A controversial set of Senate hearings begins tonight in Dover probing whether other forms of green energy are cheaper than the Bluewater Wind project.
But critics say the organizer, Sen. Harris McDowell III, D-Wilmington, is trying to change the subject after Bluewater was the only renewable energy provider to respond to a state request for proposals last year.
McDowell’s Senate Energy and Transit Committee will begin the first of five hearings on renewable energy options tonight at 6:30 in Legislative Hall. Representatives of environmental groups were invited and are expected to speak.
Bluewater Wind wants to put a wind farm off the coast of Rehoboth Beach, and had considerable momentum toward a contract with Delmarva Power before lawmakers blocked the process in December to study it further.
In a telephone interview on Wednesday, McDowell said he was holding the hearings to discover whether green energy options that were not covered in a yearlong state-mandated bid process “are the best deal for the citizens, in context with what has been on the record.”
“We plan to be as extensive as we can,” McDowell said.
But some of his fellow senators said the hearings are revisiting matters that have already been extensively vetted.
“I’m not sure what we’re gaining, other than losing time. The longer we drag this process out, the more it will end up costing us,” said Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford. Simpson said the residents of his district, which includes Rehoboth Beach, are overwhelmingly in favor of the Bluewater project, even if they have to pay more.
Last week, Lt. Gov. John Carney extracted a promise from Bluewater’s parent company, the Australian-based investment firm Babcock & Brown, to make Delaware its hub of mid-Atlantic operations if the contract is signed, potentially creating hundreds of jobs.
McDowell, who has spoken critically about the Bluewater project in the past, said he couldn’t comment on the Babcock announcement because he did not want to prejudice his hearings.
House Majority Leader Richard Cathcart, R-Middletown, said the jobs announcement may have some impact, but his decision will be based on the ultimate cost to ratepayers. He said he’s waiting to learn an average cost if all Delmarva ratepayers, including large industrial customers, paid for the wind power.
He said McDowell is revisiting territory already covered last year when lawmakers sought bids for sources of new electricity in Delaware, a bid that he said Bluewater won.
“I’m not sure what Harris is doing,” Cathcart said. Lawmakers would probably wait until March or April to make a decision, so he rejected the argument the hearings would slow down the process. Cathcart said he wasn’t planning on attending the McDowell hearings. “I’m not sure it’s going to shed any more light on this that’s already not there.”
Sen. Robert Venables, D-Laurel, speaking during vacation in Florida, said he plans to send an assistant to tonight’s hearing. He said when Bluewater dropped its price, he wondered whether “there was a lot of money that was stuck on that shouldn’t have been stuck on to start with.”
He also questioned how the project would affect ratepayers, especially those who have limited options to change electricity suppliers.
“I don’t think he’s trying to slow it down,” Venables said of McDowell. “We consider him more up on these energy issues than anyone else. He’s considered one of the experts across the country.”
Senate Majority Whip Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, said lawmakers had questions, including on legal matters and the technology of offshore wind power. She said she hoped to determine whether offshore wind could be the most cost-effective option over the 25-year life of the contract.
“I’m very glad we’re going to have an open process that will, I hope, bring closure to this issue,” she said.
She said Babcock’s promise of jobs is “certainly exciting news. I think we all hope those jobs can come to Delaware and that we can be successful in getting our questions answered so we can move forward with the wind farm in Delaware.”
Senate Minority Whip Liane Sorenson, R-Hockessin, said she plans to attend the first hearing, and would sign up to speak. She supports the Bluewater project.
Of the hearings, she said, “I would prefer we didn’t have them, but we’re having them.”
Sen. Steven Amick, R-Glasgow, said the jobs announcement helps, but there’s still a lot he doesn’t understand.
“I really would like to do the wind project, but there are still questions I need answered, and there are many questions, I don’t even understand the question yet,” Amick said.
By Aaron Nathans
The Senate Energy and Transit Committee will hold a public hearing tonight on whether the Bluewater Wind project is cost-effective compared with other options. It starts at 6:30 p.m. at Legislative Hall in Dover.
Future hearings on Bluewater and other renewable power providers are tentatively scheduled for Feb. 13, Feb. 26, Feb. 27 and March 5. Times and locations are yet to be determined. Tonight’s event is expected to be the only public hearing.
7 February 2008
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