Friday, May 30, 2008

"The last full measure of devotion"

It has become a TommyWonk tradition to ponder the words of the Gettysburg Address on Memorial Day. Here's the infamous Powerpoint version, a lesson in how to take a powerful message and reduce it to mush.
And here is the text of the Bliss Version (
with links to readings by Sam Waterston, Jeff Daniels and Johnny Cash):
Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war.
We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract.
The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Will Wind Power Be Rendered Obsolete?

An objection to the proposed 25 year power purchase agreement with Bluewater Wind is that advances in technology could make the offshore wind farm obsolete, and leave Delmarva Power and its customers stuck with an expensive long term contract.
Advances in energy technology are not analogous to those in information processing. Intel, which designs and makes computer chips,
describes how its founder Gordon Moore's famous dictum has been proven right over more that four decades:
In 1965, his prediction, popularly known as Moore's Law, states that the number of transistors on a chip will double about every two years. And Intel has kept that pace for nearly 40 years.
So if information technology can increase at such a remarkable pace over such a long period of time, why can't electricity generation do the same?
Information processing has progressed at such a remarkable pace because its physical limits have not yet been reached, and probably won't until we reach the quantum level. But the physical limits of energy generation are much more constrained.
Any student of the basic laws of thermodynamics will tell you that energy is not created, but transformed from one form to another. A perfect (and unattainable) machine would have a coefficient of performance (ratio of energy conversion) of one. A machine with a coefficient greater than one would be the proverbial perpetual motion machine.
The most efficient wind turbine has a coefficient of between 0.4 and 0.5 at its optimum wind speed. The theoretical maximum of a turbine's efficiency is 0.59 according to a principle known as
Betz' law.
Because there's no room for exponential growth in turbine efficiency, only incremental improvement, we cannot expect a miracle breakthrough to render Bluewater Wind's turbines obsolete.
Update: I'll be discussing the latest on wind power in Delaware this evening with Allan Loudell on
WDEL, which is found at 1150 on your AM dial.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Crunch Time on Wind Power

It’s crunch time. When the General Assembly reconvenes next week, the Senate will have 13 legislative days left to either act or fail to act on wind power. We need everyone who cares about Delaware’s energy future to contact their senators and urge that House Concurrent Resolution 38 be brought to the floor for an up-or-down vote.
I thought it would be helpful to recap the argument for offshore wind power in Delaware and counter some of the arguments we’re hearing from Delmarva Power.
Delmarva Power asserts that its bids for onshore out of state wind power would be cheaper than the proposed offshore wind farm here in Delaware. There are several reasons to question Delmarva Power’s claims.
First, Delmarva Power is exaggerating the cost of the Bluewater Wind project. Delmarva asserts that Bluewater's offshore wind power project will cost customers an additional $240 a year. But the Public Service Commission says the wind farm would cost an extra $6.46 a month—and that’s if fossil fuel prices go down instead of up.
Second, Delmarva Power is trying to scare us with numbers that have nothing to do with the wind power agreement now on the table and presenting sketchy numbers for onshore, out-of-state wind.
Third, Delmarva Power claims onshore wind from out of state would be cheaper—but hasn’t released any details of the bids it has received or submitted them to the Public Service Commission. Among the crucial details we haven’t seen are the transmission costs and the reliability of the wind power. We don’t know whether the onshore wind capacity has been built or even permitted yet. Delmarva Power’s numbers for onshore wind have one thing in common with its scary projection that offshore wind will cost customers an extra $240 a year; neither have been reviewed or confirmed by the Public Service Commission.
Fourth, onshore wind is weaker and less reliable than offshore wind. Stronger, steadier winds make the offshore wind farm a better value. A cheaper price is not so meaningful if the power is transmitted less frequently or reliably. These are the kinds of factors that regulatory review would review in determining the true cost of power from different sources.
House Bill 6 mandates the creation of a new power source here in Delaware—a requirement that Delmarva is fighting. (Delaware ranks 49 out of 50 states for the amount of electricity it imports.) The purchase of onshore wind power from out of state does nothing to provide energy security for Delaware or reduce demand for dirty power generation.
Bluewater Wind offers a good deal for Delaware. Offshore wind power will provide 25 years of clean energy at a fixed cost. No other option available to Delaware can provide the same degree of price stability and environmental benefits. If fossil fuel prices continue to climb (and who thinks they won’t?) the Bluewater Wind project will provide a measure of price stability to our electric bills for years to come.
Contact information for senators
is posted here. If you don’t know who your senator is, click here.
Please call your senator to demand that they choose wind power based on the facts—not Delmarva Power’s scare tactics.

