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.

1 Comments:

Anonymous kaivps said...

Ellen poetically illustrates the current situation.

What did not come through her letter was the understanding that this argument in not going to be won on its merits: from this point on, it is about power.

If you want to get this thing done, walk their districts, meet their constituents, and explain to them, what you have just told us.

No legislator can fly directly against the will of his district. Credibility, like a giant balloon, can be popped in an instant.

It is only when a politician thinks his position is secure, that he persues his own financial interests over those of his constituents........

When all your neighbors and staunch supporters of twenty years, call you up, blaming you for their electric bills, and put your opponent's campaign sign in their yard, a spirit of survival takes over and you change your mind .

3:22 PM, March 15, 2008  

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