Monday, March 31, 2008

From the Coal Fields to Hay Road

We're a long way from the coal fields of Appalachia, where mountains are cut down like trees through the horrific practice of mountaintop removal.
Google Earth now presents a feature that demonstrates the connection between the ruined landscapes of Appalachia and the power plants that burn the coal to power our homes and businesses.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. announced the new service last month:
If the American people could see what I have seen from the air and ground during my many trips to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia: leveled mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives, there would be a revolution in this country. Thanks to Google Earth, you can now visit coal country without ever having to leave your home.
You can go to the application, enter your zip code, and see the connection between the coal mines and your neighborhood coal plant. What seemed like a distant and vaguely disturbing practice can now be brought a little closer to home.
For instance, the Edge Moor coal plant, located on Hay Road in Wilmington and operated by Conectiv Energy Supply, buys coal from MAC #68 in West Virgina. MAC #68 is located near the communities of Ragland and Sara Ann, whose residents are powerless to regulate the practice at this and other mines.
Mountaintop removal is strip mining on steroids; mountains, forests and streams are simply wiped from the face of the earth. The results are visible from earth orbit.
As I wrote last year, the Bush administration has clarified the rule governing the practice so that dumping rocks and soil in stream beds isn't considered pollution. One can hardly be said to be polluting a stream that has ceased to exist.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The R/V Russell W. Peterson

After dong the radio stint on WILM with Dace and Shirley Vandever of Delaware Curmudgeon, I headed over to the Port of Wilmington where the Research Vessel Russell W. Peterson was dedicated. The vessel is named after our illustrious former governor and operated by a company called Aqua Survey, Inc.
She (even though named after a he) will spend the next 75 days researching bird migration patterns in Delaware Bay to better measure the potential impact of Bluewater Wind's 150 turbine wind farm.
What do Shirley's old man Jimmy and former DNREC secretary Nick DiPasquale have in common? They both think birds shouldn't have too much trouble with the turbines, saying, and I quote, "Birds aren't stupid."

Friday, March 28, 2008

TommyWonk, Shirley Vandever on with Dace Saturday Morning on WILM

I and Shirley Vandever of Delaware Curmudgeon will be joining Dace Blaskovitz tomorrow on his Money and Politics show on WILM, 1450 on your AM dial. The show runs from every Saturday from 10:00 to 11:00. We'll be on at about 10:30 to give listeners a quick roundup of what's hot in the blogosphere.
Possible topics include the sad shape of the Delaware GOP, political wunderkind Mat Marshall, biker's rights, Real ID and mayber even wind power. Listen in and then get outdoors to enjoy the rest of this beautiful March weekend.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Last Day to Switch Parties Is Monday, March 31

I ran into a Republican friend yesterday, who said he was off to change his party registration to Democrat. He said he wants to be able to cast a meaningful vote for governor.
He has an extra day. House Bill 324, which was passed earlier this month, extends the deadline to Monday, March 31.
The Department of Elections allows you do register online (click the red button on the right), providing you print, sign and mail in confirmation of the transaction.
By the way, my friend said that he had maintained his dwindling allegiance to the GOP out of a belief in fiscal discipline, but that recent history (Clinton's surpluses, Bush's deficits) took away that last reason for sticking with his old loyalties.

Delaware Electric Coop To Join Delmarva in Buying Onshore Wind

What will be the effect of the announcement the the Delaware Electric Cooperative will join Delmarva Power in seeking out of state onshore wind on the Bluewater Wind proposal? The News Journal reports that Cooperative president Bill Andrew says not much:
Andrew said joining Delmarva's bid was not an effort to stop legislation that would spread costs of the Bluewater Wind offshore project to all electric customers in the state, including his coop's members.
"It has nothing to do with Bluewater. It is a good deal for my membership," Andrew said.
What factors affect the price of onshore wind?
Land-based wind power can be competitive on price with traditional fuels once a federal production tax credit is taken into account, said Brian Yerger, a Wilmington-based alternative-energy research analyst at Jesup & Lamont Securities.
But Yerger added that it costs more to transmit that wind power from afar.
The Delaware Municipal Energy Corporation signed on to buy power from Bluewater last year.
If Delmarva wants to buy onshore wind from out of state, fine. But it shouldn't advertise the bidding as an alternative to the Bluewater project.
First, HB 6 mandated in-state power in order to stabilize prices and protect consumers from the volatility of energy markets.
Second, Delmarva is unlikely to duplicate the specifications of the Bluewater power purchase agreement (PPA), particularly the set price for 25 years. Otherwise, why would Delmarva bother?
As a ratepayer, I like the PPA with its set price. As the company that would see a portion of its buying power tied up for 25 years, Delmarva hates the PPA.
But Delmarva Power can't acknowledge that its interests are different from mine, which is why the company maintains the fiction that it is acting to protect me and the vast majority of Delaware citizens who want to see the wind farm built.

Update: Maria Evans of WGMD had the story first, including this pertinent question:
Can Gary Stockbridge explain how, “This is an exciting day for the development of renewable energy in the region,” when the only thing “the region” is doing is purchasing power from other states? Isn’t it an exciting day for renewable energy in other states?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Professor Byrne on the Economics of Renewable Energy

