Sunday, May 04, 2008

The SEU Under the Microscope

I don't think Harris McDowell ever expected the Sustainable Energy Utility to draw this much scrutiny. The SEU was created to provide funding for small scale energy conservation and generation projects. Most of his colleagues gave it little thought when they voted it into existence last year. But as Aaron Nathans writes in today's News Journal, McDowell seems bewildered by the attention, not all of it friendly, now being directed towards the SEU.
Much of the scrutiny has been brought on by McDowell himself, who has set himself up as the Senate expert on energy issues, and has been more comfortable working behind the scenes than in the full glare of the spotlight. He has drawn attention to the SEU by using all the power accumulated over three decades in the Senate to try to kill the Bluewater Wind project. He has drawn attention to the SEU by introducing SB 228 which would reorganize the SEU and protect it from any meaningful public oversight, and by seeking to boost its coffers with proceeds from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
I don't know anyone who doesn't think the SEU is a good idea. I do know a lot of people who are concerned about the body's lack of oversight. The SEU board is self-perpetuating, and history has taught us that money without accountability is a recipe for disaster. When in recent years the Delaware River & Bay Authority and Wilmington Housing Authority got into trouble, it wasn't because their critics didn't like bridges or affordable housing; it was because the organizations were poorly run, with little public accountability. Those organizations could be, and were, put right by the elected officials who appointed their boards. For the SEU to enjoy the public trust, it should submit itself to the same public accountability. Instead, the SEU has been set up to receive millions annually in revenue with out being answerable to anyone.
Despite his murky background in energy consulting and the SEU's lack of public accountability, McDowell seems perplexed by the idea that anyone would question his methods or conclusions:
Asked about these questions, McDowell said, "There are no conflicts of interest, period, end of sentence. I'm just better off not addressing it."
Here we have the problem in a nutshell: Harris McDowell would rather not talk about it in public.
Charlie Copeland seems to have noticed there's an accountability problem with the SEU:
But he [Copeland] said there's the need for the SEU's meetings to be public and subject to the state's Freedom of Information law, and that should be addressed in an amendment.
Actually Senator Copeland had his opportunity to amend SB 228 when it came up for a vote in the Senate on April 22, and let it slide. But he may yet get his chance; If the House adopts any amendments to the bill, SB 228 would head back to the Senate. If Copeland, a member of the Energy & Transit Committee, is paying attention this time, he might want to use the opportunity to offer an amendment.
The firestorm of criticism that has descended on McDowell and the SEU is not based on any opposition to the purpose of the organization, but out of antipathy created by McDowell himself, and by concern that without proper oversight, the organization could fail in its mission.
In other circumstances, McDowell might have been free to create the SEU without much public attention. But his high profile opposition to offshore wind and legitimate questions about the SEU's governance have brought heightened scrutiny on this fledgling effort.

6 Comments:

Anonymous Nancy Willing said...

Nice catch that Copeland is a bit late with his voucher for SEU transparency but better late than never.
I plan on attending the SEU meeting and moniter the earnesty of Mr. Copeland in this regard. No doubt Senator McDowell won't hold his tongue tomorrow.

1:44 PM, May 04, 2008  
Anonymous LiberalGeek said...

Tom, I made the meeting and you can read my rundown of the events over at DelawareLiberal.

10:48 PM, May 05, 2008  
Blogger TommyWonk said...

Good reporting, Mr. Geek.

6:39 AM, May 06, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anything written by Aaron Nathans is biased and should disregarded

12:53 PM, May 09, 2008  
Blogger TommyWonk said...

Biased how, specifically?

12:56 PM, May 09, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Biased as in in pro-BWW, and anti anything/anyone who is not pro-BWW. For example, during McDowell's hearings prior to releasing the Senate report, Nathans wrote an article about the hearing... except that I was there, and he left before lunch, and proceeded to write what I thought was an inaccurate description of the happenings... Look t all of his article... all biased as pro-BWW, and anything anti-BWW does not get equal and detailed coverage.

I daresay he is probably taking orders from the NewsJournal managers to be pro BWW and against all opposition

3:50 PM, May 10, 2008  

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