Update: You can also sign a petition asking for action at Citizens for a Better Sussex.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day (Observed)

Here's what I've got going on today:
I went driving with the top down along some country roads, and stopped in a properly shabby antiques shop, located in a barn of course. I'm going for a long bike ride this afternoon. I'm having a picnic in the park with some friends this evening.
Wilmington's Memorial Day parade takes place on May 30, no matter which day of the week it falls. I will join my neighbors who line up on either side of Delaware Avenue to watch the veterans groups, old cars, politicians and marching bands make their way down the street to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.
On Friday, I will put up my traditional Memorial Day post of the Gettysburg Address. If you want to read it before Friday, click here. For now, I'm heading back outside.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend Media with TommyWonk

This Memorial Day weekend, I will be interrupting my outdoor activities (which will involve some long, leisurely miles on my bike) to do some talking on our local media.
I’m going on the air this evening at 5:35 with Allan Loudell of
WDEL (1150 on your AM dial) to discuss the political landscape.
On Sunday, I will be joining John Kowalko and Richard Korn to talk about wind power on Channel 28 at 7:00 p.m., Richard’s regular monthly slot on Channel 28's Sunday talk marathon.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Consumers Ready to Pay More for Reduced Emissions

People support offshore wind power in Delaware because they understand the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the need for price stability in the face of relentlessly rising energy prices. It turns out that Delawareans are not so unusual in their views.
The consulting firm Deloite conducted national surveys of consumers and state energy commissioners that show people across the country share Delaware's views.
When asked whether they expect the cost of producing electricity to go up next year, 87 percent of commissioners said yes.
This result is hardly surprising. It's not as though you have to explain rising energy costs to folks. We're seeing it every day.
The surveys asked commissioners and consumers whether they would be willing to pay more to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
36.3 percent of consumers would be willing to support an increase of five percent. An additional 25.4 percent would be willing to shoulder an increase of ten percent or more.
The commissioners surveyed offered similar answers when asked about the consumers they serve. They thought that 29 percent would support an increase of five percent, and that an additional 32 percent would support an increase of ten percent or more.
These results are consistent with a survey conducted last year by Jeremy Firestone and Willett Kempton of the University of Delaware:

When asked to select from a variety of sources to help the state increase its energy supply, more than 90 percent of the 949 Delaware residents responding to the survey supported an offshore wind option--in which whirling wind turbines as tall as 40-story buildings would be erected off the coast to generate electricity--even if wind power were to add between $1 and $30 per month to their electric bills.

These results suggest that commissioners are fairly accurate when it comes to keeping tabs of their consumers' views. Here in Delaware, the Public Service Commission received thousands of letters and e-mails supporting wind power.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Thinking About Wind Power

There are several questions I have been thinking over, which I plan to discuss in the next week or so:
1. The technological efficiency of renewable energy, and whether waiting a few years would gain us significant improvements in energy efficiency.
2. Whether the cost of the Bluewater Wind project should be imposed on a larger customer base.
3. Whether Delaware should start over again and follow the New Jersey approach to adopting wind power.
The General Assembly reconvenes on Tuesday, June 3. Our senators pay attention to what we have to say. Let's keep those cards and letters coming folks.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ahead of the Curve or Behind It?