Professor John Byrne and several co-authors just published a paper on energy policy and economics in the journal Energy Policy (sorry, subscription required). One paragraph succinctly makes the economic case for renewable energy:
GHG reductions that lessen fossil fuel demand and promote clean alternatives can mitigate energy price volatility, support local economies, and create jobs (Awerbuch, 2006; Bird et al., 2005; Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP), 2005). Technologies such as wind and solar rely on ‘‘free’’ fuel and purchasers incur only capital and maintenance costs.
Here's where the paragraph gets to the heart of the matter:
The US electricity industry is increasingly exposed to natural gas price volatility because most new generation has been gasfired, and the amount of electricity generated from this source has increased by 62% since 1997 (Henning et al., 2003; Klass, 2003; Zarnikau, 2005).
There's more:
Renewable energy and energy efficiency can serve as hedges against natural gas price variation when integrated into energy resource portfolios because both decouple the cost of energy service from fuel price (Delaware SEU (Sustainable Energy Utility) Task Force, 2007; Biewaldet al., 2003; Rickerson et al., 2005). These risk management benefits were recently brought into sharp focus by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Hurricane damage to US natural gas infrastructure in the Gulf of Mexico in fall 2005 caused natural gas price spikes that resulted in significantly higher electricity prices and heating costs (US Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2006).
There you have it. I couldn't have said it better myself.
John Byrne is Distinguished Professor in the School of Urban Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Delaware, and Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy. He has worked with Sen. Harris McDowell on the creation of Delaware's Sustainable Energy Utility. Byrne
served on a working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Al Gore.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Voters Like Obama's Speech on Race

It's not hard to understand why some would like to make the most of Barack Obama's connection to the controversial Rev. Wright, and paint him as beyond the pale, as it were.
However, a CBS News poll suggests that most Americans like the way Obama handled the matter, and approve of his speech on race and religion.
Among voters following the events, 69 percent thought Obama did a good job addressing race relations, while only 30 percent thought he did a poor job.
71 percent thought he did a good job explaining Wright, while only 24 percent thought he did a poor job.
When asked if they agree or disagree with Obama's views on race relations, the response was 63 percent to 25 percent among all voters, and 43 percent to 39 percent among Republicans.
His favorable/unfavorable ratings hardly budged. When asked whether the controversy would make them more or less likely to vote for Obama, 14 percent said more likely and 14 percent said less likely.
In other words, most voters like what Obama has to say about race in this country.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Home Again

I'm back from a long weekend camping at Cape Henlopen State Park.
The wind was cold and strong from the NNW on Thursday and Friday. There were almost as many dogs as kites at the 40th Annual Kite Festival on Friday. A baby seal was stranded on the beach this weekend while would be rescuers waited to see if he or she would head back to open waters on his or her own. We got sleet mixed with rain Saturday evening. I don't know how many birds were making one hell of a racket early this morning. Kids went chasing after Easter Eggs following the family service at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes.
I hope I didn't miss anything important.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wind Power Resolution Stalls in the House

The Delaware House of Representatives did not act today on HCR 38, which would recommend that the Controller General join three other state agencies in approving the Bluewater Wind project.
There is little question that HCR 38 will pass the House when it comes to a vote. It has 22 sponsors among House members and several more yes votes when the roll call finally happens. But it's not happening this week. The House agenda is controlled by the majority caucus, which is almost evenly split. Even so, l
eadership on both sides of the aisle understands the proposal is immensely popular.
The General Assembly is off for two weeks. When it reconvenes, House leadership will face growing pressure to bring the measure to a vote. In the meanwhile, opponents of the project will continue to look for excuses to kill the project while maintaining that they really do like wind power.
One issue that will continue to generate debate is that of spreading the customer base beyond Delmarva's SOS ratepayers. I will have more on this subject next week.
In the meanwhile, I'm off to pitch a tent among the sand dunes. I'll be back Sunday.

Wind Power on the House Agenda

HCR 38 is on the House agenda today. HCR 38 would recommend that the Controller General vote to approve the Bluewater Wind agreement.
The resolution is number eight out of eleven items, so it isn't clear when or whether it will be considered by the House today. If it doesn't, we will have to wait until the General Assembly reconvenes on April 8.
If it does look like it will run, I will head down to Leg Hall.
Afterwards, I plan to head to Cape Henlopen for the 40th Annual Kite Festival on Friday. It runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, you can call the Park Office at (302) 645-8983.
By the way, winds tomorrow are expected to be blowing from the NNW at 20 mph.

If you don't want to shell out money for a kite, has instructions on building your own, just like the old days.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Obama Speaks on Race and Religion

Barack Obama said what he needed to about the "incendiary" comments of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and said much more. Ginger Gibson writes in the News Journal:
PHILADELPHIA -- Confronting the anger and resentment of blacks and whites, Sen. Barack Obama on Tuesday delivered his deepest assessment yet on the politics of race. Over the first 13 months of his campaign, Obama had escaped most attempts to define his candidacy in purely racial terms.
Obama's speech reminds us of his ability to get people to think again about the issues that divide us and the common themes that unite us:
On one end of the spectrum, we've heard the implication that my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap. On the other end, we've heard my former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, use incendiary language to express views that have the potential not only to widen the racial divide, but views that denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation; that rightly offend white and black alike. I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed. But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
As such, Reverend Wright's comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems - two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
Obama didn't try to smooth over Reverend Wright's remarks. To say that his former pastor "expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country" and was "not only wrong but divisive" is harsh criticism in Obama's moral view. There are three mistakes to avoid in responding to Obama's speech:
The first mistake would be to excuse Reverend Wright's remarks as reflecting the problems of the black community. These problems are real enough, but his comments, which Obama described as incendiary, do little to advance the state of blacks in America today.

The second mistake would be to want Obama to simply soothe our souls by saying, "It's alright, we really are past the race thing. You can stop worrying about it now." The truth is that we still see persistent racial inequities in our country that can not and should not be ignored or explained away.

The third mistake would be to do what comes easily in politics, which is to use Reverend Wright's intemperate comments as a reason to cast Obama as unfit to lead. We've been getting this for a year, with emails and scurrilous media reports that Obama is a secret Muslim and other easily debunked lies.

