This is yet another reason why we need to get started building clean alternatives to fossil fuel power plants.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

TommyWonk to Talk Wind Power with Progressive Dems

I have been asked to speak to the gathering of the Progressive Democrats of Delaware (PDD) tonight at 7:00. I will be talking about advocating for wind power with the General Assembly. The action group that met last month is working on a detailed plan to inform legislators on the policy basis for giving the offshore wind farm the green light. If you want to be part of the effort please let me know.
Also, the Progressive Dems will be giving Legislator Political Courage Awards to Senator Karen Peterson and Representative John Kowalko tonight. PDD meets the first Wednesday of each month at Delaware Democratic Headquarters, 19 E. Commons Blvd. near New Castle.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Delaware Blogging in 2007

The readers of DelawareLiberal have voted, and offered some recognition for what I've been doing here:
Best Blog Posting of 2007:
Anything on Tommywonk about Windpower

Biggest Delaware Policy Screwup of 2007:
Offshore Windfarm Coitus Interruptus

Blog of the Year:
If blogging were just about typing deep thoughts into a computer and posting them online, then this recognition wouldn't mean all that much. But Delaware bloggers have made their voices heard in ways that might have seemed improbable when I started TommyWonk in February, 2005.
It's not unusual to hear bloggers like Dana Garrett of Delaware Watch and Mike Matthews of DWA doing stints as guest hosts on WDEL talk shows. Dana appears on roundtable segments on Channel 12's Delaware Tonight, long a bastion of the usual suspects offering the usual opinions. Dave Burris of First State Politics has emerged as a force for change within the Delaware GOP. In short, bloggers are finding their voices as proponents of change in the wider public sphere.
The wind power story has certainly given TommyWonk greater visibility; I've been repeatedly interviewed on radio stations and quoted in news stories on the subject. What's particularly gratifying for me is that I have found myself in the middle of an emerging set of environmental activists, as described by the News Journal two weeks ago:
The yearlong discussion about the wind farm has given rise to a grass-roots environmental movement in Delaware.
A year ago, I had not met John Austin, Joan Deaver, Jeremy Firestone, Kim Furtado, Pat Gearity, Willett Kempton, or Kit and Bill Zak. Now I am privileged to count them as colleagues in this new environmental movement.
I interpret the recognition from DelawareLiberal as emblematic of a a growing understanding of the ways that blogs can play a useful role in advocating for change. I hesitate to even try to mention all the blogs that serve as useful sources of information on local issues including open government, education, land use, the environment and politics.
Rev. Lloyd Casson, who stepped down as rector of my church after a long career in urban ministry in Wilmington, Washington and New York City, offered this advice upon his retirement: Find a need and fill it.
I seem to have done so with TommyWonk. Here's to finding needs and filling them in 2008.