Final report of McDowell committee refrains from outright rejection of plan
DOVER – A Senate panel approved a controversial report critical of the Bluewater Wind contract, and the state process that led to it.
But the panel removed language urging the rejection of the contract, instead instructing policymakers merely to give “great weight” to the recommendations.
This could give Bluewater some wiggle room to continue its efforts to convince senators of the merits of the 25-year contract with Delmarva Power.
The vote of the Senate Energy and Transit Committee on Thursday was 4-2. In favor were Chairman Harris McDowell III, D-Wilmington North; Robert L. Venables Sr., D-Laurel; Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington West; and Charlie Copeland, R-West Farms.
Voting against were Karen Peterson, D-Stanton; and Catherine Cloutier, R-Brandywine Hundred.
The report comes after a set of hearings led by McDowell in February and March. Peterson criticized the hearings and report, saying the witness list was biased, and “if we consider peoples’ motives, 99 percent of this report goes away.”
McDowell defended the hearings, and the report, saying, “The findings are an objective analysis of the public record.”
“We have not favored anyone with a bias one way or another.”
The new report also includes a recommendation by Copeland to explore working with neighboring states to build an offshore wind farm, and spread out the costs.
“We’ve got this huge potential along the coast,” Copeland said. “There’s certainly nothing controversial to reaching out to everybody.”
The first draft was obtained by The News Journal several days ago, and on Thursday, McDowell expressed disappointment about the leak.
The new draft of the report was reviewed by senators at the table, but was not publicly released. Several dozen onlookers packed a small room in Legislative Hall, without the report in hand, as the senators discussed the changes.
Senators, and the general public, are expected to obtain copies of the final draft next week. Because it is advisory in nature, the full Senate will not vote on the report.
Meanwhile, a bill that would require approval of the Bluewater contract passed last week in the House, but has not received any action in the Senate.
The fate of the project appears to rest in the hands of Controller General Russ Larson, who answers to legislative leaders. The contract calls for 150 turbines off Rehoboth Beach, which would be one of the first offshore wind farms in the nation. It would order Delmarva Power to sign the long-term deal, against the utility’s will. Delmarva officials say it’s too expensive.
The heart of the report apparently remained unchanged. It says the Public Service Commission and two other state agencies erred in carrying out legislative instructions to seek new, in-state sources of generation. The agencies distorted bidding rules, ignored risks and passed over less expensive alternatives, the report argues.
“That’s thoroughly documented in this report,” said McDowell, interpreting the law as seeking new generation with the greatest long-term benefit at the lowest cost.
The state agencies gave more weight to price stability, not the lowest price.
Offshore wind technology is generally more expensive than the on-shore technology favored by Delmarva, but is seen as more viable to build in Delaware, where the wind doesn’t blow as hard on land.
Bruce Burcat, executive director of the PSC, said he has not seen the finished report, but said the agency was comfortable with the process and procedures, “which were validated by all of the state agencies charged with making a decision in this matter.”
Burcat said the project received an “extremely thorough” vetting.
“The committee report is basically another piece of information that may be considered by state policymakers,” he said.
Bluewater spokesman Jim Lanard would not comment since his company has not seen the most recent draft.
Also on Thursday, the federal Minerals Management Agency designated five states, including the area off Rehoboth Beach, as priority areas for testing offshore technology. That could allow Bluewater to proceed with testing the offshore winds, a step in its plans to construct the wind farm.
By Aaron Nathans
18 April 2008