Public Service Commission staffers are expected to call for the release of a substantial amount of information being withheld by companies vying to build a new power plant, a top commission official said Thursday.
The information – including how the projects would be financed, costs of electricity they would generate, and the amount of pollution they would emit – has been blacked-out from documents because the companies claim releasing it would put them at a competitive disadvantage.
But several individuals and organizations, including The News Journal, have called for the release of details because the state’s formula for choosing the winning bidder is based solely on financial and pollution information.
Those calls were rebuffed until Wednesday when Bruce Burcat, the executive director of the Public Service Commission, said the agency was reviewing the documents with an eye toward recommending release of details at its March 20 meeting.
“There will be a number of documents and line items that have been redacted that will be recommended to be released to the public,” Burcat said.
The documents were generated by Bluewater Wind LLC, Conectiv Power and NRG Energy, companies that have filed separate, dramatically different plans for supplying Delmarva Power with energy. Lawmakers ordered the process after electricity rates increased 59 percent last year for residential customers.
Critics of the process say that the public has been wrongly shielded from crucial bid information on rates, reliability and the environmental impact.
“It needs to be opened up more. Absolutely,” said Letitia L. Diswood, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Delaware. “I think it’s a very technical, complicated issue. It’s very hard to make simple for the public, but it’s extremely important.”
The PSC already began the process of accepting public comment on the proposals without releasing crucial details. More public hearings are scheduled for next week and next month.
A tangle of legal issues
Initially, the agency only released the names of the bidders. Under the Freedom of Information Act, The News Journal and other groups requested the bid documents be made public.
But the PSC allowed attorneys for the companies to decide which information to withhold and which to release, resulting in heavily redacted documents. That process was challenged in a Freedom of Information Act appeal. The News Journal also asked Attorney General Beau Biden to examine the case.
The state Department of Justice, which investigates such complaints, provides legal counsel to the PSC and is barred by law from investigating complaints about the PSC, state solicitor Lawrence W. Lewis said recently.
Jason Miller, a spokesman for Biden, said the attorney general has concerns about his office’s handling of FOIA complaints involving state agencies. He said he did not have enough information to comment on the PSC case.
No rate forecast without details
Meanwhile, the state is going forward with a study in which the three major undertakings are being considered: Bluewater’s 200-turbine wind farm off Delaware’s coast, Conectiv’s 177-megawatt plant mostly fueled by natural gas, and NRG’s 600-megawatt plant that would burn natural gas-like fuel squeezed from superheated coal.
Forecasts on how the projects will impact rates are debatable without solid data, although a consultant for Delmarva Power said consumers would pay $1 more per month for 10 years under Conectiv’s proposal, $11 more per month for 25 years under Bluewater’s and $26 more under NRG’s. But estimates show the wholesale rates would rise from 1.4 percent per megawatt to more than 21 percent, depending on the proposal.
Carolyn Angoorly, NRG’s vice president for environmental affairs, said Wednesday that her company already agreed to release some previously blacked-out information. The company continues to protect sensitive price information that she said could harm its ability to compete with other energy companies.
“I don’t want to give the impression that there’s information there, and [that] if people keep pushing, we’ll reveal more and more,” Angoorly said.
By Jeff Montgomery
The News Journal
9 March 2007
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