These three mistakes come automatically. But we shouldn't simply lapse into our default modes, and miss the chance to reflect on the state of race relations in America today.
Barack Obama isn't in the lead for the Democratic nomination because he's making people feel bad about America, but because he embodies what's great about America:
I am the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas. I was raised with the help of a white grandfather who survived a Depression to serve in Patton's Army during World War II and a white grandmother who worked on a bomber assembly line at Fort Leavenworth while he was overseas. I've gone to some of the best schools in America and lived in one of the world's poorest nations. I am married to a black American who carries within her the blood of slaves and slaveowners - an inheritance we pass on to our two precious daughters. I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents, and for as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.
Jim Wallis wrote in The Soul of Politics that "the best way to common ground is the path to higher ground." Barack Obama has again showed us his striving for higher ground. I hope that even those who have not and will not vote for him can take a moment to likewise strive to lift this country to higher ground.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Growing Sophistication in Public Attitudes on Energy

The Pew Research Center last week released an interesting survey on energy issues. The result that caught my attention is the drop in support for federal funding for ethanol:
Although a majority of Americans (57%) favor increased federal funding for research on ethanol, support has declined 10 points from February 2006. Support for greater funding for ethanol research has declined substantially among college graduates: 56% favor this research currently, down from 77% two years ago.
In addition, support for ethanol research has also declined considerably in the Midwest (from 78% to 63%) and the South (from 67% to 53%), though somewhat less in other regions.
Ethanol used to be pretty cool. But in the last two years, the discussion has changed; more and more people are realizing that harvesting corn for ethanol production produces at best a marginal increase in net energy while food prices have climbed in response to increased demand for corn.
Those who argue that the energy economy is too complicated for mere mortal, take note; the public is catching on to the environmental and economic problems of ethanol, and turning towards energy solutions that meet the needs for long term economic stability and genuine reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Market Economics and Health Care

From The New Yorker, a brief summary of the market economics of health care:Think about your last visit to a doctor, for the flu, or a broken leg or cancer. You didn't head down to the health care marketplace to talk to half a dozen doctors and negotiate the best deal. It doesn't matter whether you pay for your health care with Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance or out of your own pocket; you almost certainly didn't make a decision based on price or quality, as you would when buying a car, or a refrigerator or some shoes.
I don't know nearly enough to offer an opinion as to the best way to finance health care for all Americans. But I do think that not pretending that the health care system is something it isn't would be a good place to start.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Ellen Lebowitz on Breaking the Wind Power Impass

My friend Ellen Lebowitz sent me this essay on the frustrations of advocating for renewable energy in Delaware:
I’ve never heard the people of Delaware speak out so loudly, for so long a time. Still, those representing us have failed to listen. Delawareans want the Bluewater offshore wind contract to be signed and move forward. We are tired of being jerked around by a very few, yet powerful people who refuse to heed the will of the people they are meant to represent. Bottom line: we want to see that the General Assembly does not stand in the way of progress.
The Governor’s Energy Advisory Council was held on February 28th. It was irritating but unfortunately not surprising to witness the Chair suggesting that minutes be suspended (if there were no objections) during their first-ever discussion of the off-shore wind issue. I objected and democracy prevailed in that instant. Mr. Stockbridge and I traded across the table, briefly. He was talking about the burden DE ratepayers would bear with the off-shore wind project. 'What burden?' I asked. Well, he agreed it might not be a burden, but it could be. I questioned him about how this burden might manifest itself. What’s clear to me and hopefully now somewhat clear to the council, is that the possible 'burden' or 'premium' he was talking about is actually contingent upon fossil fuel costs remaining the same or going down over 25 years. This premium also depends on the assumption that there will be no future carbon taxes; it doesn’t account for the savings in health care costs; and of course it doesn’t consider the environmental benefits and those to our economy, both of which translate to a higher quality of life, albeit one which is difficult to put in dollar value. With those contingencies the customer may pay a relative and small 'premium' for wind power (estimated at about $6.00 monthly) as compared to the fantasy-ridden lower cost of fossils and the rest. It is much more probable however, considering increasing costs of fossils, future carbon taxes, and dollars saved through environmental, health and economic benefits for the state, that this premium will actually be a savings, that is, a relative decrease in monthly electric bills. The people of DE have already said loudly, clearly, that they are eager to pay for this. What we want is clean power and primarily stable pricing. We want a good future for our kids. BWW fulfills this mandate. It also fulfills the letter and spirit of HB 6.
During this same meeting I heard DNREC’s Phil Cherry state unequivocally that the regulatory agency stood by its full endorsement of the BWW contract and its desire for the PPA to be signed. This is the public’s agency at work here folks. They’re doing their job but apparently have no political power. Their function is to collect and provide honest, unbiased information, evaluate it, and then be heard. But who is listening? The information is out there but one council member sitting across from Mr. Stockbridge, referring to himself in the third person, said he didn’t have enough information and couldn’t possibly offer any opinion. When I asked whether he had looked at the copious docket, he proudly admitted ‘no.’
What’s happening here? Do our leaders and their appointed councils quite understand the immensity of what is at stake at this juncture in Delaware’s history, even world history? My husband says if it doesn’t happen here it’ll happen there; that it will happen. He tries to soothe me and I love him for it. But many here in Delaware know, without doubt, that this is good for our state and its people. Not only that; it’s good for everyone. Scratch the arbitrary geographical borders for a minute. Now, true, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be a spoonful of honey for Conectiv. But can’t they just let go and recognize that they would be OK if this happened? It could be a good thing for the company too, in so many ways. Just think a little out of the box. Yes, some power is relinquished but, oh, what they are helping to implement in terms of DE’s legacy and most importantly our children’s future—all children! Can they step back for the requisite time to see the bigger picture; this brighter picture? Can they possibly do that? I don’t believe my husband thinks so.
The Governor’s Energy Advisory Council had never discussed the wind issue which has been in the news for over a year and a half. This is a stunning megabyte of reality which speaks to the why and wherefore as to the place we find ourselves now. That is, we are in the latter stages of a situation that has pitted the very powerful, very few, against the will of the people. Legislative involvement in the ninth inning was predicted to happen. Wise and savvy people believe that Senator McDowell’s hearing on March 5, 2008 was a farce; I was there and to say that it was Kafkaesque in nature is not a stretch. He hired a high power DC lawyer (with our taxes), and an outside 'expert' who was well known to the lawyer. No one knew this was coming. It was described by some as a staged set-up (video-taped) to possibly provide testimony for future litigation, should DPL be ordered to do what it does not want to do.
The Harris McDowell hearing was a show, for sure, with very little said by McDowell himself. It’s remarkable, isn’t it, that after all his opposition to BWW, he wasn’t even able to form his own questions and banter with the PSC himself. Instead he gets an inquisitor to do the dirty work for him. That’s simply because he’s either not clear on why he’s opposed, or he is not being honest with the citizens of Delaware, or both. You see, McDowell played a vital part in the crafting of HB6, and now at the end of a robust public process where, by golly, things didn’t go his/DPL’s way, he puts the PSC, who has dutifully and with great integrity, fulfilled its obligations to the public, in front of a prosecutor from DC. Why now, Mr. McDowell? Why go through this entire process only to try to throw the big spokes in now? Similarly, in the 11th hour, DPL comes forward with on-shore wind possibilities that they misrepresent as 'bids,' cheaper than the off-shore project. This is clearly apples and bananas here. There is nothing firm, they could not possibly get the same amount of power, it is not Delaware’s generation, the demand for land-based wind will increase, driving up prices and, by the way, the bidding process is over. Had DPL desired to offer a bid for renewable energy, they could have done so at the time when bids were requested. We have a well studied, substantive, bird-in-hand, the culmination of a fully public process, and we are getting tricked by a fearful Goliath. It’s absurd and the General Assembly is falling for it.
Through this trial, euphemistically called a hearing, Randall Speck, the prosecutor from Washington grills Ms. Arnetta McRae, Mr. Bruce Burcat and Mr. James Geddes of the PSC. Let me just say to these people publicly that I was a proud Delawarean listening to them respond to the inquisition. They have served every Delaware citizen throughout this entire process with poise, honesty, and a mastery of the issues. On March 5th they showed all this and, in addition, more self-restraint than I would have mustered. I am grateful to them.
Now it is time for the General Assembly and all special interests to kindly step out of the way of Delaware’s bright future.
*Update: On March 12 House Concurrent Resolution 38 passed out of committee:
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.
Stay tuned……
Ellen Lebowitz is a very concerned citizen;,mother, musician and yoga instructor.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Right Wing Ideologues Lecture GE CEO on Free Enterprise

