A debacle. That’s what proponents of wind power have called Tuesday’s Public Service Commission hearing on Bluewater Wind’s plans for an offshore wind farm.
Now, project supporters and environmentalists say they will work with legislators to get the project back on track.
Four state agencies charged with evaluating the power purchase agreement (PPA) were expected to vote on the agreement Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power presented to the Public Service Commission (PSC) on Dec. 10. The PSC staff released a report Dec. 14 recommending the agencies accept the contract and citing the ways in which Bluewater’s offer conformed to House Bill 6, the law requiring in-state power generation.
Instead of a vote, Jennifer J. Davis of the Office of Management and Budget opened the hearing with a motion to table the proposal, which was accepted. Without consensus among the four agencies, a vote could have killed the project. Some in attendance expressed disappointment at the motion and frustration that the hearing was closed quickly and with no public comment.
University of Delaware professor Jeremy Firestone who has actively supported the project called the hearing undemocratic.
“The Controller General has fundamentally misunderstood his role in this process,” said Firestone. As a decision maker in this process, Controller General Russell Larson was asked to act as an administrator not a legislator. “Considerations like party loyalty, vote trading, and politics are not legitimate to administrative decision-making. You can only consider the written record. Any evidence not part of the public record is not valid,” said Firestone.
Proponents of the wind farm have expressed concern about a closed-door meeting that took place before Tuesday’s hearing. “It is distressing that a closed door meeting could derail a process that has been the subject of such extensive public discussion,” said Tom Noyes who blogs under the name Tommywonk. Noyes said public interest had generated a voluminous public record.
Firestone said the solution to the hang up in the process is to educate state lawmakers as he, Firestone and others say Larson may have been directed to vote against the project by members of the General Assembly.
Wind power advocate Marc Weiss of Rehoboth Beach said the public interest had been set aside in favor of corporate wishes. “If public opinion really mattered, we’d have succeeded already,” Weiss said. He said he thought Delmarva Power and parent company Pepco had a role in helping derail the deal.
Firestone also wants the public to hear why Larson may have leaned toward a vote of no. “He has to have a reasonable basis to say, ‘We’re going to order you to negotiate a PPA at $8.06 and hope it gets cheaper and then say it’s too expensive at $6.46.’ That doesn’t wash,” said Firestone. In November, when the estimated cost of the project to consumers was $8.06 per megawatt hour, the agencies voted to direct the companies to negotiate a contract. Since Bluewater reduced its price during negotiations, the cost dropped to $6.46.
Noyes said the latest PSC staff report should have been the basis for Tuesday’s decision. “The PSC staff report provides the findings that support a decision to go ahead on the proposal. The staff has been appropriately skeptical and objective along the way,” he said. The report, which also enumerated the ways in which Bluewater’s plan met the requirements of H.B. 6, should be the basis of any review of the project by the General Assembly, Noyes said.
“We have to make sure everyone doesn’t give up just because of this speed bump,” said Weiss.
Nicholas DiPasquale, conservation chair for Delaware Audubon said that environmental groups and individuals have been working all along independently but toward the same goal. “We thought that if Bluewater played by the rules set forth in H.B. 6, which they did, and if we got a favorable report from the PSC staff and independent consultant, which we did, the project would be approved. There was no reason not to,” DiPasquale said. He said project proponents are trying to set up a meeting with leadership and members of the General Assembly to share information and correct any misinformation that may have been distributed. He hopes such a meeting will happen in mid-to-late January.
“There is a groundswell of support for this project and people from all walks of life in Delaware – retired attorneys, scientists, members of organized environmental and conservation related organizations, religious groups, civic organizations, good government organizations and developers. This isn’t just the yogurt and granola crowd,” DiPasquale said.
By Leah Hoenen
Cape Gazette staff
24 December 2007
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