Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Obama, Vegetables and Google

Internet users who ask the burning question, "Is Obama a vegetarian?" will find TommyWonk at the top of the search results.
The post from November refers to a Tom Toles cartoon depicting the absurdity of the rumors and innuendo surrounding Obama.
Aside from the amusement involved in pondering the mysteries of the Google algorithm, it is a reminder that the rumors and nasty stories about Barack Obama didn't just pop up recently, but have been circulating since his unlikely campaign began last year.
Speaking of which, I can't help recalling what Groucho Marx said in the movie, Monkey Business: "
Love flies out the door when money comes innuendo."

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Delmarva Power Truth Squad, Revisited

I've heard so many radio spots from Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind that I've mostly stopped listening. But yesterday, as I was barely paying attention, the startling claim that the Bluewater offshore wind farm would cost me 30 percent more on my electric bill caught my attention.
30 percent! Who would want to pay that? I listened more closely to try to find the basis for this assertion. But it being a 30 second spot, there was no time for references and footnotes. So I decided to go back through the public record to try to understand Delmarva's claim.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) staff report of December 14, 2007 projects that the Bluewater Wind power purchase agreement would cost the average residential customer $6.46 a month. This would about ten percent for me (my bill last month was $65.55) and less for an average family.
But as I have pointed out many times in this blog and before the Senate and House committees, that estimate is based on the unlikely assumption that natural gas prices will go down instead of up, which is what they are doing. We can think of that $6.46 as the worst case scenario for residential customers.
Once again we see that Delmarva's scary estimate of the cost of wind power is not related to the PSC staff findings, or to any rational guess of where future energy prices are going. Now I understand that there is room for disagreement on this matter, which deserves the most vigorous debate. But I don't think anyone should be allowed to simply make stuff up.
Delmarva Power has shown remarkable ingenuity for coming up with numbers at variance with the PSC findings. The cost of the wind farm has been reviewed, analyzed, and subject to the closest scrutiny by the PSC and independent analysts. The numbers in Delmarva's radio spot have not. The company should have decent respect for the public and our representatives in the General Assembly and stop pulling numbers out of thin air to scare us into killing offshore wind in Delaware.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Appalachia: How Isolated?

Appalachia is just a few hundred miles from Delaware, but in some respects it seems like another world.
Mary Ann Hitt of the advocacy organization Appalachian Voices described the scourge of mountaintop removal mining to a gathering of the Delaware Sierra Club on Saturday. That's an aerial photo of what used to be a mountain behind her.
The large scale destruction of mountains takes place among sparsely settled valley communities. Some of the coal from one mine is burned in the Hay Road power plant operated by Conectiv Energy. Most of the rest is burned in the Ohio Valley, contributing to acid rain, particulate matter and other environmental problems affecting the entire east coast. This is why some are opposing the proposed Mid Atlantic Power Pathway; it would make it easier to ship electricity generated in dirty coal power plants from the Ohio Valley to the east coast.
But the people of Appalachia face the worst hazards of mountaintop removal.
Here's what the people who live downstream of the mine that provides coal to Conectiv worry about:
"What concerns many Ragland residents the most is the slag dam near the top of the mountains. It stretches nearly three football fields across and is twice as long. Originally it was about 140 feet deep. But waste coal covers the bottom, so the water depth is considerably less. The watery dump was used for nearly 30 years until it reached capacity a few years ago.
"Since the dam sits nearly a mile off the road and is reachable only on four wheelers and steep roads, those just passing through wouldn’t know it exists. But for the Ragland residents, it lies above the community, a dark watery reminder of the tragedy at Buffalo Creek. The community has been evacuated at least once because of concerns that the dam would break."
Buffalo Creek was a community devastated by the failure of a similar slag dam.
The people who live in Appalachia have little voice in what is being done to the landscapes surrounding their homes. But those of us who use the power generated by this horrific practice can speak up. For more information, you can go to, plug in your zip code and learn that Appalachia is not so isolated from Delaware as we thought.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Learn About Mountaintop Removal

The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club has invited a leading Appalachian environmentalist to speak to its annual membership meeting tomorrow:
Mary Anne Hitt is the executive director of Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit organization that brings people together to solve the environmental problems having the greatest impact on the central and southern Appalachian Mountains. The organization works with communities across Appalachia to tackle two major causes of climate change: mountaintop removal coal mining and the construction of new coal-fired power plants. Their online campaign uses Google Earth to lift the cloak of secrecy that has allowed coal companies to flatten almost 1 million acres, destroy 474 mountains, and bury over 1,000 miles of streams, devastating local communities in one of the world's biodiversity hotspots.
Appalachia may seem far away, but brings it closer:
Last month I used this new Google app to track the connection between the Edge Moor coal plant, located on Hay Road in Wilmington and operated by Conectiv Energy Supply, and its coal supplier, MAC #68 in West Virgina. MAC #68 is located near the communities of Ragland and Sara Ann.
The Sierra Club meeting is from noon to three at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Newark, 420 Willa Road, Newark.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Two Very Different Reports on Wind Power

