Some leaders of House, set to vote on Bluewater, say utility lying about promise of cost estimates.
Delmarva Power says it won’t release the details of its proposed land-based wind power contracts until about June 1. That’s about a month before the end of the legislative session.
Some House Republicans expressed frustration at Delmarva, saying the electric company promised them cost estimates by next week so they can compare them to the proposed 25-year Bluewater Wind offshore contract.
The lawmakers vowed to press on with a vote on the Bluewater matter, as soon as next week.
“I can guarantee you we’re not going to wait around until the end of May, the beginning of June to make a decision on what we’re going to do on this issue in the House,” said Majority Leader Richard Cathcart, R-Middletown.
Bluewater and its allies said Delmarva was engaging in delay tactics to try to run out the clock on the legislative session, which ends June 30.
Delmarva officials denied that intent, saying it takes time to evaluate 35 bids and conduct negotiations.
Delmarva has been fighting the proposed Bluewater contract, which would provide the utility with enough electricity to make up about a quarter of its load. The power is too expensive and unnecessary, Delmarva contends.
But state officials have pressed ahead with efforts to order Delmarva to sign it. To fight those efforts, the utility put out a request in January for proposals for onshore wind power, which Delmarva officials say is much less expensive.
That would satisfy the state’s requirement for renewable power, but not lawmakers’ directive to seek in-state sources of electricity to make the state less dependent on transmission lines.
Bluewater allies say paying for wind power to be generated in other regions won’t do much to bolster reliability, long-term price stability and the environment on the electricity-constrained Delmarva Peninsula.
Members of the House are considering a resolution directing Controller General Russ Larson to join with three other state agencies in ordering Delmarva to sign the Bluewater contract.
The House did not vote on the resolution before lawmakers broke for two weeks on March 21.
Cathcart and Rep. Robert Valihura, R-Beau Tree, said senior Delmarva officials and their lobbyist, Joe Farley, met with the House Republican caucus shortly before the break. Both lawmakers said they heard Delmarva representatives promise them cost estimates for onshore wind bids, which they could compare to Bluewater prices, by the time they return next week.
But Delmarva spokesman Bill Yingling said the company never made such a promise. He said the company only said it would have preliminary numbers by the end of March, and those numbers would not be released.
“Representative Valihura must have misunderstood our statements,” Yingling said.
In reaction, Valihura said, “That’s just a flat-out lie.” And Cathcart added. “If they’re telling you they did not say that, they’re not telling you the truth.”
Valihura said the caucus will meet Tuesday. That could set up a vote by the full House on Thursday. The time has come to cast a vote and move on, Valihura said. He said he personally supports the contract, and wants to act now, lest Bluewater pull out.
Glenn Moore, Delmarva’s regional vice president, said Delmarva is going to analyze the bids this month, negotiate with the winning bidders in May, and hopes to have “signable contracts” presented to the Public Service Commission around June 1. It’s unclear whether any of the material will be redacted from public view, he said.
“We’re moving as quickly as we can,” Moore said. “You’ve got to analyze them.” It will still give the legislators enough time to consider the option, he said.
But Bluewater spokesman Jim Lanard said time is of the essence, and the onshore wind bids will not be a fair comparison to the close-to-home service his company is offering.
“Delmarva clearly has a strategy of trying to get past the end of the legislative session without having the Legislature act on the direction it wants to give the controller general,” Lanard said.
Lanard cautioned that “there will be a time when the Bluewater Wind bid could become stale. We’re not there yet.”
Cathcart said he recently polled his constituents, asking whether they would be willing to pay between $7 and $15 more per month for power from the Bluewater project. The overwhelming majority said yes, he said.
If the resolution passes the House, its prospects are unclear in the Senate. But the resolution does not necessarily need to pass to make its impact. Lawmakers need only show enough support for the contract to convince Larson to get behind it.
By Aaron Nathans
5 April 2008
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