I will be leading a couple of workshops this morning as part of "EarthQuaker Day" at Wilmington Friends School. I will be talking about wind power of course, but I'm thinking about a larger theme of coping with the economic and technological changes being forced upon us by relentlessly rising energy costs.
Imagine a graph with two curves: one showing the rising cost of fossil fuels, the other showing the cost of alternative energy solutions. The two curves are going to cross, and sooner rather than later. The question is, are we going to be ahead of the curve, or behind it.
Business Week describes how GM fell behind the curve in a strategy session three years ago:
That's when Vice-Chairman Robert A. Lutz spoke up. Lutz, whose gravelly pronouncements routinely enliven auto shows and generate headlines, has a certain genius for challenging conventional wisdom. Maybe, he told GM's brain trust, it was time to build another electric car—one that would use a giant version of the lithium ion batteries that power cell phones and laptops.
It was a provocative suggestion—and Lutz knew it. Two years earlier, General Motors had killed its experimental EV1 electric car and set off a public relations furor. The environmental lobby was deaf to GM's assertions that the EV1, leased to a limited number of people but not sold, would never have earned its maker any money. And the greens accused GM of pulling the plug to show policymakers that such techno wonders were bad business.
By the time Lutz revisited the issue in 2005, Toyota Motor's (TM) quirky Prius hybrid had turned the Japanese automaker into a poster boy for the environmental movement and cast a greenish halo over the entire company. By contrast, GM, at least in the popular imagination, had tunnel vision; it was still making gasoline hogs like the Hummer and fighting congressional efforts to boost fuel economy. GM executives were furious Toyota was winning green cred despite making its own fuel suckers. But no one at the meeting wanted to hear about electric cars. "We lost $1 billion on the last one. Do you want to lose $1 billion on the next one?'" Lutz recalls one executive saying. "It died right there."
The problem for GM's managers is that the world changed more rapidly than they were able to imagine. Oil crossed the the $100 a barrel mark at the beginning of the year. Now it's trading at $127. Change in the energy markets doesn't come in smooth increments, but in discontinuous jolts. Decision makers can't predict just when those discontinuous shifts will come. Some still doubt they will ever come. Those who sit back and wait for the world to change will find themselves behind the curve. It takes years to develop and market alternative power systems for cars, which means GM will be playing catch up to Toyota for the foreseeable future.
Some time in the next few years, the cost of electricity from burning fossil fuels will climb higher than the cost of Bluewater Wind's offshore wind power project, which will take about four years to build. If we wait until electricity from fossil fuels becomes more expensive, we will find ourselves in the very painful position of importing expensive power from out of state while rushing to get wind power up and running here in Delaware.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ted Blunt Suspends his Campaign for Lt. Gov.

Wilmington City Council President Ted Blunt suspended his campaign for Lt. Gov. yesterday. He cited party unity and the high cost of campaigning in his statement:

"The first reason is that I believe we are at a pivotal juncture in our State and in our Country that will require us to make individual sacrifices for the greater good. As we look to the fall elections, a united Democratic Party will be more successful, than a divided one.
"Second, over the past two years we have worked to raise money and spread our message of building strong families and communities. Because of the hundreds of contributors, we were able to raise almost $200,000. This is more than we raised during all of my campaigns combined. However, it is clear to me that mounting a statewide campaign at this time in our history requires unprecedented resources and is a challenge even for someone who has run successfully for over 20 years.

By way of comparison, Matt Denn had $370,000 on hand as of December 31, 2007, which is roughly what John Carney spent in all of 2004.
Ted has won praise for the way he has led City Council over the last eight years. He chose to be the honest broker, and Council has operated smoothly due in no small part to his charm and ability to forge a consensus among his twelve colleagues.
By the way, I learned the news when an anonymous reader posted a comment on this blog last night.

Friday, May 16, 2008

TommyWonk Back on WILM Saturday with Dace

I will be joining Dace Blaskovitz tomorrow on his Money and Politics show on WILM, 1450 on your AM dial. The show runs from every Saturday from 10:00 to 11:00. I'll be on at about 10:30 to give listeners a quick roundup of what's hot in the blogosphere.
We'll be talking about the campaigns for president and governor, Delaware's budget problems, the growth of the blogospher and maybe even wind power. Listen in and then get outdoors to enjoy the waht should be a great May weekend.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Obama, Appalachia and Working Class Whites

Does Barack Obama have a problem with working class whites? Greg Sargeant of TPM Election Central points out the latest Quinnipiac poll has McCain leading both Obama and Clinton by 7 points among working class whites, meaning non-college educated whites. In this category, McCain leads Obama by 46 to 39 percent and Clinton by 48 to 41 percent.
Not surprisingly, the poll shows significant difference between Clinton and Obama among younger voters. Obama leads McCain among voters 18 to 44 by 52 to 37 percent, while Clinton leads by only 46 to 43 percent.
Jonathon Tilove of Newhouse News Service is among those who see the West Virginia result as indicative of Obama's weakness in Appalachia, not among whites nationwide:
For those keeping score, seven of the 10 whitest states in the nation have held their primaries or caucuses. The Illinois senator has won five and the New York senator two - New Hampshire by an inch and now West Virginia by a country mile.
As for whether Appalachia poses a problem for Democrats in the fall, neither Clinton nor Obama comes even close in polling in Tennessee, Kentucky or West Virginia. West Virginia may have voted for Democrats in the past, but the electoral map looks a bit different with Obama as the nominee. Polls show states like Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and even Indiana are in play in the general election. Michigan and Ohio look tough for either Democrat this fall, which may be why the well-timed John Edwards endorsement was announced in Grand Rapids.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Denver, Colorado

National Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean just announced the selections for the 'State Blogger Corps' to the Democratic National Convention, and TommyWonk was selected to sit with the Delaware delegation. Apparently the competition was pretty fierce:
"Similar to the record-breaking voter turnout our Party has seen during the primary season, the demand for these coveted blogger positions is yet another indicator of the tremendous interest in this historic Convention," said Governor Dean. "The Internet has played a critical role in connecting Americans to elected officials and candidates seeking office. The DemConvention State Blogger Corps will continue to foster this dialogue - in all 50 of our states and our territories too - as we head towards this year's historic election and elect a Democrat to the White House."
My friends at DelawareLiberal are understandably disappointed. Sorry guys.
The cool part is that the state bloggers won't be relegated to sit with the rest of the media, but will be seated with their respective delegations. No perching under the rafters or sitting a huge room with 1,000 other geeks typing away. I'll be right there on the floor for the proceedings.

Update: I'll be going on WDEL with Allan Loudell at 5:24 this evening to talk presidential politics.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tragedy on the R/V Russell W. Peterson

One crew member of the Research Vessel Russell W. Peterson died yesterday in a storm that generated winds of up to 50 miles per hour. The vessel's two crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard and taken to a hospital, where one was pronounced dead. The boat washed up on the shore south of Rehoboth.
The R/V Russell W. Peterson is owned and operated by Aqua Survey, Inc., which uses such vessels for marine survey research in the Gulf of Mexico. The Peterson was dedicated on March 29, and dispatched on its mission to study bird migration patterns as part of the permitting process required to build a wind power facility off the Delaware coast.
The News Journal reports that
Coast Guard Petty Officer Nick Cangemi believes that the vessel may have broken one of its three adjustable legs:
The Peterson is a type of boat that can raise itself out of the water on supporting legs, or "spuds."
"It was reported that the spuds were down and one had broken," Cangemi said. "Whether or not they were actively engaged [in moving] I have no idea."
Both of the crew members were captains. Aqua Survey, Inc. would not release the names of the crew members pending family notification.
This tragedy reminds us that modern life brings with it dangerous work. 112 workers died building Hoover Dam. Even with today's stricter safety standards, utility workers continue to risk their lives while building and maintaining the electric grid that powers our toasters and televisions. But yesterday's tragedy should not be considered evidence that the proposed wind power installation is inherently dangerous. The vulnerability of a 65 foot research vessel does not reflect on the structural integrity of the large fixed towers to be built off the coast.
Ironically, Governor Peterson, who was notified of the crew member's death, published an op-ed in today's News Journal
urging that the wind farm and the Sustainable Energy Utility both move forward:
We need to run with both of our opportunities -- the Sustainable Energy Utility and the wind plant. Unfortunately, leaders with conflicts of interest are fighting the wind plant, widely exaggerating its costs. The leader of both the sustainable energy utility and the state Senate committee on energy, Sen. Harris McDowell, is one. Another is Delmarva Power and its parent company, Pepco Holding. Their conglomerate is in the business of burning fossil fuels to produce electricity, and see Bluewater Wind as a competitor.
The timing of the op-ed was, of course, sadly coincidental.
Unless we decide as a civilization to unplug ourselves from the grid, we will be faced with the question of how to provide energy in the safest way possible for the environment, and for the workers who keep us connected.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Should Delaware Emulate New Jersey?