The Senate Energy & Transit Committee released its report on the Bluewater Wind proposal yesterday. It's not much improved from the draft that was leaked. Here's the conclusion, with some commentary:
(1) The Senate should instruct the Controller General to give great weight to this report when considering all long-term contracts currently proposed under HB-6.
Harris McDowell had intended for this sentence to be more definitive, and to have the Senate adopt the report as the vehicle for killing the Bluewater Wind project.
(2) The General Assembly should continue to monitor implementation of an IRP that includes competitively bid, long-term contracts for renewable generation resources including land-based wind;
In other words, the General Assembly should do what Delmarva Power wants.
(3) The General Assembly should consider adopting a fixed incentive similar to the approach implemented in New Jersey to stimulate competitive development of offshore wind generation resources.
This is something Charlie Copeland has been advocating. New Jersey has committed $18 million to helping build an offshore wind project, for which it has received several bids. The bidders are not required to propose the use of a long term power purchase agreement, though they almost certainly will. As for suggesting that taxpayer dollars be used to help finance a wind power facility, that simply isn't going to happen in the current budget crunch.
(4) The General Assembly should consider forming by joint resolution, a task force to investigate the feasibility of a demonstration project for an offshore wind facility financially supported by the federal government and the states of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia.
This one's a beauty. Let's get four states and the federal government to work together on wind power when three states already engaged in their seperate procurement programs. It would take a year to even convene a meeting on this approach. And yet, it would allow the report's authors to claim that they really do like wind power.
In short the report recommends not one, but three ways to say we like wind power, just not here and just now now.
Yesterday, Karen Peterson, one of two dissenting committee members, released
a minority report disputing the committee report. (Disclosure: I contributed to the minority report.) Here's the opening paragraph:
This Minority Report is intended to (1) explain the basic facts, (2) refute some of the many errors—factual, analytical and legal—of the "Comprehensive Report on Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Energy with a Detailed Analysis of the Proposed Bluewater Power Purchase Agreement" (herein referred to as the Draft Report), and (3) present a more balanced view of the Bluewater Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) for the Senate's consideration.
The minority report presents five key findings and recommendations:
1. The Bluewater Wind PPA has advantages of stabilizing electricity price without raising electric rates significantly above their current level. It can be justified purely on the basis of protecting ratepayers from future price increases, the primary original purpose of HB 6.
2. The Bluewater Wind proposal and PPA meet all the requirements of HB 6, and was correctly selected among competing bidders by all four Delaware Agencies (the PSC, OMB, DNREC, and the Controller General) in their unanimous May 22 and December 4, 2007 decisions .
3. In addition, approval of the PPA would result in employment, health, environmental and economic development benefits that no other option can replicate.
4. The Draft Report is deeply flawed in its findings, analysis, methodology and understanding of the legal and technical issues surrounding the implementation of HB 6 and the negotiation of the Bluewater PPA. It is a one-sided document that echoes the economic, policy, and legal arguments of Delmarva Power while ignoring the views of those who disagree with the Committee Chairman.
5. HCR 38 should be brought to a vote and adopted by the Senate.
Back in January, Harris McDowell promised that his hearings and the subsequent report would be "fair, above board and impartial." If that had been the case, then the minority report would not have been necessary.
For instance,
I offered testimony to the committee demonstrating that the argument that we can't afford wind power was based on an assumption that natural gas prices would go down instead of up. The minority report details how that assumption is unwarranted. The committee report ignores the point entirely.
Update: Thanks to Maria Evans of WGMD,
who has posted both reports online.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Growing Crops for Fuel

Yesterday I wrote that growing crops for fuels was contributing to the world food crisis, and quoted Lester Brown's warnings on the subject. It turns out that yesterday he had written an opinion piece (with Jonathan Lewis) on the dangers of biofuels in the Washington Post:
Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world's largest "carbon sink." And when the forests are cleared and the land plowed for farming, the carbon that had been sequestered in the plants and soil is released. Princeton scholar Tim Searchinger has modeled this impact and reports in Science magazine that the net impact of the food-to-fuel push will be an increase in global carbon emissions -- and thus a catalyst for climate change.
Meanwhile, the mandates are not reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Last year, the United States burned about a quarter of its national corn supply as fuel -- and this led to only a 1 percent reduction in the country's oil consumption.
The good news is that people are coming to understand the consequences of biofuels, which is why public support for ethanol subsidies has dropped over the last two years.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Food Crisis

On this Earth Day, we are just waking up to a new global food crisis, starkly described by The Economist:
“World agriculture has entered a new, unsustainable and politically risky period,” says Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC. To prove it, food riots have erupted in countries all along the equator. In Haiti, protesters chanting “We're hungry” forced the prime minister to resign; 24 people were killed in riots in Cameroon; Egypt's president ordered the army to start baking bread; the Philippines made hoarding rice punishable by life imprisonment. “It's an explosive situation and threatens political stability,” worries Jean-Louis Billon, president of Côte d'Ivoire's chamber of commerce.
Bloomberg News describes the harsh reality:
The price of rice, the staple food for half the world, has doubled in the past year to an all-time high. Countries including Indonesia and Egypt have seen social unrest over high prices, and are attempting to restrain inflation and curb instability by limiting food exports or removing import duties on food staples.
Did anyone see this coming? Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, did. Brown has been warning of such a crisis brought on by the growing use of biofuels, spreading water scarcity and global warming would create this very crisis. For instance, he predicted that the cultivation of grains for fuels would drive up food prices in The Globalist in 2006:
Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in world grain consumption this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects that world grain use will grow by 20 million tons in 2006.
Of this, 14 million tons will be used to produce fuel for cars in the United States, leaving only 6 million tons to satisfy the world’s growing food needs. In agricultural terms, the world appetite for automotive fuel is insatiable. The grain required to fill a 25-gallon SUV gas tank with ethanol will feed one person for a year. The grain needed to fill that same tank every two weeks over a year will feed 26 people.
Brown warned that this diversion of agriculture to fuel production could cause social and political instability:
For the two billion poorest people in the world, many of whom spend half or more of their income on food, rising grain prices can quickly become life threatening. The broader risk is that rising food prices could spread hunger and generate political instability in low-income countries that import grain, such as Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria and Mexico.
Another factor Brown cites is growing water scarcity, which would affect rice prices first:
Among the three grains that dominate the world food supply—wheat, rice, and corn—the supply of rice is likely to tighten first simply because it is the most water-dependent of the three grains. Finding enough water to expand rice production is not easy in a world with spreading water scarcity. If rice supplies tighten and prices rise, the higher prices will then likely spread to wheat, the other principal food grain.
Because global warming affects water supplies, China has become a net importer of wheat in the last decade:
Higher temperatures in mountainous regions alter the precipitation mix, increasing rainfall and reducing snowfall. The result is more flooding during the rainy season and less snowmelt to feed rivers during the dry season. In Asia, for example, this shift is affecting the flow of the major rivers that originate in the vast Himalayan-Tibetan region, including the Indus, Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze, and Yellow.
Brown first gained notoriety as the founder of the Worldwatch Institute, which still issues an annual report, The State of the World. If you want to understand the current food crisis, I recommend two of Brown's books: Outgrowing the Earth, about water scarcity, and Plan B 3.0, about the overall ability of the Earth to sustain human civilization.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

If ABC Had Moderated the Lincoln-Douglas Debates

Via BoingBoing, I found this transcript from Obsidian Wings of the Lincoln-Douglas debates if ABC News had been moderating:
LINCOLN: In my opinion, slavery will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me, did an Elijah H. Johnson attend your church?
LINCOLN: When I was a boy in Illinois forty years ago, yes. I think he was a deacon.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you aware that he regularly called Kentucky “a land of swine and whores”?

