Bluewater supporters see setup to kill project
A Senate committee chairman faced criticism Thursday for surprising Public Service Commission representatives with a grilling by a Washington lawyer over the Bluewater Wind contract.
The Senate Energy and Transit Committee, led by Sen. Harris B. McDowell III, D-Wilmington North, held a hearing Wednesday at Legislative Hall over a long-term contract for Delmarva Power to buy offshore wind power from Bluewater Wind. McDowell has generally been critical of the project.
But instead of lawmakers asking most of the questions, McDowell’s committee hired attorney Randall Speck, who asked detailed questions of PSC officials for more than 2 1/2 hours. McDowell was authorized by the Democratic leadership to spend up to $35,000 on legal fees.
“Quite frankly, we were very surprised a Washington lawyer was hired to essentially cross-examine the chair of the commission and myself,” said PSC Executive Director Bruce Burcat, who said he believed before the hearing they would be questioned by senators.
Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, a member of the committee, said she “felt like I was at a trial” during the hearing.
“I think these hearings are a joke, a bad joke,” Peterson said. “They’re designed to fool all the people, to make them think we are seriously considering Bluewater Wind, when in fact I think the point of all these hearings is to make sure that Bluewater Wind is dead. That’s my personal opinion.”
In December, four state agencies were scheduled to vote on whether to order Delmarva Power to sign a 25-year contract with Bluewater for offshore wind power. But despite a yearlong information-gathering process, lawmakers said they had questions and forced a deadlock.
Bluewater wants to put 150 turbines off the coast of Rehoboth Beach as part of its $1.6 billion plan to provide Delmarva customers with wind power.
But Delmarva officials have long resisted the plan, saying conservation and transmission could trump the need for new generation in Delaware. They chafed at being locked into a long-term contract they say could cost its customers too much.
McDowell announced the set of five hearings in January. The last of these hearings, featuring Bluewater and Delmarva representatives, is scheduled for 10 a.m. today at Legislative Hall. Speck is expected to ask questions at today’s hearing as well.
Speck, a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School in 1977, has acted as special counsel to the Connecticut Department of Public Utility Control in its deregulation efforts. He also represented the Maryland Public Service Commission in its evaluation of deregulation.
Speck’s office said he could not be reached for comment.
Contacted Thursday afternoon, McDowell said he was in a hearing and could not talk.
Bluewater supporters called McDowell’s move Wednesday disrespectful.
“Not to tell someone they’re essentially going to be cross-examined, I think, is rude. It sounds like a setup,” said Nicholas Di Pasquale, former head of the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control and current conservation chairman for the Delaware Audubon Society.
It was unclear whether the full $35,000 would go to Speck; the General Assembly is exempt from state freedom of information laws that could reveal such information.
Of Speck, Peterson said: “I imagine he’ll earn his full $35,000. It’s about a year’s salary for most of our staff.”
Peterson said she believed the purpose of the hearing “was to get them on record and on tape so Delmarva can use that if they need to. I think yesterday was all about Delmarva and I said that to Harris McDowell. And of course he disagrees with that.”
McDowell, a champion of deregulation and conservation, accepted a total of $1,100 in donations from Delmarva lobbyist Joseph Farley Sr. in 2003 and 2004.
Reached for comment on Thursday, Delmarva spokes-man Bill Yingling declined to specifically address Peterson’s allegation.
“We’ve been straightforward about our position on this from the beginning. We’ve been asked to participate in this hearing at 10:30 tomorrow to share our views again, and we’re going to do it,” Yingling said.
Peterson said Senate Majority Leader Anthony DeLuca’s opposition was what caused Controller General Russ Larson to oppose the contract as it currently exists. Peterson said she believes the Bluewater project is dead.
In an interview, Larson said DeLuca did oppose the contract as it stands, but wider concerns among legislative leaders caused Larson’s opposition.
“My opinion is, no, it’s not dead,” Larson said.
By Aaron Nathans
7 March 2008
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