Should we give up on the process to bring wind power to Delaware, and start over using New Jersey's plan as a model? The short answer is no.
The Senate Energy & Transit Committee, Charlie Copeland and the New Journal editorial board all seem to think that New Jersey's offers a cleaner, neater and easier way to procure offshore wind power.
Yesterday's News Journal editorial fits two enormous fallacies into ten short words:
For one thing, no one is forcing anything. It's voluntary.
The first fallacy is that Delmarva Power customers are being forced into buying power from Bluewater Wind, as if we aren't being forced to buy increasingly expensive electricity from coal and natural gas. I'm a Delmarva power customer, and I don't have any viable options, except to try to remove myself from the grid. The only thing I can do today is push for approval of the Bluewater Wind project and bring some stability to my electric bills. This fallacy also ignores the persistent fact that thousands of Delaware citizens have overwhelmingly voiced their support for wind power for more than a year.
At the heart of this fallacy is a misunderstanding of the power purchase agreement or PPA. Delmarva Power doesn't like it, because the company doesn't want to tie up such a big chunk of its buying power. As a customer, I do like it. I like the price stability it provides in the face of rising fossil fuel prices.
The second fallacy is that New Jersey has found a way to build offshore wind without the need for a PPA. While New Jersey doesn't specify the use of a PPA, it doesn't preclude it. I expect that the proposals that emerge will include PPAs, which are common tools in financing power plants. It's much easier, and cheaper, to raise the capital if investors can see the cash flow. This means that use of a PPA is the most efficient way to finance a wind farm. Without a PPA, a wind power installation would be much more expensive to finance, which means the power produced would be more expensive.
New Jersey is offering $19 million in subsidies to lure companies into developing proposals. Those who suggest that Delaware do likewise seem to forget that the state government doesn't have that kind of money. And if those writing the budget did magically find the money, it wouldn't make that much difference. Bluewater Wind has already spent several million of its investors' money to get to this point. Would $18 million make much difference even now? I doubt it. It represents maybe one percent of the cost of the project, or several months interest on the capital needed. If Delaware wants to help Bluewater with the cost of capital, it should approve the project without further delay.
The News Journal editorial suggests that New Jersey has decided on an easier way to procure large scale offshore wind power. The only reason anyone could imagine that is that crunch time hasn't arrived yet in New Jersey. After all the battle hadn't reached its peak at this stage in Delaware's process.
Offshore wind power of this scale will divert billions of dollars away from those who burn fossil fuels for a living. Does anyone think energy companies are going to give that up easily?
Those who think the Delaware should emulate New Jersey in the hope of avoiding this conflict are either cynically seeking to delay the offshore wind indefinitely, or are naively imagining that a shift of this magnitude in the energy industry can be accomplished without conflict.
We are one roll call away from being the first state in the U.S. to decide to build offshore wind. If we start over, it could be three years or longer before we get back to where we are today. Putting off the decision will not make it easier. The Senate should ignore those calling for further delay, and bring HCR 38 to a vote.

Friday, May 09, 2008

TommyWonk on the Great Green Home Show on WILM

I'm featured on the Great Green Home Show which airs tomorrow, Sunday morning at 9:00 on WILM, 1450 AM on your dial.
Hosts Paul Hughes and Doug Hunt put on an informative and entertaining hour on environmental issues. If you miss the show Sunday morning, you can listen online. While I chat with them in the opening segment, we get down to business in segments 3 and 4 with an in-depth discussion of the economics and politics of wind power.

Should Delmarva Power Pass Its Advertising Costs on to Customers?

The House Energy & Environment Committee yesterday discussed HCR 50, which would recommend that the Public Service Commission deny Delmarva the ability to recoup the cost of fighting the Bluewater Wind agreement.
Before it did, the committee first considered a bill that would reduce the the minimum size of lobsters that can be caught by 1/4 inch, and another that would mandate placing hunter orange on duck blinds. It's good to be reminded of concerns that seem so far away from Wilmington.
Committee chairman Gerald Hocker opened the discussion by declaring HCR 50 to be "one of the most anti-business" measure he has ever seen as a legislator. He said that the advertisements, which were calculated to cost 50 cents per customer, were a good deal in an effort to get the truth out about Bluewater Wind. Hocker is squarely opposed to the Bluewater project, and told me again afterwards that he believes the price of electricity will drop once the Mid Atlantic Power Pathway goes in. I think he's wrong, but he does have the courage of his convictions.
After a brief presentation by John Kowalko, members of the committee went back and forth on the language of the resolution and whether the PSC can already exclude these expenses.
Next up was Delmarva Power lobbyist Joe Farley, and he came out swinging. He said the company "had every right to tell customers how expensive" the Bluewater Wind project would be. (That of course goes to the heart of the matter; Delmarva Power is using its own, exaggerated numbers to scare us.) Farley continued by saying that a third party contract shouldn't be forced on the company's customers without their having any say. (Actually, Delmarva Power customers have spoken overwhelmingly in favor of offshore wind, repeatedly for a year and a half.) He concluded with the standard disclaimer that Delmarva Power has "complete confidence in the PSC." (He didn't mention that the company is using numbers that bear little resemblance to the agency's findings.)
Then it was my turn. I described the circumstances surrounding the production of the radio spots that ran this week on WDEL, and repeated the main point about Delmarva's exaggerated assertions. I said that our ad was paid for by donations gathered by Delaware Audubon, and represented only 0.75 percent of Delmarva's advertising budget.
Hocker asked me to speak to the point of the resolution, so I went right to the punch line: Delmarva Power's advertising undermines the integrity of the PSC process by ignoring the agency's findings and presenting its own version of the facts.
There's a difference between what Delmarva Power is saying and what I am saying, in this blog, in legislative testimony and in the radio spots. I am telling you what the PSC concluded, and when I disagree, I will tell your specifically why. Delmarva is simply rejects the PSC's reality and substitutes its own.
HCR 50 was tabled so that the language could be tweaked and the PSC invited to the committee. (That should be fun.) The good news is that we have been able to focus the spotlight on Delmarva's credibility for most of the week with radio spots, news articles and yesterday's committee hearing. HCR 50 is a minor matter in the overall scheme of things, but it's good to put Delmarva Power on the defensive.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Delmarva Power Won't Tell Us Much about Onshore Wind Bids