LINCOLN: Sounds right -- his ex-wife was from Kentucky.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Why did you remain in the church after hearing those statements?
LINCOLN: I was eight.
DOUGLAS: This is an important question George -- it's an issue that certainly will be raised in the fall.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you denounce him?

LINCOLN: I’d like to get back to the divided house if I may.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you denounce and reject him?
LINCOLN: If it will make you shut up, yes, I denounce and reject him.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you denounce and reject him with sugar on top?
In the midst of this nonsense, Senator Douglas did find time to insert an important point:
DOUGLAS: When I was 11, my grandpappy and I chopped wood and shot bears.
It's true that in the mid 19th century, journalism was, in many ways, much rougher than today. But it's hard to imagine it could have been much dumber.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

House Concurrent Resolution 50

Delmarva Power has been spending millions on lawyers, lobbyists, PR and radio advertising to try to kill offshore wind power in Delaware. Some legislators don't want the company's customers to foot the bill for defying the Public Service Commission and blocking the implementation of HB 6.
SPONSOR: Rep. Kowalko & Rep. Schwartzkopf
Reps. Johnson, Keeley, Mitchell, Mulrooney, Williams; Sens. Ennis, Peterson, Simpson, Sokola; Rep. Valihura; Sens. Cloutier, Connor, Sorenson



WHEREAS, satisfying the RFP competitive process mandated by House Bill No. 6 of the 143rd General Assembly required significant financial expenditures by competing parties to craft acceptable proposals to fulfill those mandates; and
WHEREAS, the successful bidder, Bluewater Wind, expended a significant amount of its own resources to analyze the RFP and submit a proposal that was in the best interests of Delmarva’s ratepayers and the citizens of Delaware; and
WHEREAS, Bluewater Wind has acted in good faith and submitted a proposal that meets the criteria established in House Bill No. 6 with no expectation of recovering its investment from the SOS customers in Delaware; and
WHEREAS, even after submitting a proposal that meets the criteria established in House Bill No. 6, Bluewater Wind has had to expend significant energy and resources to answer a series of unsubstantiated attacks by Delmarva Power to the Power Purchase Agreement originally scheduled to be signed on December 18, 2007; and
WHEREAS, Delmarva Power officials and their agents have consistently stated that they intend to pass-on to and recoup from its ratepayers all of the costs and expenses incurred in opposing the Power Purchase Agreement developed pursuant to the criteria established in House Bill No. 6; and
WHEREAS, Delmarva Power and its agents continue to impede the proceedings and conclusions reached through an 18 month RFP process that formally concluded on December 14, 2007; and
WHEREAS, the Public Service Commission is the duly appointed regulatory agency with exclusive authority to determine what rate increases and relief is in the interest of the ratepayers, and to make determinations upon application by SOS distributors for rate increases.
BE IT RESOLVED by the House of Representatives of the 144th General Assembly of the State of Delaware, the Senate concurring therein, that the General Assembly hereby recommends that the Public Service Commission deny any request by Delmarva Power to recoup from it ratepayers the expenditures it incurred in opposing the Power Purchase Agreement negotiated pursuant to the criteria established in House Bill No. 6; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly hereby recommends that the Public Service Commission deny any attempt and/or request by Delmarva Power to include a pass-through surcharge to its customers to recover the money Delmarva Power spent to oppose the Power Purchase Agreement negotiated pursuant to the criteria established in House Bill No. 6; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Assembly hereby recommends that all of the expenses Delmarva Power incurred throughout the process mandated by House Bill No. 6, other than those incurred for the purpose of satisfying the requirements that act, be borne by Delmarva Power and/or its parent company, Pepco Holdings.

This concurrent resolution recommends that the Public Service deny any request by Delmarva Power to recover from or pass-through to its ratepayers the costs it has incurred opposing the Power Purchase Agreement negotiated between Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind pursuant to the criteria established in House Bill No. 6.
By the way, Bluewater Wind's costs to date have been entirely covered by its investors. There is no provision in the power purchase agreement to recover its start-up expenses.

Friday, April 18, 2008

TommyWonk Talking Wind Power on WDEL this Noon

Allan Loudell has invited me back on WDEL, 1150 AM at 12:38 to discuss the latest news on wind power.
Despite another ominous headline in the News Journal, the Energy & Transit Committee report was defanged yesterday before winning committee approval. The report no longer contains a sentence that would kill the deal. I'm told that Harris McDowell intended to bring the report to the full Senate as the vehicle for killing the deal. Now it's just a report.
If you miss me during the noon hour, WDEL also posts podcasts of recent interviews.
Update: I went on a little later in the hour than originally planned. Despite the parade of bleak headlines, I told Allan that the report was now all bark and no bite. The only measure on the table on wind power is HCR 38.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

McDowell's Report Rendered Toothless

Harris McDowell intended for the Energy & Transit report to do more than provide arguments against approving the Bluewater Wind deal. I've been told he planned to bring the report to the Senate floor for a vote as the vehicle for killing the deal.
When the committee met today, a new draft was circulated, with a sentence that would have instructed the controller general to vote against the Bluewater Wind agreement.
Had McDowell brought this version of the report to the full Senate, and won that vote, that would have been the ball game.
That sentence was removed from the report at today's meeting.
The News Journal has the story:
DOVER — A Senate panel has given its approval to a report critical of the Bluewater Wind project and the state process that led to a proposed 25-year contract with Delmarva Power.
But the panel removed language urging the defeat of the contract, instead instructing policymakers to give great weight to the recommendations.
While the report lost its bite, it still has plenty of bark to it, though some of that was toned down a bit. I'm told there were other changes removing language along the lines of "the committee finds" or "the committee recommends." Which isn't to say the report isn't chock full of one-sided analysis and biased conclusions. Even with the changes, two committee members, Karen Peterson and Catherine Cloutier, voted against the report.
But Harris McDowell can no longer use the report to block the deal. This leaves one measure that would put the decision before the Senate: HCR 38, which passed the House last week by a vote of 25 to 11.
The death of wind power is not a foregone conclusion after all. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Senate Committee to Consider Changes to McDowell's Draft Report?

The Senate Energy & Transit Committee will meet tomorrow, Thursday, at 11:00 AM in the Senate Chamber Meeting Room. Expect the meeting to go behind closed doors.
While no agenda has been posted, I have been told that the committee will take up the draft report that was leaked to the media, and will consider changes. We will see whether the changes that emerge are merely cosmetic (to appease McDowell's colleagues), or extensive enough to signal that the the demise of Bluewater Wind may not be a foregone conclusion after all.

