Del. facing June 30 deadline for legislation
Whirling debate over a proposed offshore wind farm helped to chop up hopes Monday for broad agreement on Delaware’s version of a multistate greenhouse gas control plan.
Although rarely mentioned directly, the push for wind turbines off Delaware’s coast plainly figured in disputes over how to invest an estimated $53 million to $209 million in proceeds by 2014 from the sale of power plant “allowances” for carbon dioxide emissions.
Delaware agreed in 2005 to join the 10-state Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a program to cap and then reduce the amount of heat-trapping pollution released by large electricity generators across the Northeast.
Power plants would be required to buy allowances by the ton for some or all of the carbon dioxide leaving their smokestacks under the plan. The scheme would cap total releases by 2009 and cut emissions by 10 percent within a decade.
Delaware needs legislation authorizing the program by June 30. But disagreements over rules for auctioning and using pollution-credit proceeds has stymied a working group formed by the General Assembly.
“It’s the same ideas, and it’s been ’round and ’round,” said David Small, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control deputy secretary. “I hate to throw up the white flag here. I’m just at a loss at this point, given the timing, to try and meet our commitment.”
Small said DNREC might attempt to prepare a bare-bones bill authorizing the program, after issuing a report summarizing differences over other issues.
Wind power supporters have objected to an administration-backed plan to earmark much of the money for a potentially competing program, the Sustainable Energy Utility, that would help residents conserve energy and switch to smaller-scale, renewable sources.
Sen. Harris B. McDowell III, D-Wilmington North, the SEU’s chairman, has questioned a proposed contract that would force Delmarva Power to buy up to 300 megawatts of electricity daily from a $1.6 billion, 150-turbine wind farm. Bluewater Wind LLC wants to put the turbines in federal waters 11 to 17 miles east of Rehoboth Beach.
McDowell’s critics have pointed out that the wind project could draw some revenues away from the SEU. Sierra Club member Chad Tolman also said Delaware needs to emphasize “utility scale” renewable energy, in contrast to the SEU’s goal of reducing pollution by reducing electricity use.
“In Delaware, our best renewable energy resource is offshore wind, and I would like to see part of the money that comes from the allocation be used for things such as modifying the Port of Wilmington so it becomes a center for building wind turbines,” Tolman said.
Tolman and Delaware Audubon Society Conservation Chairman Nicholas A. DiPasquale earlier this year pressed the RGGI group to support a plan that would put SEU under the oversight of a new Citizens Energy Oversight Board. That board would control 75 percent of RGGI auction proceeds.
Last week, DNREC Secretary John A. Hughes said the SEU is the state-designated provider for energy-efficiency services and incentives for renewable energy systems and should receive RGGI money earmarked for those purposes.
Hughes also pointed out that Delaware was recently tied for last place nationwide in spending for energy efficiency. He also said that the delays in settling terms for RGGI has left Delaware in a “difficult position.”
Also in dispute Monday was a utility industry call to phase in the pollution credit plan. Electricity generators want to be able to keep at least 45 percent of the credits initially, while eventually giving up all credits to the public within five years.
Company officials said the phase-in would help Delaware power producers cope with uncertainties largely absent in other states, including the risk that allowance costs will make out-of-state electricity more attractive to buyers.
Hughes said he was willing to accept a 60 percent starting point, ramping up after four years, as a compromise.
Environmental groups questioned the break, noting that other states have claimed 100 percent of the allowances right away.
“I think others of us can’t support that,” DiPasquale said of the utilities’ phase-in plan.
Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark South, said he could support the phase-in, but said he saw “no urgency” to earmark the proceeds right away, and warned that he would “seriously consider” opposing the RGGI plan without a delay in the decision on allocation.
By Jeff Montgomery
11 March 2008
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