In an effort to secure a lucrative deal to supply Delmarva Power with electricity, three power companies are calling their rivals’ technology risky and potentially harmful to the environment, according to documents obtained by The News Journal.
The conflict highlights two innovative but domestically unproven technologies. NRG Energy wants to add a coal gasification facility, perhaps with new environmental safeguards, to its Indian River plant. Bluewater Wind hopes to put up a wind farm in the Atlantic Ocean off the Delaware coast.
A third company, Conectiv, is seeking to build a natural gas plant at its Hay Road Power Complex.
The bids were submitted in a process outlined by Delaware lawmakers hoping to stabilize and reduce the cost of electricity after a nearly decade-long process of deregulation. The state deregulated the industry in 1999, temporarily capping the price to consumers. The caps came off in May, resulting in an average 59 percent increase in residential bills.
In October, the state Public Service Commission put out a request for proposals for 400 megawatts of electricity, produced in-state, for Delmarva. The bids were to be submitted to Delmarva last month. The commission and three other state agencies are expected to decide by late spring or early summer whether to accept one or more of the bids.
The commission, which received copies of the bids, released them last week in response to a Freedom of Information request from The News Journal.
But the commission allowed the companies to heavily redact the bids before public scrutiny.
For instance, NRG argued its proposed coal plant would be “carbon capture ready,” meaning it would be capable of installing technology that would cut down on carbon dioxide emissions, which are blamed for contributing to global warming. But the company blacked out the date by which such technology, still untested on a large scale at domestic power plants, could be ready.
“When you look at the redactions, don’t be misled by emotional pleas [that] the more black marker you see, the more these people have to hide,” said Caroline Angoorly, regional senior vice president for NRG. Instead, members of the public should respect the company’s right to a competitive advantage, she told The News Journal.
Bluewater Wind. marked as “confidential” large portions of its filing, including information on electrical capacity.
NRG has raised questions about the wind company’s ability to provide electricity during the hottest summer days. But Bluewater Wind removed details about its projected seasonal capacity from its filing.
Alan Muller, director of the environmental group Green Delaware, said his group sees “no excuse at all for this level of information withholding. And it’s particularly disturbing to me that the wind-power proposal has so much information withheld. After all, they’re relying on public support to counter the entrenched power of the coal people.”
Jeremy Firestone, a University of Delaware professor, is formally challenging the redactions.
The NRG proposal included letters of support from Delaware’s two senators and one representative, the president of the Delaware AFL-CIO, and James Wolfe, the president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. On a third letter, the name of the author, as well as half the letter itself, was blacked out.
NRG’s proposed facility would provide 600 new megawatts of electricity, 400 of which would go to Delmarva. Coal gasification turns coal into gas, allowing for toxins like sulfur to be removed. Some environmentalists argue that even this “clean coal” technology pollutes too much.
There are only two coal gasification plants operating in the United States, one in Indiana, the other in Florida. Each produces about 300 megawatts.
NRG says it could eventually install carbon capture and sequestration technology, but its public filing did not include a price. There are currently no power plants that capture, or “sequester,” and store carbon dioxide emissions anywhere in the world. Scientists blame emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, for global warming.
NRG said in its bid it would retire two of its four older units at the Indian River plant if its bid is accepted.
Bluewater Wind is seeking to put up 200 turbines 11 miles off the coast of either Rehoboth Beach or about seven miles off Bethany Beach. The company has withdrawn its third option, to build off Slaughter Beach.
Conectiv wants to build a “combined cycle” natural gas turbine plant that would supply approximately 180 megawatts.
Combined cycle technology turns excess heat from the turbine into steam, which it uses to generate additional electricity. The site would be located on an industrially zoned brownfield site at the Hay Road Power Complex. Conectiv and Delmarva are both subsidiaries of Pepco Holdings.
One megawatt is enough electricity to power 1,000 homes.
In its filing, NRG attacks wind power as unreliable and unpredictable. NRG claims the Bluewater Wind proposal doesn’t use existing industrial or brownfield areas, in “direct conflict” with the Delaware legislation, and will use new, not existing, transmission lines. Wind farms are expensive, NRG argues. And NRG claims “wind turbines cannot withstand a direct hit by a major hurricane.”
Jim Lenard, spokesman for Bluewater Wind, said in an interview that his facility would operate 85 percent of the time, and that there would be plenty of other sources of electricity to make up for the time that the wind isn’t blowing. Lenard added that his company would use a brownfield as a staging site to build the turbines and that it wouldn’t require the construction of new on-land power lines.
Lenard said his company’s proposal would be more cost-effective in the long run. And he said that hurricanes are great for harnessing the wind; when they get too intense, the company turns the turbines off and angles them so the wind slides right by.
NRG also addressed Conectiv’s plan, saying its proposed facility can “compete directly with a state-of-the-art natural gas plant.” Natural gas prices have been volatile, while coal has been relatively stable, the company wrote.
Meanwhile, Bluewater Wind took aim at its two competitors in its filing, claiming that “long-term benefits from an offshore wind facility are derived from preventing emissions and discharges associated with traditional fossil fuel-fired power generation including coal, oil and natural gas.”
Bluewater Wind’s filing revealed that the company hopes to have its first 100 turbines up and running by 2011, and the second 100 turbines by 2012. But there were details about these start dates that the company removed from the public version of the filing. It also says the company plans to bury electrical cables six feet under the beach, in “heavily armored casings” to prevent saltwater intrusion.
Delmarva’s consultant is expected to send assessments of the bids to the Public Service Commission in late February.
Delmarva spokesman Tim Brown noted that one of the state’s options is to choose none of the three bids. Delmarva was unhappy that the Public Service Commission requested bids for 400 megawatts of power, double what Delmarva thought was realistic.
By Aaron Nathans
The News Journal
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