Rumors of Wind Power's Demise

Yesterday, Maria Evans, Dave Burris, Jason Scott and I came together to voice our support for the Bluewater Wind project. Each of us appended our individual comments to a joint statement.
Dave's statement contained this startling paragraph:
A week ago, one prominent Delawarean told me that the project was dead, the deal had been cut, that all of the players, including Senate leadership and the Governor candidates, were involved. It was over. DP&L was one of the good old boys and BWW was not and that was it.
By the end of the day, John Carney and Jack Markell had denied the report to John Kowalko, Pat Gearity of Citizens for Clean Power and Dana Garrett of Delaware Watch.
As Dana reports,
Dave last night retracted the paragraph, before reversing himself this morning in a comment on Delaware Watch:
I stand by my statement 100%. I shouldn't have retracted it. In fact, I'm going to go back right now and un-retract it.
As for the denials from Carney and Markell, Dave asks:
What did you think they were going to say?
I have no reason to doubt that someone actually said this to Dave, but I find the idea that Carney and Markell were part of a discussion to kill wind power implausible in the extreme. Both have been outspoken advocates for the Bluewater Wind project.
But the most puzzling aspect of the assertion that "a deal had been cut" to kill wind power is that we're so close to getting this done.
HCR 38 passed the House last week 25 to 11, and has eight senators signed on as sponsors. Harris McDowell hasn't been able to get the Energy & Transit Committee to sign off on his report slamming Bluewater Wind and the Public Service Commission, and has resorted to leaking the document. Why would any advocate even consider giving up now?
I have heard rumors of unspecified compromise talks going on the Senate, but what is there to negotiate? A negotiated agreement is already on the table, and has the support of most of the public, three state agencies, and 35 legislators.
So why are we hearing these rumors? With the House passing HCR 38 last week, the pressure is squarely on the 21 members of the Senate. I doubt they like being in the hot seat, and suspect we will be hearing rumors of deals and solutions now and then until the matter is brought to a vote.
The most important fact of the situation is that we're three votes shy of getting this done, despite an unrelenting effort on the part of Delmarva Power and its allies in the Senate to kill the project.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Four of Us Agree on Wind Power

We are four different bloggers (two Republicans and two Democrats) with four distinct points of view. But we have come together because we agree that it's time for Delaware to say yes to offshore wind power.
Bluewater Wind's offshore wind farm has been reviewed in hearings, subject to repeated analyses, supported by thousands of letters and e-mails from citizens, selected in a competitive process, survived intense negotiations, and endorsed by a majority of members of Delaware's House of Representatives.
One hurdle remains: House Concurrent Resolution 38, which enjoys the support of 35 legislators of both parties, has passed the House, and is headed to the Senate. We are calling upon the Senate to take one last decisive step to make Delaware the first state in the U.S. to make offshore wind power a reality.
We offer this joint statement as a prologue to our separate posts on the subject. But together we agree that the time has come to say yes to our energy future.
Dave Burris
Maria Evans
Jason Scott
Tom Noyes

In addition to the joint statement, we have all posted separate comments. Maria says she's not that green:
I’m a global warming skeptic. I drive a car that’s less than stellar on gas mileage. I would march a billion rats into a laboratory for testing to ensure I’d have one less wrinkle a decade or two down the road. But I’m in favor of the wind farm proposed to sit off the coast of Rehoboth Beach.
Dave admits he was skeptical of the deal on some points:
The final argument is that Delmarva Power is a private company and BWW is a private company and that the state has no business forcing them into a contract. I'll admit I bought that argument for a while, as those principles are near and dear to my heart. However, in the end, DPL is a regulated utility with a guaranteed profit, and even if it weren't, the time for that argument was during the HB 6 debate, not now. The law is the law.
Jason make makes a moral case for wind power based on Christian ethics:
Rising above the dim of the absurd claims from Delmarva Power, it must be made clear to everyone that if we as Delawareans fail to take this step, we will have failed to live up to the moral responsibility that we owe to our children and grandchildren, and we will have failed in our ethical responsibility to be the live participants in this Democracy that our founding fathers intended us to be.
Herein, my own comments:
The pending Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power would make Delaware a leader in renewable energy, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, and protect us from inevitable future price increases as energy demand continues to climb.
HB 6 (the Electric Utility Retail Customer Supply Act of 2006) was signed into law two years ago in response to the sudden 59 percent rate hike brought on by electric power deregulation. HB 6 established a process for procuring a new energy source based in Delaware, and gave the Public Service Commission (PSC), Office of Management and Budget, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and the Office of the Controller General the authority to select a bidder based on criteria including energy price stability, reduced environmental impact, the use of new technology and feasibility.
After a competitive process, the four agencies directed that Delmarva Power enter into negotiations with Bluewater Wind to build an offshore wind power facility in Delaware. These negotiations have produced a power purchase agreement (PPA) to build and operate the nation's first offshore wind power facility here in Delaware. The Public Service Commission staff report issued last December finds that the PPA meets the criteria established byHB 6.
Despite this positive staff report, and overwhelming popular support, the agencies were unable to achieve a consensus when they met on December 18, 2007. In particular, the Office of the Controller General, representing the General Assembly, was not prepared to vote to approve the Power Purchase Agreement.
House Concurrent Resolution 38, which enjoys broad bipartisan support, would recommend that the controller general approve the Bluewater PPA. Last week, the House passed HCR 38 by a decisive margin of 25 to 11. The measure faces determined opponents in the Senate.
The Senate Energy and Transit Committee has drafted a report that is widely expected to argue that the project is too expensive; that the PSC erred in moving ahead with the project; that onshore wind from out of state would be preferable; and that the entire process be scrapped.
In short, the draft report is expected to agree with Delmarva Power, take issue with the work of the PSC and dismiss the vote of a majority of the House of Representatives. This report is being met with sharp disagreement in the committee and the Democratic caucus.
The key argument against the Bluewater Wind project is of course that it is too expensive.
I am an advocate for wind power, but not at any price.
On the matter of cost, projections that the wind power agreement would cost ratepayers a few dollars a month are based on the startling assumption that natural gas prices will decline over the next four years and will not climb above 2007 levels until the year 2012.
That is not a typo; these projections assume that natural gas prices will not rise above 2007 price for as long as fifteen years.
How does that compare to recent history? Natural gas prices tripled between 1997 and 2007. Given that worldwide energy demand will grow at least 50 percent over the next 20 years, it is hard to imagine how energy prices will not continue to climb. Instead of costing us extra, offhsore wind will almost certainly save us money.
We are almost there. Eight of 21 senators have signed on as sponsors of HCR 38. We need three more votes. The people of Delaware have consistently voiced their support for wind power in Delaware. We are too close to give up now. We can make offshore wind a reality in Delaware. You can reach your senator through this roster. If you don't know your senator, you can call the Department of Elections:
New Castle County: (302) 577-3464
Kent County: (302) 739-4498
Sussex County: (302) 856-5367
We are now eight years into the 21st century. It's time we start to build our energy future.

