An energy plan that would draw electricity from a natural gas-powered plant and an offshore wind farm in Sussex County could be a net loss for consumers, critics said Thursday.
The proposal, issued by the Public Service Commission on Wednesday, would bring the nation’s first offshore wind farm to the coast of Delaware. But it also calls for construction of a 177-megawatt natural gas turbine in Sussex County at a site east of Bridgeville to help balance erratic transmissions from the wind farm.
And that, said Sen. Harris B. McDowell III, D-Wilmington North, is a costly combination.
He estimates that in the long term, the hybrid plan will cost an additional $1 billion and provide no more electricity than the natural gas plant alone.
The natural gas plant – originally proposed for a Wilmington site by Conectiv – would cost $100 million and could provide 177 megawatts of electricity, McDowell said, enough to power about 150,000 homes.
But under the PSC plan, that plant would run sporadically, only humming at full capacity when the winds off the Atlantic shore were not strong enough for Bluewater Wind’s farm, which could have as many as 200 turbines.
In the end, ratepayers could shell out $1.1 billion by 2038 for the two sites, one of which would provide renewable energy, instead of paying $100 million for the same amount of electricity a natural gas-fired plant would provide if running at full capacity, McDowell said.
“If it was set on having ratepayers shoulder these risks, [the PSC] could have simply ordered negotiations with Conectiv for the original natural gas plant and saved ratepayers $1.0 billion while also providing them with 2-3 times the capacity value of the hybrid,” McDowell and John M. Byrne said in a joint statement filed late Thursday.
The two co-chair a task force that developed a statewide conservation and renewable energy plan after electricity prices spiked 59 percent a year ago.
PSC staffers said the wind power plan would be immune to price surges like those that plague natural gas plants, while also providing electricity without pollution and limiting the state’s dependence on regional electricity supplies.
The PSC and three other state agencies are scheduled to make a decision next week on sending an offer to Delmarva Power for further negotiations.
Other sections of the PSC staff report released Wednesday noted that lawmakers could consider another option – a return to regulation of public utilities – to assure that Delaware has enough energy.
Meanwhile, the proposed plan faces its own hurdles. Delmarva’s president said the company would not negotiate to buy the energy as proposed by the PSC staff. Bluewater spokesman Jim Lanard said his company is prepared to open talks with Delmarva, but cautioned that “our electrical analysis never recommended additional power other than from the wind source.” And a spokesman for Conectiv, which had originally proposed a natural gas-fired for its property on Hay Road in Wilmington, said the new plan is not exactly what the company had in mind.
“We’re willing to explore and discuss alternate ideas, but the PSC staff concept is not what we’ve proposed, and we were not part of any discussions around the staff’s specific recommendations.” Conectiv spokesman Bill Yingling said. “At this point, this is an issue that has to be resolved between the PSC, the PSC staff and Delmarva Power.”
If the plan is approved, Conectiv faces the problem of getting gas to the Sussex County plant.
Bringing gas to the site could require new regional transmission lines to bring in gas from outside Delaware, including from the expanding Cove Point, Md., liquefied natural gas terminal on the Chesapeake Bay south of Baltimore.
By Jeff Montgomery
The News Journal
4 May 2007
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