Two lawmakers plan to introduce a resolution that could put the fate of a proposed $1.6 billion offshore wind farm in the hands of the Legislature.
The resolution would order Controller General Russ Larson to join three other state agencies in directing Delmarva Power to sign a 25-year contract to buy wind power from Bluewater Wind. The resolution would include the condition that costs be spread among all Delmarva electricity delivery customers, including heavy industrial companies.
The legislative session begins today, and with it begins a flurry of lobbying on the wind farm issue. Rep. Robert Valihura, R-Talleyville, and Senate Minority Whip Liane Sorenson, R-Hockessin, said Monday they will introduce the resolution this week with the goal of putting all lawmakers on the record.
“We’ve now put it in the center of the General Assembly. It’s time for us to act on it,” Valihura said. “It cannot take up more time and fester over the next six months. We have to move forward with it or say goodbye to it.”
Four state agencies last month had the opportunity to spark a landmark construction project of 150 turbines off the coast of Rehoboth Beach.
But among those agencies, the holdout appeared to be Larson, who represents the legislative leadership. Leaders were divided on whether to move ahead.
It is the second bit of legislative maneuvering on the wind farm in recent days. On Friday, one of the wind farm’s biggest critics, Sen. Harris McDowell III, D-Wilmington, announced he intended to hold hearings on less expensive ways to buy renewable power.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Copeland, R-West Farms, said he doesn’t expect the Senate would bring the Valihura-Sorenson resolution to a vote anytime soon. The Senate leadership would likely wait until the McDowell hearings are over, he said.
If it does come to a vote and is rejected, it’s unclear what that would mean for the project’s long-term prospects.
Valihura was one of the authors of the 2006 law that ordered state agencies to examine options for homegrown power. On Monday, he said for the first time that he would support the contract.
Previously, Valihura had concerns about the cost of wind power and the view from Rehoboth Beach, but he said both have been resolved to his satisfaction. He said the project would be a long-term investment in stable electric costs.
“I have concluded it is time to be proactive about this and put my stake down,” Valihura said.
To get the costs spread among all Delmarva customers, the Public Service Commission alone would have to pass a surcharge.
A Public Service Commission consultant last month identified the average monthly price increase to a residential customer as about $6.50. The alternative proposal to spread the costs to all Delmarva customers, including big businesses, would cut the monthly increase to $3.37. Other estimates of the cost, including those from a consultant hired by Delmarva, put the premium as high as $21 to $34 a month.
Notably, the resolution does not call for costs to be spread statewide, including among members of the Delaware Electric Cooperative and customers of municipal utilities. Delmarva spokesman Bill Yingling said his utility prefers costs be spread to all electricity users in the state.
But Valihura said that would require legislative approval, and would be politically unattainable.
Like a bill, the concurrent resolution would require the approval of both the House and Senate to take effect, and could be killed at the committee level of either chamber. But unlike a bill, if it passes, it does not require the signature of the governor.
In a brief interview, Larson said that if both chambers approve the resolution, he would abide by it.
Bluewater Wind spokesman Jim Lanard said his company welcomes the lawmakers’ initiative, and “we look forward to seeing our support grow in the entire state Legislature.”
“We look forward to the Senate hearings, where the facts and the alternatives can be explored before making any decisions,” Yingling said.
By Aaron Nathans
8 January 2008
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