Monday, April 14, 2008

John Archibald Wheeler; 1911-2007

John Archibald Wheeler is probably the greatest American physicist you never heard of. But you've certainly heard one of his neologisms; Wheeler gave black holes their names.
Wheeler spanned generations in physics. He discussed the deepest issues with Albert Einstein and Neils Bohr, taught Richard Feynman, and paved the way for cosmologists like Stephen Hawking. His career recalls the long gone era when scientists could do original work across the now separated disciplines of physics.
Wheeler looked more like a typical American businessman that like the philosopher-scientist from central casting. But, as the New York Times recounts, he was unique among U.S. physicists in his taste for the strolling the furthest edges of scientific thought:
Recalling his student days, Dr. Feynman once said, “Some people think Wheeler’s gotten crazy in his later years, but he’s always been crazy.”
Among his crazy musings that have become accepted part of our understanding of the world is his concept of quantum foam, in which space-time itself breaks down into chaos at very small distances.
Wheeler worked on the Manhattan Project, which brought him to Wilmington to live while he worked with the DuPont Company in 1943, while crossing the country to Chicago, Illinois and Hanford, Washington. He continued to do physics for the Pentagon when many of his colleagues were divided over nuclear weapons, Robert Oppenheimer and Vietnam. Wheeler wasn't doctinaire about his government work; he just thought he owed it to his country, and managed to remain friends with his colleagues across the political spectrum.
Perhaps he was just too interested in, and interesting to, the entire scope of physics to want to wall himself off from any segment of the 20th century's scientific community.
Photo: Emilio Segre Visual Archives

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Harris McDowell's Report a Foregone Conclusion

Harris McDowell is having trouble getting his colleagues on the Senate Energy & Transit Committee to agree to his draft of the committee report slamming the Bluewater Wind project. And it's not as though they need time to assimilate its contents. We've known for a long time that if McDowell were the only author, the report's findings and conclusions would be a foregone conclusion.
But because McDowell is only one member of the committee, we don't yet know what the report will say. It may take another couple of weeks for it to be toned down enough to gain approval from the committee's membership. But that hasn't stopped some insiders from leaking the report to media, such as WDEL, which ran this story on Friday:
More details are coming to light as to why the Senate Energy and Transit Committee may suggest killing the proposed deal for an off-shore wind farm.
In a draft report obtained by WDEL News, the committee concluded the process of selecting the proposed Power Purchase Agreement between Delmarva Power and Bluewater Wind didn't allow for its comparison to other more beneficial and less costly options.
Of course the process didn't compare these options, because the competitive process was based on a law, HB 6, that set the criteria for selecting a new, in-state energy source.
It also states the agreement would create a net economic loss for the state in terms of jobs and disposable income.
As I have said many times over, the calculation that the wind farm would cost ratepayers more is based on the unlikely premise that fossil fuel prices will go down in the next several years and stay down for years to come. By the way, I and others have said this to the committee, in person, on paper and in electronic form, so I don't think they may have overlooked the point.
The report says committee recommendations include instructing the Controller General to vote against the agreement, and the General Assembly monitor a new process that includes competitively bid, long-term contracts, for renewable energy, including on-shore wind.
Strictly speaking, the draft report cannot refer to committee recommendations until such time the committee actually votes on the report.
There are further reasons for discounting what the report may eventually say, if and when it gains approval of the committee.
We know that committee chair Harris McDowell has been an unrelenting opponent of the offshore wind proposal.

We know he has stacked his hearings with opponents on the wind farm. His invited guests were invariably opposed the project, and given the first speaking slots while proponents were told to sign up to testify. In my case, even signing up by e-mail didn't guarantee a speaking slot.
We know McDowell spent public funds to hire a pricey lawyer to interrogate the leadership of the Public Service Commission, whose transgression was implementing HB 6, which the General Assembly had passed two years ago.
We know he brought in an outside expert, Michael T. Hogan, to point out the errors of our ways for even considering building an offshore wind farm in Delaware. (Some readers of this blog may remember Mr. Hogan for his emphatic attempts to dissuade us from the folly of offshore wind.) By the way, I don't think that paying Mr. Hogan's expense likely affected his testimony; I think he was asked to testify because McDowell knew what he would say in advance.
All this is academic because there is, as yet, no committee report. But while McDowell and his allies can't gain approval for a one-sided draft report, they can leak their version to the media without the bother of a committee vote.
I would expect that these leaks will continue. In the meanwhile, I also expect that our local media will consider the source of the leaks, and be mindful of the fact that the report reflects nothing more than the concerted efforts of wind power's most determined opponents to kill the Bluewater project.

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.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Delaware House of Representatives Votes Yes on Wind Power

The day didn't start well for wind power advocates, but brightened considerably before the sun went down.
The Delaware House of Representatives today voted in favor of offshore wind power by passing House Concurrent Resolution 38 by a vote of 25 to 11, with 3 not voting. (The Leg Hall website has the roll call.) One amendment, described as friendly, was incorporated into HCR 38, while a second amendment was defeated.
The day started with the ominous headline, "Report may doom offshore wind farm" on the front page of the News Journal. When I arrived in Leg Hall this afternoon, the majority and minority huddled in their respective caucuses to see how and whether HCR 38 would be considered. When the House was getting ready to reconvene about 4:30, word came down that the resolution would come to the floor for a vote.
After considering the two amendments, prime sponsor Bob Valihura said it's time to find out "which way the wind is blowing." Afterwards, he mentioned the broad support for wind power to News Journal reporter Jeff Montgomery:
"I think that's a significant vote, because it represented not only upstate and downstate, but it's also bipartisan," said Rep. Robert J. Valihura, R-Talleyville.
Next up is the Senate, where Harris McDowell has yet to release his feared committee report which got so much attention today. I'm guessing that his colleagues will feel slightly less willing to sign on to his anti wind power findings now that HCR 38 found its way to their in box with such a convincing margin.