David Roberts of Gristmill writes that GE CEO Jeff Immelt lost his patience with some right wing critics at a Wall Street Journal conference on economics and the environment:

"I don't need to be lectured by anybody in this room about how to compete!"
From another speaker it might sound defensive, but in this case it is the CEO of GE, the second largest company in the world. Jeff Immelt knows whereof he speaks.
Immelt's outburst came toward the end of a Q&A session that saw him repeatedly assailed by ideological conservatives angry over his involvement in the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of large businesses lobbying for a carbon cap-and-trade system, and his leadership role in pushing the business world to embrace clean energy and sustainability.

One might think the a conference organized by the Wall Street Journal would be friendly territory for the CEO of GE. Think again:

What put him over the top was Terry Anderson of the Property and Environment Research Center, a right-wing think tank. Anderson asked what real entrepreneurs -- the ones who don't have the resources to lobby for favorable treatment from government -- are supposed to do when a carbon cap cripples the economy.
Real entrepreneurs. That set Immelt off. "We compete our asses off," he snapped. "We're No. 1 at what we do!"

Jeff Immelt told a gathering in Wilmington back in 2006 that changing views on energy and the environment make for "surprising bedfellows" among environmental and business leaders. While the ideologues are still fighting over the very idea of human caused climate change, GE is one of the world's leading manufacturers of wind turbines. He's got a business to run. What CEO would ignore the market for a billion dollar business line just to keep some think tank bozos happy?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

How We Got Wind Power Out of Committee

Jeff Montgomery writes in the News Journal that wind power made it out of a House committee yesterday through popular support, sound arguments and a bit of tactical maneuvering:
Legislation to force the state to approve a proposed offshore wind farm to generate electricity was sent to the full House late Wednesday, after a committee hearing dominated by supporters of a 150-turbine project east of Rehoboth Beach.
Now that's what I'm talking about. By "dominated," we mean that the every seat in the room was filled, and that Delmarva Power president Gary Stockbridge was the only speaker out of more than twenty who spoke against the Bluewater Wind project. Maybe if we keep this up, legislators will get the idea that people really want offshore wind power in Delaware.
A little tactical maneuvering helps:
Rep. Gerald W. Hocket, R-Ocean View, the committee chairman, had indicated earlier that he would seek tabling of both resolutions. But Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark South, pressed for approval of the forced approval measure in exchange for agreement to allow a House vote to spread the costs.
After year, we have sharpened our arguments:
"I want the PPA [project]," Wilmington resident Tom Noyes testified at the hearing Wednesday. "I want the price protection that this will provide. Despite what you hear from Delmarva Power, they do not represent my interests. This body represents my interests."
Roughly half of the speakers made similar points about the economic benefits of wind power. Professor Firestone continues to refine the economic case for wind power:
"A long-term, fixed price contract is like insurance," said Jeremy Firestone, a University of Delaware professor of marine policy and legal studies. "That's why we might be willing to pay a little more, because we're reducing risk" of energy shortfalls or paying higher prices for fossil fuel-based power, he said.
A positive attitude is important. Maria Evans of WGMD closed her dispatch from last night on an upbeat note:
More to come…and you know it’s all gonna be good….
Not quite; wind power has some determined opponents in Leg Hall. But yesterday's small success shows up what it's gong to take to get this done.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Finally, Some Action on Wind Power