The News Journal has the story on Delmarva Power's latest announcement on its plan to buy onshore wind power from out of state in an effort to head off signing the agreement with Bluewater wind:
Delmarva Power says it hopes to sign long-term contracts with six developers of new land-based wind farms.
But Delmarva officials declined to publicly release the bids, citing competitive confidentiality.
So Delmarva Power has a great deal, but it won't tell us much about it. All we have from Delmarva Power is a one page press release claiming that the bids for out of state onshore wind power are better than the Bluewater Wind project, which has been the focus of intense public scrutiny for more than a year.
The press release quotes Gary Stockbridge, "The dollars saved are a true, all-in comparison to the offshore proposal." But since we don't have the numbers, I guess we are going to have to take his word for it.
I can think of several reasons why we should be wary of Delmarva's claims about onshore wind being a better deal. The company is proposing shorter contract lengths, which means less price stability. The transmission costs are not spelled out. We don't even know if and when the wind turbines have or will be built.
Perhaps most significantly, we don't know enough about the reliability of the onshore wind projects to make a meaningful comparison. All kilowatts are not created equal. Price is related to reliability. A kilowatt is more valuable if I have a better idea when it will show up on the grid.
For instance, the Bluewater Wind agreement would sell Delmarva Power up to 300 MWs, even though the turbines will be able to produce 450 MWs. This enhances the reliability of Bluewater's output, which makes its output a better product.
What Delmarva Power's assertions about the relative costs of its onshore wind bids have in common with its inflated claims about the cost of offshore wind is that none of these numbers have been confirmed by any experts outside the company, and haven't been reviewed by the Public Service Commission.
Given Delmarva Power's record on using numbers at variance with PSC findings, we have reason to be skeptical about the company's claims about onshore wind.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

TommyWonk on WDEL this Evening

I'm going on WDEL, 1150 AM, with Allan Loudell at 5:01 this evening to talk about wind power. It's been a busy week. The News Journal reports that Delmarva Power has taken some heat for its PR tactics:
On Tuesday, PSC Chairwoman Arnetta McRae cautioned Delmarva about the use of the phrase "Public Notice," which is usually reserved for official PSC rate cases. Delmarva attorney Todd Goodman said the company would not run the newspaper ad again. On Tuesday evening, a similarly worded radio ad, starting with the phrase 'This is a public notice' was still running on the radio station WDEL.
Also, the House Energy & Natural Resources Committee has added HCR 50 to its agenda for 4:00 tomorrow afternoon. HCR 50 would ask the Public Service Commission to prevent Delmarva Power from passing on to customers any money "spent to oppose the Power Purchase Agreement" negotiated under HB 6.