TommyWonk on WDEL in the Noon Hour

Allan Loudell has invited me back on WDEL, 1150 AM at 12:15 today to discuss the latest news on wind power. Delmarva Power and Harris McDowell have been busy this week throwing roadblocks in the way of Bluewater Wind. But then we knew that, didn't we.
What we don't know at this hour is whether the Republican caucus will allow HCR 38 to come for a vote today. I'm told the caucus will hear once again from Delmarva Power on the company's rather sketchy numbers for onshore wind power. Maria Evans of WGMD describes the one page summary as "a little short on information."
If you miss me during the noon hour, WDEL also posts podcasts of recent interviews.
Update: Dana at Delaware Watch has my noon hour interview. Allan called back to follow up on the story at about 4:25 this evening--just in time for me to tell him the House was going back into session to vote on HCR 38.

More Attempts to Kill Wind Power in Delaware

Delmarva Power and Harris McDowell have showed up this week with buckets full of fresh coffin nails intended to kill the Bluewater Wind project. McDowell yesterday circulated a draft of his report purporting to show that we can't afford offshore wind. According to the News Journal, the draft criticizes the reliance on a long term power purchase agreement (PPA) and suggests that the project instead be configured to make use of a state government incentive:
Copeland added that the draft report by McDowell's committee recommended Delmarva Power purchase onshore wind power and Delaware offer Bluewater a one-time incentive to build the project without other state-imposed guarantees.
The aid, Copeland said, would be similar to New Jersey's recent offer of up to $19 million to support private offshore wind ventures. New Jersey's approach obliges developers to find their own buyers for electricity generated by Garden State turbines.
There is no word on whether Copeland plans to introduce legislation to offer state money to Bluewater. The assertion that New Jersey project won't rely on a PPA is of course a fantasy, but one that McDowell and Copeland hope will appeal to those who want to oppose the project while maintaining that they really do like wind power, really.
On Tuesday, Delmarva Power distributed the following prices sheet to members of the General Assembly:
That's it. No explanations. No disclaimers. No basis for comparing the numbers. Delmarva's one pager comes without the fine print--the kind of disclaimers you hear at the end of TV or radio ads in which words are compressed to the point of incomprehension: "These virtual wind prices do not include transmission costs, reliability calculations or any actual environmental benefits for Delaware..."
As they are, the numbers are at best useless, and can be better described as misleading. We are given nothing to help us to understand whether and how the numbers are comparable, because no basis for comparison is offered.
One example: We know onshore wind is less reliable, so an equal capacity should not result in equal output. You may recall that reliability is an issue of great concern with Delmarva when it comes opposing the Bluewater project. Apparently it's less of a concern when it comes to these bids.
For Gary Stockbridge and his colleagues at Delmarva Power it's a great solution: They wouldn't have to swallow the Bluewater project, they spend less of the company's money, and they get to claim they like wind power even though it's not clear whether the onshore wind turbines have actually been built.
It's not as though the McDowell report and Delmarva Power's onshore wind bids haven't been expected. But opponents will seize on these long planned developments as reasons to kill or at least delay the project.
We will see whether these developments are enough to hold up consideration of HCR 38 in the House, which could come today. The common thread of these ham-fisted attempts to kill offshore wind is the assertion that the project is too expensive. But, as I have pointed out, the project would cost us extra if and only if fossil fuel prices take a nosedive and stay depressed for years to come.
It has been two years since HB 6 was signed into law, and nearly eleven months after the Public Service Commission directed the company to open negotiations with Bluewater Wind, and those who would uphold Delmarva Power's status quo are doing all they can to keep Bluewater Wind from making Delaware the first state to build offshore wind.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The SEU: Accountable to Whom?

The Senate Energy & Transit Committee meets today at 3:00 PM. The single item on the agenda is Senate Bill 228, which would amend Title 29 to change the way Delaware's fledgling Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) would be governed.
The SEU was established to provide financing for homeowners and small business owners to invest in energy conservation and generation technologies like placing solar panels on your roof. It's a great idea.
Unfortunately, SB 228 would overhaul the governance of the SEU by establishing a new board of directors and making that board self-perpetuating:
The SEU Board of Directors shall consist of eleven members. The members of the SEU Board of Directors shall be appointed by the existing SEU Oversight Board, whose members shall continue to serve until the SEU Board of Directors has been appointed and the Board constituted.
Selection of members of the Board shall occur by a two-thirds vote of the existing Board members. Board members will be recommended by a three-person Selection Committee appointed by the Board.
There is a principle that holds in the private, public and non-profit sectors that any corporate entity is accountable to its funders. In government, elected legislative bodies and executives pass budgets and incur debt. Corporate boards are elected by shareholders. The boards of non-profit entities generally represent members or those who donate to the organizations.
The one common thread among failures and scandals in government authorities, non-profit organizations and corporations is the breakdown of accountability. SB 228 would set the SEU up for failure by making its board accountable to no one.
I am hearing of discomfort among legislators about SB 228, and would expect to see one or more amendments offered to establish the proper degree of accountability to this important new agency.

A "Boom that Wasn't"

David Leonhardt, writing in the New York Times, calls it "a boom that wasn't" for many Americans:
The bigger problem is that the now-finished boom was, for most Americans, nothing of the sort. In 2000, at the end of the previous economic expansion, the median American family made about $61,000, according to the Census Bureau’s inflation-adjusted numbers. In 2007, in what looks to have been the final year of the most recent expansion, the median family, amazingly, seems to have made less — about $60,500.
Yes there have been growth periods when some segments of the workforce don't do well. But this one was different:
“We have had expansions before where the bottom end didn’t do well,” said Lawrence F. Katz, a Harvard economist who studies the job market. “But we’ve never had an expansion in which the middle of income distribution had no wage growth.”
Political candidates like to talk about the forgotten middle. This time, there seems to be something to the rhetoric.
Chart: New York Times