It has been nearly three months since legislative leaders forced a deadlock on the agreement with Bluewater Wind. Today the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee took the first step towards approving the power purchase agreement, when it voted to release HCR 38 out of committee.
It was anything but a done deal when the meeting was called to order. The committee chairman, Gerald Hocker, opposes the Bluewater Wind deal. But he conducted a fair hearing, giving everyone the chance to speak. Delmarva Power president Gary Stockbridge was the only member of the public who spoke agains HCR 38.
An element of drama was injected into the proceedings when Bethany Hall-Long, one of the committee votes in favor was running up against her need to meet a commitment outside of Leg Hall. The word was passed to wind power supporters to either shorten or postpone their chance to speak, so that the votes would be there when the question was called. HCR 38 was released to the floor, and Rep. Hall-Long was only ten minutes late getting to her next meeting.
The committee next took up HCR 40, which would ask DNREC's Energy Office to draft legislation to spread the rate base beyond Delmarva Power's customers. This is vigorously opposed by the downstate co-ops, which didn't subject their customers to the 59 percent rate hike that prompted HB 6 in the first place. (I will have more on this question in the near future.) HCR 40 was released to the full House as well, as part of an agreement to allow both to go forward.
I suspect that HCR 40 will not be fatal to the prospects of approving the wind power deal, even though I don't think it's timely or appropriate. HCR 38 has more support than HCR 40. You might think of this as an example of the arcane machinations that make life in Leg Hall so interesting.
The next question is when HCR 38 comes to the floor of the House. I'm hoping it will be next week. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The General Assembly Could Start Taking Action Tomorrow

Having talked the matter nearly to death, legislators finally have the chance to act on wind power in Delaware. The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee meets tomorrow at 4:15 PM in the House Majority Hearing Room. Two key items are on the agenda:
Sponsor: Valihura

Sponsor: Hocker
Our objectives are to move HCR 38 to the House floor for a vote as quickly as possible, and leave HCR 40 in committee.
We want as many supporters on hand as possible. However, this is a working committee meeting, not a hearing. We plan to have several advocates speak briefly to some important points. But we don't need an endless line of folks speaking out, as we have had for the last year. Any legislators who don't know that most citizens like the wind farm ought to be transferred to intensive care to check for vital signs.
We've had enough talking; it's time to take action.

Monday, March 10, 2008

“Virtual wind”

Delmarva Power claims that it will be able to buy an equivalent amount of electricity from onshore wind. The bids are due today, which means we should be expecting to hear from the company about how it can buy renewable energy for less than the Bluewater Wind PPA. There are several reasons to doubt this claim.
First, onshore wind farms east of Texas tend to be smaller and less productive. Delmarva would have to put together power from a number of sources and move the electricity from hundreds of miles away, raising transmission costs. This will be particularly difficult during periods of peak demand, when the grid will be congested.
Second, there isn’t that much onshore wind power that isn’t being sold, and demand for renewable energy will continue to climb as more states ramp up their renewable energy portfolio standards.
Third, shorter term purchases of renewable energy will not provide the long term price stability that the Bluewater PPA will.
Fourth, using tools like renewable energy credits (RECs) will do little but help subsidize the construction or operations of wind power projects elsewhere. This is what
Hunter Armistead, the head of North American Operations for Babcock & Brown, calls “virtual wind.”
Fifth, buying renewable energy from hundreds of miles away will do little to reduce the demand for dirty power generation here in Delaware.
If Delmarva Power wants to buy more renewable energy, the company is free to do so. But it's worth noting that the company did not buy renewable energy in
its recent round of purchases, which saw the price it pays go up 15 percent.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Bluewater, Delmarva and "Virtual Wind"

Harris McDowell held the last of his hearings on wind power yesterday. Bluewater Wind and its parent company Babcock & Brown were up, followed by Delmarva Power. Hired gun Randall Speck again handled the questions for the committee. At least today, the witnesses knew what was coming.
Hunter Armistead runs the North American Energy Development Group for Babcock & Brown. He would be the guy in charge of building and operatings the wind farm, and by all accounts he knows his stuff.
Aaron Nathans reports in the News Journal that the environmental benefits of out of state wind were disputed. Armistead was was sceptical on the benefits of wind power elsewhere on the grid, calling it "virtual wind":
"The only true way to reduce emissions in the area is to actually inject renewables into the area," Armistead said.
But Delmarva officials saw it another way. Citing a PJM Interconnection official who spoke at the hearings, they contended environmental benefits of an offshore wind farm would be spread throughout the grid. It wouldn't be coal that would go first, but more-expensive fossil fuels such as oil, said company spokesman Bill Yingling.
As it turns out the impact depends on the load on the grid at any given time:
PJM spokesman Ray Dotter, reached Friday, said that when the transmission lines on the peninsula are congested, wind power would displace traditional, high-cost sources of electricity nearby. On low-congestion days, power could be dispatched from afar, so the impact on fossil fuels would be diluted, he said.
The question of Delmarva Power's resistance to Bluewater Wind came up:
Armistead called Delmarva cordial in working toward a productive resolution, but "it was very clear it was a very reluctant dance partner."
Armistead said he wondered why the utility was resisting, and said he believed it was because the wind farm would take away business from Delmarva's sister company, Conectiv.
Armistead may be on to something. Delmarva Power does buy power from its sister company Conectiv, albeit through a competitive process. For instance Conectiv had won the right to supply with 56 percent of the load to residential and small commercial and industrial customers (the largest category of the SOS load) in the 2007-2008 period. Conectiv did not win any bids in the round that was just completed.
If the Bluewater Wind project is given the green light, Delmarva Power will have fewer dollars on the table for the annual bidding process, which would tighten the competition Conectiv faces in the annual bidding.

