Friday, April 11, 2008

How Wind Power Got through the House

I have been called an optimist on wind power, but I was not expecting HCR 38 to come for a vote in the House yesterday. The News Journal headline, "Report may doom offshore wind farm" was less than encouraging. But as I said in my noon hour discussion with Allan Loudell on WDEL, the story that Harris McDowell had written a report critical of Bluewater Wind wasn't exactly news.
His report, which is being held up by disagreements in the committee and the Democratic caucus, has been a foregone conclusion since he announced his hearings back in January. Allan was generous with his airtime yesterday, letting me go on for more than seven minutes, a long time for a news program.
As I headed down to Dover, Dana of Delaware Watch called to say that Rick Jensen opened his afternoon talk show with some critical comments about my interview with Allan. When Dana suggested that I might want to call in myself, I replied that I was more interested in what Bob Valihura and Dick Cathcart say on the subject than in what Rick Jensen says. (Though I must be getting through to folks; last week Delmarva Power spokesman Bill Yingling said I was wrong when I referred to results from the company's own polling.)
The Democrats and Republicans headed into their caucuses minutes after I arrived. I did get a copy of HA 1 to HCR 38, the first of two amendments to the resolution. I made the mistake of glossing over the text and reading the synopsis first:
This Amendment provides that HCR 38 state that any power purchase agreement shall include all state government buildings, as well as residential homes and small businesses.
At first glance, this looked problematic. After huddling with John Kowalko and Jim Black of the Clean Air Council, we decided that the Office of Management & Budget, which buys power for the state government, would want to know about it. So we got on the phone to OMB, which checked it out. By the time we heard back from them, we had all concluded that it wasn't such a problem after all; the amendment consisted of four "whereas" clauses and no enacting clause. In other words, it didn't require that anyone actually do anything.
The Democrats broke their caucus first, while the Republicans didn't finish until after four. As the bells were ringing to bring the the members back to the House floor, I got the call from WDEL for my second interview with Allan Loudell. He opened the segment by referring to the News Journal headline and repeating discouraging sound bites from Charlie Copeland and Karen Peterson. Just at that moment, I was able to tell him that the House was reconvening to debate and vote on HCR 38.
As I noted above, HA 1 to HCR 38 was the first of two amendments to the resolution to be considered. Bob Valihura called HA 1 a friendly amendment, since it didn't actually require any action. Even so, Pete Schwartzkopf, the chief advocate on the Democratic side, rose to voice his opposition. Later he explained that he wanted to smoke out where members were, a tactic that did tip the hands of several members. HA 1 was passed 22 to 15 and incorporated into HCR 38.
Next up was HA 2, which would require that the Bluewater contract only be approved if it were found that Delmarva's out of state bids for onshore wind were no cheaper. Valihura voiced his opposition, and the debate was engaged in earnest.
It was made clear that a vote for HA 2 was a vote against the Bluewater project. As the clerk called the roll, I checked names on a spreadsheet, looking for any significant changes in support or opposition. HA 2 was defeated, 13 to 22.
Several members said it was wrong for the state government to force two companies to do business, an argument smartly countered by Schwazrtkopf, who noted that Delmarva Power is a regulated company with guaranteed profits.

I have to confess a measure of grudging admiration for Gerald Hocker, who represents the southeast corner of the state; he stepped right up and said that we would regret building the wind farm because energy prices would come down when the new transmission line was built. I think he's flat wrong, but at least he said it out loud, without fudging.

I should mention my admiration for Diana McWilliams for a different reason; I know she has struggled with the issue. Towards the end of the debate, she rose to freely voice her doubts and announce that she would vote yes on the resolution.

Also deserving of honor is John Kowalko, who reined in his impulse to fight every point raised by opponents. Despite his considerable knowledge of the subject, he restrained himself and
spoke only briefly on one fairly technical point, letting Pete Schwartzkopf carry the ball.
I was pretty sure of the outcome when Valihura finally called for a vote. The final tally was 25 for and 11 against. HCR 38 carried by a decisive margin.

We still have the Senate, where opposition from Harris McDowell and Charlie Copeland will make for a tougher fight. But I would much rather have the resolution go to the Senate in April than in June.
We're not done yet. Stay tuned.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Was it the intent of HCR 38 to express the legislative will that the CG sign onto the BWW deal only or that such agreement was contingent on also executing an agreement for a gas-fired facility in Sussex County to provide backup power (as seemingly recommended by the PSC Staff and Ind. Consultant)?

9:44 AM, April 12, 2008  
Anonymous jason330 said...

Tom -

With all eyes now on the Senate does Adams have the ability (balls?) to put this in the desk drawer? I guess McDowells (clearly bogus) report gives him an out if losers like Charlie Copeland continue topretend that it is legit.

Does Kavips' observation that the Senate is not needed since Larson can be instructed by this house vote hold any water?

BTW - This is simply awesome blogging. You should have a Tommywonk fundraiser to allow people who agree with me that you are filling a huge void in the news coverage of this issue could vote with their bucks.

9:53 AM, April 12, 2008  
Blogger TommyWonk said...

HCR 38 speaks only to the Bluewater Wind PPA. It does not address the issue of the backup power plant. Last fall, the PSC and other agencies decided that there was no point completing the agreement for the backup plant until the wind farm is approved.

I don't know if McDowell has the muscle to keep HCR 38 from coming to a vote in the Senate. As brazen as he has been in using his power to try to kill offshore wind, this may be too hot for the Senate to allow him to hold it up on his own.

HB 6 does not specify the criteria the controller general should consider in making a decision. At this point, 35 legislators (out of 62) have either voted for or sponsored HCR 38. Russ Larson would be a brave man indeed if he defied Senate leadership and voted to approve the PPA without a vote in the Senate.

There is still one clear way to get the deal done, and that is to win the vote in the Senate.

11:49 AM, April 12, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello John "I've got Juice" Carney.

11:58 AM, April 12, 2008  
Anonymous kavips said...

The Senate hearing and super mysterious damning testimony against Bluewater Wind, are a red herring meant to cast just enough of a shadow of doubt, so the Four Whoresmen (sp?) of the Apocalypse have a fig leaf to hide behind when they table the bill, saying it could be a great idea, but there is just no time to resolve it this year.

Right now this Senate report needs to be made public, and if it is truly damning enough, we need to do the right thing. But as we suspect, if it is a smoke and mirror illusion, that does not hold up in the meticulous replay of slow motion photography, and we see if for the trick it is...........we need to "publicly" humiliate those who dared propose it as gospel.........

After all, that is what we, the "public", are for.................

10:22 PM, April 13, 2008  

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