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Red Bird Reef

Dumping subway cars off Delaware's beaches is a good thing, according to today's New York Times. Delaware started using NYC subway cars to build artificial reefs several years ago:
“They’re basically luxury condominiums for fish,” Jeff Tinsman, artificial reef program manager for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said as one of 48 of the 19-ton retirees from New York City sank toward the 666 already on the ocean floor.
But now, Delaware is struggling with the misfortune of its own success.
Having planted a thriving community in what was once an underwater desert, state marine officials are faced with the sort of overcrowding, crime and traffic problems more common to terrestrial cities.
The summer flounder and bass have snuggled so tightly on top and in the nooks of the subway cars that Mr. Tinsman is trying to expand the housing capacity. He is having trouble, however, because other states, seeing Delaware’s successes, have started competing for the subway cars, which New York City provides free.
The site is called Red Bird Reef, after the stainless steel Red Bird subway cars. The proposed 150 wind turbines off the coast, and a few mile northwest of Red Bird reef, would have a similar effect on sea life, according to environmentalists.
Map: New York Times

Monday, April 07, 2008

Rhode Island Issues RFP for Offshore Wind Power

Rhode Island wants to get in the offshore wind power game. According to, Rhode Island has issued a Request For Proposal (RFP) for offshore wind power. The RFP is for 1.3 million gigawatt hours per year of wind energy and contemplates entering into a long term contract:
Rhode Island is developing a means to execute long-term contracts for renewable energy. This will be done either through the distribution companies, a quasi-public state power authority, or both. With either mechanism, the State of RI will use its best efforts to assure a long-term contract for energy produced by the facility.
Allan Loudell of WDEL, 1150 AM, wants to talk about Rhode Island and other developments at 5:35 [sorry, it was 5:25]

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Action on Wind Power Next Week?

It looks like we might get some action on wind power next week. The News Journal reports that legislators are talking about voting on House Concurrent Resolution 38 next week. They certainly are in no mood to have the legislative calendar dictated by Delmarva Power:
"I can guarantee you we're not going to wait around until the end of May, the beginning of June to make a decision on what we're going to do on this issue in the House," said Majority Leader Richard Cathcart, R-Middletown.
Delmarva Power wants the General Assembly to do nothing until the company releases the results of bids for onshore wind power in the first week of June. The House held off consideration of HCR 38 before the Easter break. But there is a growing impatience among legislators with Delmarva's stalling tactics:
Cathcart and Rep. Robert Valihura, R-Beau Tree, said senior Delmarva officials and their lobbyist, Joe Farley, met with the House Republican caucus shortly before the break. Both lawmakers said they heard Delmarva representatives promise them cost estimates for onshore wind bids, which they could compare to Bluewater prices, by the time they return next week.
But Delmarva spokesman Bill Yingling said the company never made such a promise. He said the company only said it would have preliminary numbers by the end of March, and those numbers would not be released.
"Representative Valihura must have misunderstood our statements," Yingling said.
In reaction, Valihura said, "That's just a flat-out lie." And Cathcart added. "If they're telling you they did not say that, they're not telling you the truth."
One thing you never want to do in Leg Hall is have legislators publicy pissed off at you.
I have thought for a while that legislators don't want this on the agenda in June. There is too much big stuff to deal with, including a difficult budget, for them to want to still be considering wind power in the final weeks of the session.
Legislators understand the wind farm is a popular with the public:
Cathcart said he recently polled his constituents, asking whether they would be willing to pay between $7 and $15 more per month for power from the Bluewater project. The overwhelming majority said yes, he said.
Given the public support for offshore wind, Delmarva Power's clumsy attempts to engineer grassroots support from its employees seems like it comes about a year late, just like its effort to buy time by shopping for out of state wind power.

Friday, April 04, 2008

1968 and 2008

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed forty years ago. The dynamics of racial politics were locked in place in 1968, and have shifted only marginally since then. That year Richard Nixon redrew the electoral map with his southern strategy, and Dixie has been solid Republican territory for the GOP ever since.
The political map reflects the deeper psychic landscape that emerged in 1968. This landscape of mistrust and resentment between blacks and whites may have been worn down over the last forty year, but its principle features are still recognizable.
Barack Obama's candidacy has brought some of these resentments to the surface. He himself raised them in his speech on March 18, not to inflame or dismiss, but to examine closely and offer understanding. Notably, Obama voiced an appreciation of white resentments:
In fact, a similar anger exists within segments of the white community. Most working- and middle-class white Americans don't feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race. Their experience is the immigrant experience - as far as they're concerned, no one's handed them anything, they've built it from scratch. They've worked hard all their lives, many times only to see their jobs shipped overseas or their pension dumped after a lifetime of labor. They are anxious about their futures, and feel their dreams slipping away; in an era of stagnant wages and global competition, opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense. So when they are told to bus their children to a school across town; when they hear that an African American is getting an advantage in landing a good job or a spot in a good college because of an injustice that they themselves never committed; when they're told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudiced, resentment builds over time.
Like the anger within the black community, these resentments aren't always expressed in polite company. But they have helped shape the political landscape for at least a generation. Anger over welfare and affirmative action helped forge the Reagan Coalition. Politicians routinely exploited fears of crime for their own electoral ends. Talk show hosts and conservative commentators built entire careers unmasking bogus claims of racism while dismissing legitimate discussions of racial injustice and inequality as mere political correctness or reverse racism.
Will Obama's speech lead to a new national conversation on race? Yes, if we are willing to do the hard work of allowing our thinking to change. While the temperature of race relations has come down from the fever of 1968, our national attitudes on race still remain fixed in place.
But even the phrase "race relations" offers a clue as to how our thinking may be changing; the phrase recalls a time when contact between blacks and whites was a matter shaped by demonstrations, riots, speeches, court cases, and legislation. For most Americans, dealing with people of other racial backgrounds is a daily occurrence.
Unfortunately, this new conversation is being crowded out by media voices more interested in stoking controversy than building understanding. Your average cable news channel is likely to spend more airtime reviewing the words of Rev. Wright than of Obama himself.
Rehashing old resentments is easy. Rethinking old attitudes is hard. I don't know what a new conversation about race in America might look like, for the simple reason we haven't had it yet. But I can hope and pray that forty years on, we can leave behind the shackles of past thinking and be about the work of living together in the 21st century.
The turmoil of that year need not shape our destiny for all time. Perhaps now we can look back and see the maelstrom of 1968 receding in our rear view mirror, and turn our attention to the road before us.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sierra Club Creates Delaware Environmental Political Action Committee

The Sierra Club in Delaware is taking a more active role in electoral politics by establishing a political action committee:
For Immediate Release
Date: April 2, 2008
Sierra Club sets up Delaware Environmental Political Action Committee