Friday, March 07, 2008

So Much for the Domino Theory

Do you remember the domino theory used to justify the war in Iraq? By using our muscle and toppling Saddam, we would set in motion a wave of democratization that would sweep the region.
The president arrived in Baghdad earlier this week for a rousing welcome from the Iraqi government. Too bad it wasn't our president, but Iran's.
Daniel Schorr spoke of the implications of this visit last night on NPR's All Things Considered:
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad visited Baghdad this week to show Iran's support for the Iraqi government. The visit can be seen as a major diplomatic setback for the United States.
The Economist reached to a similar conclusion:
The presidential visit—the first by any regional head of state since the American invasion five years ago—is only the latest sign that Iran is now the most influential of Iraq's neighbours, pushing aside nearby Sunni Arab states from which Iraq's Shia leaders still keep their distance.
Back in 2005, I heard Wes Clark say that one outcome of the war could be that Iraq could become a buffer state for Iran.
Unintended consequences? Perhaps, but hardly unanticipated.

Ambushing the Public Service Commission

A big decision like the one involving wind power in Delaware is necessarily an adversarial process, with strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue. But it's still possible for strong adversaries to play fair. State Senator Harris McDowell surprised Public Service Commission Chair Arnetta McRae and her staff by bringing in a D.C. attorney to cross examine them at a hearing on Wednesday.
The News Journal reports that
McDowell's decision to spend $35,000 to hire Randall Speck is reverberating around Leg Hall:
"Quite frankly, we were very surprised a Washington lawyer was hired to essentially cross-examine the chair of the commission and myself," said PSC Executive Director Bruce Burcat, who said he believed before the hearing they would be questioned by senators.
State Senator Charles Copeland told Allan Loudell last night on WDEL that he knew about the hiring of Randall Speck a week ago. So why couldn't anyone tell the PSC what was about to happen?
"Not to tell someone they're essentially going to be cross-examined, I think, is rude. It sounds like a setup," said Nicholas Di Pasquale, former head of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and current conservation chairman for the Delaware Audubon Society.
Maria Evans of WGMD was there, and has more on the D.C. attorney:
The lawyer’s name is Randall Speck, he’s a Harvard Law School graduate, and according to sources at Legislative Hall, he’s worked on “all sides” of the energy debate. My immediate thought was, “What side is he on today?”
That question was clearly answered by the smiles shooting around the chamber between energy company representatives as Speck questioned the Public Service Commission about their decision to choose a wind farm with a gas plant back up as the new, price stable, energy source for the State. I’m sure after the hearing there was a room somewhere in Dover filled with energy company employees desperately trying to muster up the coordination to successfully execute a few high-fives.
This raises some serious questions: Who gave him his instructions? Did Speck confer with anyone from Delmarva Power or Pepco Holdings in developing his line of questioning? Did Harris McDowell—wittingly or unwittingly—use public funds to help create a record to be used by Delmarva Power in its lawsuit against the Public Service Commission?
The surprise questioning of Arnetta McRae was more than rude. By not informing the PSC of what was coming, McDowell and Copeland put the PSC at a disadvantage by confronting its chair and staff with a highly skilled, well prepared litigator. If the record of the hearing is used in support of a private party against a state agency, then the use of public funds to hire a lawyer to question state officials raises legal and ethical questions I can't begin to sort out.
As I said, the decision to bring wind power is an adversarial process. The PSC conducted an open process with thousands of citizens weighing in. Bluewater Wind won the chance to bring offshore wind power to Delaware by beating out NRG and Conectiv Energy. The Power Purchase Agreement now on the table is the product of months of tough negotiations. A vigorous debate prompts advocates and opponents of the project to sharpen their arguments.
The wind power proposal was developed through a public process. The decision to confront the PSC with hostile questions from a well prepared attorney was made behind closed doors. If you're wondering who represents the public interest, just watch what they do—in public and in private.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Public Service Commission on Trial in Leg Hall

As I noted last night, Harris McDowell brought in a high-priced D.C. attorney named Randall Speck to question representatives of the Public Service Commission. Aaron Nathans, writing in the News Journal, seems to have captured the spirit of the occasion:
There was no jury, no bailiff, no hand on the Bible. But the process that led to an offshore wind power contract appeared to be on trial at Legislative Hall on Wednesday.
A Washington-based attorney spent more than two hours grilling representatives of the Public Service Commission and its staff on the path that led to an offshore wind contract.
PSC chair Arnetta McRae held her ground:
PSC representatives said the year-long response to the legislative mandate was exhaustive, transparent and involved unprecedented levels of public participation. McRae said, "I am immensely proud of the manner in which the process has unfolded to date."
According to accounts I have heard, Ms. McRae epitomized grace under pressure. As citizens, we can be immensely proud of the way the PSC conducted the RFP process. The PSC has posted the full record of this unprecedented public participation, including thousands of letters and e-mails from citizens, the vast majority of which are in favor of wind power.

Arnetta McRae has not forgotten that she represents the public interest, and has done everything possible to encourage and engage the citizens in creating our energy future. Senator McDowell has chosen to align himself with the interests of Delmarva Power by bringing in an industry lawyer to attack a state agency for doing its job and upholding the law.