Delmarva Power Truth Squad, Part 5

Just as soon as we put up radio spots rebutting Delmarva Power's claim that offshore wind energy from Bluewater Wind would raise our electric rates by 30 to 40 percent, the company runs another radio spot saying the additional cost would be $50 million a year. It's actually the same scary number Delmarva Power has been pushing all year: $50 million a year = $22 a month per household = 30 to 40 percent.
As I have written before, these scary numbers bear little resemblance to the findings of the Public Service Commission, and don't have much to do with the power purchase agreement now on the table.
Once again, Delmarva Power is ar
guing that we should reject a price that isn't reflected in the deal that was negotiated.
Delmarva Power trotted out a new slogan in the ad, the Zen-like, "Wind is wind." The company wants us to believe that onshore wind power from out of state would be just as good.
But there's a reason why Bluewater Wind wants to erect its turbines offshore; the wind blows stronger and steadier there than on any onshore site within hundreds of miles of Delaware.
Delmarva Power hasn't come up with any new arguments for rejecting offshore wind; it just keeps repeating them over and over.
This post is part of an ongoing series. See part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

It's Time for the Senate to Vote

The Delaware General Assembly resumes its session today. The Senate has five items on the agenda:
The most important item facing the Senate is not on the agenda: HCR 38, which would recommend that the Controller General approve the power purchase agreement (PPA) between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power.
One might think that the matter has been given sufficient review to bring it to a vote. Bluewater Wind's proposal has survived a competitive process, in which it was found to be superior to proposed coal and natural gas plants. It has been the subject of numerous studies, and enjoyed the overwhelming support of thousands of citizens. The proposal was tested and strengthened in six month of rigorous negotiations.
When legislative leadership blocked the approval of the PPA, HCR 38 was introduced to put the General Assembly on record. The measure passed the House 25 to 11 on April 10. In the meanwhile, Harris McDowell, aided and abetted by Charlie Copeland, conducted a series of one-sided hearings featuring a high-price DC lawyer brought in to grill the Public Service Commission, and paid expert testimony from those who already agreed with McDowell and Delmarva Power. Despite McDowell's strenous efforts, the committee could not agree on a report, and a minority report was issued to balance McDowell's version.
Today, HCR 38 has eight sponsors in the Senate. Three more votes are needed to pass the measure.
After a year and a half of effort, analysis, negotiations, radio ads, and overwhelming expressions of support from Delaware's citizens, it is time to bring HCR 38 to a vote.
Please call your senator to ask that offshore wind power be brought to a vote as soon as possible. And if in a week that vote hasn't been scheduled, call again.
Tell your senator that offshore wind power won't cost us more unless fossil fuel prices magically go down instead of up. Tell them we want the price stability that offshore wind power in Delaware will provide. Tell them we want wind power here and now, not somewhere else, some other time.
Tell them we want to protect our health by replacing coal and natural gas with non-polluting wind power. Tell them that Delaware should be a leader, not a laggard, in renewable energy.
Tell them that Delmarva Power should not enjoy veto power over energy policy in Delaware. Tell them Delmarva should be free to buy renewable energy from out of state, but should not escape compliance with HB 6. Tell them the time has come to choose wind power, and not be swayed by Delmarva's phony statistics and stalling tactics.
The Senate posts the contact information for its members here. If you don't know who your senator is, you can call to find out here. (My senator, Harris McDowell, already knows how I feel.)
Tell them it's time to stand up and be counted.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Citizens Air Radio Ads Supporting Wind Power

Those who are tired of Delmarva Power's endless ad campaign will be interested in this release which was circulated today:
For immediate release
May 5, 2008
Nick DiPasquale, Conservation Chair, Delaware Audubon
Tom Noyes

Citizens Release Radio Ads Supporting Wind Power

A group of citizen activists is running radio ads challenging Delmarva Power’s assertion that offshore wind would cost customers 30 to 40 percent more on their electric bills.
The ads are paid for by voluntary donations collected by Delaware Audubon.
Nick DiPasquale, Conservation Chair for Delaware Audubon, said, “Delmarva Power has spent thousands of dollars on ads claiming offshore wind power would raise rates 30 to 40 percent. We wanted to correct the record.”
Tom Noyes said, “The Public Service Commission (PSC) projects that the Bluewater Wind power purchase agreement would cost the average customer $6.46 a month—less than five percent. But even that estimate is based on Delmarva Power’s mistaken assertion that natural gas prices will go down instead of up. Citizens understand that offshore wind power in Delaware will provide a measure of price stability in the face of rising fossil fuel prices.”