Wilmington, Delaware – The Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club announced today that it has registered the Delaware Environmental PAC with the state Board of Elections and is looking forward to ensuring that environmental issues – from clean air and energy to land use, global warming and clean water – are part of the discussion as the coming election cycle heats up in Delaware.
“Sierra Club members are interested in electing candidates to state and local offices who seek to understand and address Delaware’s environmental concerns,” said Jay Cooperson, Delaware chapter chair. “We want to make that sure the candidates running for office next fall are aware of the issues and will work to protect the health of our natural and human communities once they are elected to office.”
The chapter’s plans include compiling a candidate’s scorecard, hosting a candidate forum as well as considering endorsements in state level races and actively working to elect pro-environment candidates. The chapter’s political committee has started work on these projects and welcomes all Sierra Club members, including new ones, to join the effort.
Contributions to the Delaware Environmental Political Action Committee are welcome. Checks can be made out to “Delaware Environmental PAC” and sent to Delaware Environmental PAC, c/o Sierra Club Delaware Chapter, 100 West 10th Street, Suite 1107, Wilmington, DE 19801.
Contributions or gifts to Delaware Environmental PAC are not tax-deductible.

The Sierra Club, founded in 1892, is the nation’s oldest grass-roots environmental organization. The Club is dedicated to the protection and preservation of the natural and human environment. The Club’s purpose is: “To explore, enjoy and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environments.”
By way of disclosure, I recently joined the Sierra Club political committee.
The Sierra Club has set modest goals for the PAC for 2008, but if the support is there it could have a greater effect. Even small donations can be meaningful. I can have a modest impact on a campaign by writing a check to the candidate of my choice. The same amount, combined with similar donations from like-minded voters, can have a more noticeable impact on a candidate.
The more support the PAC generates, the more visible it can be in promoting an environmental agenda this year.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Back on the Air with Allan Loudell on WDEL

Allan Loudell has invited me back on WDEL, 1150 AM at 12:38 to discuss the latest news on wind power.
The General Assembly reconvenes next week, and HCR 38 should come to a vote in the House after being held up in the Republican caucus before the break. I am told that prime sponsor Bob Valihura was not happy with the delay. HCR has 22 sponsors in the House, so it should pass once it comes up for a vote.
If you miss me during the noon hour, WDEL also posts podcasts of recent interviews.
Update: The conversation was mostly about polling and public opinion. Demarva Power denies the story about a push poll.
The company did conduct a poll last October. My favorite finding was that beachfront property owners prefer offshore wind to onshore wind by a 3 to 1 margin, 52 percent to 16 percent.

Dana at Delaware Watch has an MP3 of the interview.

My "ideological obsession with wind"

My friends tell me I should be flattered by the attention. A Mr. Michael T. Hogan has posted no fewer than 25 lengthy comments in the space of a week.
Mr. Hogan introduced himself in his first comment a week ago as "an environmentalist with an MBA from Harvard, a MS in Environmental Policy & Planning from MIT and expertise in the electricity industry." So he must be knowledgeable, which may be why Randall Speck, the D.C. lawyer Sen. McDowell hired to interrogate the chair and staff of the Public Service Commission, invited him to address one of Harris McDowell's hearings earlier this year. I do not know whether or how much Mr. Hogan was paid for his appearance.
He has taken exception with my coverage of wind power, and urged a more reasoned approach to my blogging:
Please push past your ideological obsession with wind and think about this problem rationally.
He asserts the offshore wind farm "will destroy jobs in the near term (owing to the fact that it is 2-3 times as expensive as conventional generation today with it's possible economic benefits not appearing until well into the future)…" Destroying jobs is economist speak for too expensive and economically wasteful.
Mr. Hogan seems determined to rescue wind power proponents from the error of our ways. Regrettably, his own arguments have not been free from error.
While I have no intention of reviewing all of his assertions point by point, one assertion deserves more careful, dare I say rational, scrutiny. He had me puzzled with calculations involving what he calls an all in contract price based on a 40 percent capacity factor:
Assuming a (moderately generous) 40% average capacity factor, the all-in contract price for Bluewater's power is about 14 cents/kWh in 2007 dollars. Add to that the 1.9 cents they expect to realize from the Production Tax Credit and the price to Bluewater is about 16 cents, again in 2007 dollars, rather than the 15 cents I suggested yesterday. I asked him to clarify that point: So to be clear, the energy component is about $98.50/MWh, the REC component is about $19.75/MWh, and the capacity price is about $70.65/kW-yr, which at a 40% capacity factor works out to about $20/MWh, bringing the total effective contract price (in 2007 $s) to just under $140/MWh or 14 cents/kWh.
The sheer volume of his comments have made for slow going, given my ongoing interest in my work/life balance, but I eventually caught on to one fundamental error. He refers to "the price to Bluewater" in explaining his 40 percent capacity factor. Actually, the price in the power purchase agreement (PPA) is the price to Delmarva, not Bluewater. Mr. Hogan seems to have confused inputs with outputs. The erroneous inclusion of his capacity factor results in this all in price that he states is too expensive, which it would be if it were true.
In other words, he interpreted Bluewater’s price as its cost and added a capacity factor to compensate for those times when the wind farm won’t be productive. The problem is that the price Bluewater negotiated in the PPA already takes expected productivity into account. By adding in spurious capacity factor, Mr. Hogan makes it easy to portray Bluewater’s price as extravagantly expensive.
So who is Michael T. Hogan? He gave us some background on kavips:
I am an industry veteran of 27 years; I have developed power projects around the world, about $8 billion worth, and my company developed wind farms onshore and offshore in the UK. I am currently doing research at MIT on renewable portfolio standards in the Environmental Policy & Planning Department. The counsel for the Energy Committee, Randall Sparks [sic], asked me to provide testimony regarding the project financing aspects of the Bluewater project because I’m a project financing expert.
He seems to have embarked on a personal crusade to correct the errors of those who favor the Bluewater Wind project:
After sitting through the hearings, though, I can’t say the same thing about BWW and their shareholders. I was shocked at some of the misrepresentations and inaccuracies in their testimony, and that day I promised myself I’d do what I could to make sure that the decision on the BWW contract was made on the basis of fact, not emotion and misinformation.
But as we see, Mr. Logan's arguments themselves have not been free from error. There are others, which I and some knowledgeable observers have identified, but inventing an all in contract price based on a spurious 40 percent capacity factor seems like a big enough mistake to cast some doubt on his grasp of the situation.