Debunking Delmarva Power on out of State Renewable Energy

Delmarva Power claims it can find a better deal for renewable energy from out of state. But Chad Tolman, who knows his stuff, points out that there isn't that much available. Chad does the math in the News Journal today:
There's not much wind power to sell
Posted Thursday, March 6, 2008

Gary Stockbridge, president of Delmarva Power, urged Delawareans to wait for the results of the company's request for proposals to wind developers outside of Delaware. He claims he can save customers $50 million each year by buying wind power from other states, without signing a long-term purchase agreement with Bluewater Wind. Bluewater has
offered a guaranteed price of under 10 cents per kilowatt hour for 25 years.
Delmarva Power buys electrical power from the PJM grid, to make up for the shortage of generating capacity in Delaware. PJM doesn't have much wind power to sell. The PJM territory includes Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., most of Ohio and small parts of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Kentucky and North Carolina. At this time all 12 states and the District of Columbia have just over 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity, most of it in Illinois.
This is about twice the capacity of the offshore wind farm proposed by Bluewater Wind, but it could supply only Delaware's renewable energy portfolio standard of 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2019. The District of Columbia and seven other states in the PJM territory have similar RPS requirements.
The demand for wind energy will no doubt soon outpace supply, and the price will probably go higher than the Bluewater Wind offer.
If Delaware gets the first offshore wind farm in the United States, it could become a major center for manufacture and deployment for offshore wind turbines for the whole coast, creating thousands of new jobs. Babcock and Brown, which owns Bluewater Wind, has offered to help make this happen. Buying land-based wind from other states means giving up lots of jobs for the sake of a short-term cost savings.
Delaware wetlands, wildlife, beach tourism, homes and infrastructure are in danger from rising sea levels that result from burning fossil fuels like gas, oil and coal. Estimates for sea level rise for this century are uncertain, but range from 2 feet to more than 5 feet.
Scientists warn that stabilizing climate and saving our coastlines is going to require major reductions in carbon dioxide emissions soon. The only way to do that is through conservation, greatly increased energy efficiency, large-scale renewable energy sources and replacement of fossil fuels.
Studies at the University of Delaware College of Marine and Earth Studies show a huge wind resource off the coast from Massachusetts to North Carolina -- enough to provide average power of 184,000 megawatts.
Chad Tolman, of Wilmington, is the energy chairman of the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club and an advocate of offshore wind power.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Who Is Randall Speck?

And why did Harris McDowell turn over the job of grilling the chair of the Public Service Commission to this Washington attorney?
Senator McDowell held another of his hearings today, the purpose of which was to question PSC chair Arnetta McRae, along with executive director Bruce Burcat and the agency's top counsel. But McDowell wasted little time in turning the questioning over to Randall Speck.
So, who is Randall Speck?
Randall L. Speck is a partner in the litigation department of Kaye Scholer LLP in Washington D.C. In addition to being a high priced litigator, he's got extensive experience in energy, as this paragraph from his bio describes:
Mr. Speck acted as special counsel to the [Connecticut] DPUC to evaluate wholesale electric utility deregulation options, including the development of merchant power producers, divestiture of investor-owned generating assets, and creation of market administration mechanisms. This effort resulted in legislative proposals that ultimately led to retail deregulation in the spring of 1998.
Mr. Speck questioned PSC Chair Arnetta McRae for nearly four hours, focusing on the way the Commission conducted the RFP process that led to the Power Purchase Agreement now on the table.
Keep in mind that Delmarva Power has a legal challenge to the process that
is now docketed as Case #07A-06004THG, Delmarva Power & Light v. Delaware Public Service Commission and assigned to Judge T. Henley Graves in Georgetown. Observers found themselves wondering whether this lawyer was creating a record to be used in this case.
So, who is Randall Speck? Who hired him? Were public funds used to bring in a lawyer to grill the head of a public agency? (At least one member of McDowell's committee is trying to find out.)
What clients does Speck have in the energy business? Do any of his clients have an interest in the debate on offshore wind in Delaware?
Update and correction: I was mistaken when I said Mr. Speck worked on deregulation for California. He did so for Connecticut.

"They may beat us to the punch."

So says University of Delaware professor Jeremy Firestone in today's News Journal:
Jeremy Firestone, an associate professor in the College of Marine and Earth Studies at the University of Delaware, said the fact that New Jersey is actively seeking an offshore wind farm is an indication that Delaware's on the right track. But, he added: "They may beat us to the punch."
Three companies, including Bluewater Wind have submitted proposals to build offshore wind in New Jersey. The article points out some of the ways in which the New Jersey deal would be differently structured. First, New Jersey is offering a direct subsidy to help build an offshore wind farm. Second, a power purchase agreement (PPA) is not required, though the companies are seeking long term buyers for the power they would generate:
Unlike Delaware, New Jersey does not offer a long-term power purchase agreement with a utility, meaning the bidders would have to seek power purchase contracts on their own, or sell the power on the day-to-day open market.
I think it's unlikely that a wind farm of this size would be built without a PPA of some sort. Investors in a power plant of any sort want to see a revenue stream before putting their money down. Delmarva Power is seizing on the lack of a required PPA as a reason to kill the Bluewater Wind project in Delaware, even though it's a common tool in financing power plants.
So let's talk about the PPA. Delmarva Power doesn't like it. As a customer, I do like it. I like the long term prices stability Bluewater's PPA would provide.

