Wind farm project gets hearing today; Four state agencies will take public testimony on Bluewater proposal
Four state agencies will decide today whether to give a proposed offshore wind farm a second chance.
Members of the public are expected to pack the hearing at Legislative Hall, which is scheduled to start at 10 a.m.
The agencies will take public testimony before deliberating about whether to send Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power back into negotiations for a 25-year agreement to buy wind power.
Bluewater Wind wants to put 150 turbines off the coast of Rehoboth Beach. Delmarva has resisted the deal, saying it would be too costly to customers.
Bluewater has faced an uphill battle since late last month, when the Public Service Commission staff recommended ending negotiations. The deal would be too risky and expensive for ratepayers, the staff wrote.
But the wind company responded by removing mathematical formulas from its bid that would have increased the price of wind power as the price of commodities like steel increased.
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner said last week the two state agencies she controls – the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control – would seek a delay to further consider the state’s options.
But there are two voting agencies she doesn’t run: the Public Service Commission, which is a free-standing agency, and the controller general, who answers to the Legislative leadership.
If one agency votes to discontinue the process, it could spell the end of the wind farm project in its current form.
Controller General Russ Larson said in a phone interview on Monday that he will meet with his leadership to discuss the topic in December. Legislative leaders have expressed “some concern about where this is all going, but no one’s been adamant one way or the other,” Larson said.
As for today’s meeting, “there may not be an official hands-up, hands-down vote. There may be a statement of intent for direction forward,” Larson said.
All the voting agencies have been heavily lobbied. The Public Service Commission has received more than 2,000 letters on the topic, said Bruce Burcat, the commission’s executive director.
There were decisively more comments in favor of the wind farm than opposed, Burcat said. But “what’s important is the content of the letters, and it’s really going to be up to the people making the decisions – what they see in the letters that add to the debate,” Burcat said.
Among the letters was a series of 20 form letters against the wind farm that contained signatures with similar handwriting. The News Journal last week contacted four of the people who allegedly signed the letters and all four denied doing so. One contacted the PSC and filed a complaint.
“It’s disturbing somebody, potentially others, would be using these tactics,” Burcat said. There was no additional information about the source of the letters, he said.
University of Delaware researcher Jeremy Firestone, who also found the disputed letters, made a formal motion that all 20 be stricken from the record.
Tuesday’s meeting represents the parties’ best chance to make their case directly to the state agencies.
Delmarva has been arguing it could get the best price for its customers for renewable power by buying onshore wind power from out of state. Other renewable electricity providers could bid for shorter contracts with Delmarva, the company said.
Delmarva said its residential and small-business customers, who would pay for the wind power, would use just 28 percent of the company’s power.
Bill Yingling, Delmarva spokesman, said: “We’re looking forward to talking about opening up this process to alternative renewable energy providers to get the best price for our customers, and we will recommend that the state address the issue of fairness. If all consumers will benefit from this project in Delaware, we feel all should share the cost.”
Jim Lanard, spokesman for Bluewater, said that with the removal of the commodity escalators, Bluewater can provide wind power at a reasonable price. “We’re proud to be able to offer Delaware this stable-priced energy solution that will help fight global warming and sea level rise.”
By Aaron Nathans
20 November 2007
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