Nick DiPasquale said, “This debate should be based on agreed-upon facts. If Delmarva fails to explain why its numbers differ so dramatically from those of the Public Service Commission, it should pull its misleading ads.”
Two similar 30 second radio ads are being aired:
Version 1 (Male voice)
Delmarva Power claims offshore wind energy would raise our electric rates 30 to 40 percent. But the Public Service Commission says it would be no more than 5 percent—and that's only if fossil fuel prices go down instead of up. Instead coal and natural gas are climbing sky-high.
Call your state senator to say we want them to choose offshore wind power based on the facts—not Delmarva Power's scare tactics.
Paid for by individual citizens through Delaware Audubon.
Version 2 (Female voice)
Delmarva Power claims offshore wind energy would raise electric rates 30 to 40 percent.
But the Public Service Commission and independent experts say rates would rise no more than 5 percent—and that's based on Delmarva's assumption that fossil fuel prices will drop. Assume that fossil fuel prices will drop? Fuel prices are going through the roof!
Call your state senator to say we want them to choose offshore wind power based on the facts—and not buckle under to Delmarva Power's scare tactics.
Paid for by individual citizens through Delaware Audubon.
The ads began running on WDEL, 1150 AM, on Monday, May 5.

Delmarva Power's total advertising budget is probably 100 times the cost of this modest buy. But at least listeners will hear a message challenging the company's assertions.

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.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Even Conservative Economists Don't Like Gas Tax Holiday

Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain have both come out in favor of a "gas tax holiday" for the summer. Senator Obama has chosen to not join them. It may be good politics to offer a temporary gas tax cut during vacation (and campaign) season, but is it good economics?
According to the Washington Post, economists say that consumers probably won't see all of the 18.4 cent tax break:
Backing up Obama's position against Clinton's proposal to suspend the 18.4-cent-per-gallon tax for the summer is a slew of economists who argue that the proposal, first offered by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP nominee, would be counterproductive. They argue that cutting the tax would drive up demand for gas at a time when the supply is tight, which would mean that the price at the pump would drop by much less than 18 cents per gallon.
So if drivers don't see the full benefit, who gets the rest?
The tax suspension would, as a result, cut into the highway trust fund that the tax supports, a loss of about $9 billion over the summer, but also result in fatter profit margins for oil companies.
Maybe it's just liberal economists complaining about oil companies and choking on the idea of another tax cut:
Harvard professor N. Gregory Mankiw, who has written a best-selling textbook on economics, said what he teaches is different from what Clinton and McCain are saying about gas taxes. "What you learn in Economics 101 is that if producers can't produce much more, when you cut the tax on that good the tax is kept . . . by the suppliers and is not passed on to consumers," he said.
In addition to writing his popular textbook (which I have on my shelf), Mankiw was top economic advisor to George W. Bush.
Over at The Huffington Post, Sam Stein went searching in vain for any credible economist who likes the gas tax holiday:
I started with what I thought would be my best shot, the libertarians. Jerry Taylor, a fellow for the Cato Institute, unfortunately, called the proposal a "holiday from reality."
"What would happen more likely than not, gas taxes would be cut, but pump prices wouldn't go down, service stations would just continue charging what they are charging," he said.
Stein continued:
Alright, one "no." Perhaps the free-marketers would be of a different ilk. I was wrong.
"I think it is close to political pandering," said Max Schulz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "It is bad policy and political gimmickry."
Stein had no better luck with the American Enterprise Institute:
From Schulz, I moved on to the conservative crowd. But Ken Green, an energy expert for the American Enterprise Institute, ended up being similarly dismissive.
"I'm afraid," he summarized, "that your record is going to be unbroken in terms of finding someone who will like this idea."
George Bernard Shaw once said, "If you laid all the economists end to end, they still wouldn't reach a conclusion." But in this case they have: the gas tax holiday is a stupid idea.
The savings to consumers would be modest, with the biggest effect being a transfer of wealth from public funds for transportation to oil companies. But who cares, as long as it plays in Peoria?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mission Still Not Accomplished

Five years ago today, our commander-in-chief spoke from the deck of the aircraft carrier, the Abraham Lincoln:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.
We were told Iraq was aiding and abetting al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden is still at large.
We were told we would be greeted as liberators. Instead our troops are resented by millions of Iraqis.
We were told that Saddam Hussein was preparing to deploy weapons of mass destruction. The evidence used to bolster that claim never materialized.
We were told that by toppling Saddam Hussein, we would set in motion forces of freedom and democracy that would transform the region. But earlier this year, Iranian
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad entered Baghdad in a triumphant procession. Bush and Cheney require an armed escort when they visit Baghdad.
Later, after things got messy, we were told that the insurgency was in its last throes. Instead, we find ourselves in the midst of a bloody sectarian conflict that has little to do with our national interest.Five years after his victory dance on an aircraft carrier, our presence in Iraq underscores our weakness in the region and around the world.