The opponents of offshore wind in Delaware have tried to paint the PPA as a burden, saying it should be imposed or should be spread over a larger customer base. But if fossil fuel prices continue to climb, then the customers "locked in" will reap a benefit over the 25 years.
I want that benefit. Delmarva Power doesn't want to provide it. But then Delmarva Power doesn't represent me. The General Assembly does.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

New Jersey's Wind Power Proposals

If the stalemate in Legislative Hall continues, could Delaware find that neighboring states have leapfrogged ahead in the race to build the country's first offshore wind farm? New Jersey has three proposals to build an offshore farm not far from Delaware.
The Star Ledger has the story:
The proposals, submitted yesterday to the state Board of Public Utilities, involve wind farms of up to 350 megawatts, including one proposed by a partnership consisting of Newark-based Public Service Enterprise Group and Winergy Power Holdings. One megawatt is enough to supply about 800 homes.
While New Jersey is where Delaware was a year ago in terms of considering proposals, it is possible that our neighbor across the river could pass us, particularly if the will is there. If our General Assembly drags this out long enough, Delaware could lose its first mover advantage.
Last month Lt. Gov. John Carney announced that Bluewater Wind would make Delaware the hub of its east coast operations and fund training in wind power construction and operations, providing Delaware approves the agreement. If the General Assembly holds up the agreement, the training program and jobs could end up going elsewhere.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Wind Power in Delaware and Massachusetts

Parade magazine, the insert found among the want ads in Sunday newspapers, ran a story on the debate on wind power across the country. Wendy Williams, one of the co-authors of the book Cape Wind, takes the ongoing fight in Massachusetts as her starting point:
Today, nearly seven years after the idea was proposed, Cape Cod remains divided. Wealthy opponents have spent roughly $20 million trying to stop the project, while the energy developer has spent more than $30 million trying to move it forward. Polls show that more than 80% of the state at large supports the idea. State officials say the project could save New England’s electricity consumers $25 million or more each year.
Similar battles are raging nationwide. On Long Island, N.Y., in Virginia, the Appalachians, Illinois, Vermont and even California—where the modern American wind industry first was developed—opponents have successfully delayed projects. They say that wind turbines are noisy and unsightly, that they are expensive, harm wildlife, rely on federal and state subsidies and do not provide a dependable supply of electricity.
There is no mention of the Bluewater Wind proposal in Delaware, though Willett Kempton is quoted:
The technology also can save consumers money. “Adding wind electricity will drive down the cost of fossil fuels,” says Willett Kempton, a senior policy scientist at the University of Delaware. He believes wind turbines could play a role in stabilizing the U.S. economy.
I have been puzzled by the lack of national attention to the fight in Delaware. Perhaps it's because the argument doesn't fit the Cape Wind model; there is hardly any NIMBY reaction from millionaire homeowners.
Instead, the fight is between environmentalists and ratepayers on one hand and Delmarva Power on the other. It seems pretty clear that Delmarva has significant economic interests at stake, which is why it is fighting the wind farm with such ferocity. What those specific economic interests are is harder to determine; the company isn't saying, but is using the argument that it's looking out for its customers. (And since when is Delmarva Power concerned about the rates it charges?) The motive could be that a new wind farm here in Delaware could provide competition for its sister company, Conectiv. Competition would reduce demand for Conectiv's output, driving prices down. It could be that Delmarva doesn't want to see House Bill 6 implemented and have the state assume greater authority over its energy buying.
At least with the Cape Cod millionaires, we know what the real objection is. They just don't want to look at the things. Here in Delaware, we can't wait to see them start spinning.
The Cape Wind saga has unfolded in the full glare of national publicity. Delaware's fight over wind power has received far less attention, which suits the style of those in Leg Hall who prefer to work their will in obscurity. A little more atttention from the national media might not be a bad thing.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Buying Power

Opponents of the Bluewater Wind project assert that the purchase of power is best left to the free market. But the purchase of generating capacity does not resemble a classical free market, which generally features large numbers of buyers and sellers haggling over terms. The wholesale electricity market is distinguished by a small number of buyers and sellers.
Delmarva Power is a natural monopoly; it wouldn't make economic sense for a rival to come in and build a parallel power grid in Delaware. Until a few years ago, Delmarva was structured and regulated as a vertically integrated utility; it generated the power, transmitted it over the grid, and delivered it to our homes and businesses. In the 1990s, Delmarva Power was deregulated, and power generation and delivery became separate businesses. The idea was that deregulation would introduce competition, leading to greater efficiency and lower prices. Electric power would become like long distance phone service; competition would work to our advantage as companies competed for our purchasing power.
Economics may be a dismal science, but evidence still matters, and the evidence has not confirmed the theory behind deregulation. Electric power generation is not a consumer driven business. The local market for electricity features one dominant buyer, several smaller buyers (large industrial users, one co-op and several municipalities) and the rest of us. Delmarva Power serves some hundreds of thousands of households, a small fraction of which have opted for alternate energy generation. The company's buying power is five orders of magnitude greater than mine. Delmarva Power can influence the market for power generation by using its buying power; I can't.
As a rational economic actor, Delmarva Power seeks to maximize its gains and minimize its losses on behalf of its shareholders. Delmarva Power doesn't work for me, and I shouldn't expect that the company is looking out for my interests. This is not a moral condemnation of the company, which is expected to make money for its investors.
While markets are mostly rational ways for buyers and sellers to meet their objectives, I'm not represented in the power generation marketplace in any meaningful way. Instead, I rely on the power of government to protect my interests in dealing with large natural monopolies like Delmarva Power.
Two years ago, the Delaware General Assembly passed House Bill 6 in response to the sharp 59 percent rate hike brought on by deregulation. HB 6 established a process for choosing a new, in-state electric generating facility. Bluewater Wind was picked in a competitive process. Six months of negotiations resulted in the Power Purchase Agreement now on the table.
Delmarva Power says it can get a better deal buying power in the marketplace. This may be true for the moment at least, but its most recent wholesale purchase is 15 percent higher than last year's. In the face of rising fuel prices, it is in my economic interest to secure the long term price stablity offered by Bluewater Wind. But for whatever reason, Delmarva Power has decided that it is not in its interest to lock into a long term PPA.
Now, I don't mind Delmarva Power working to maximize its profits; what I mind is the company claiming it's doing so on my behalf. I'd be more inclined to trust Delmarva Power if its executives admitted the company is in it for the money.