Delmarva Power officials say they will recast recently published newspaper ads against the proposed Bluewater Wind project. The company stands behind the information they contain but will no longer use the headline “Public Notice,” which has drawn a complaint to the Public Service Commission (PSC).
University of Delaware professor Jeremy Firestone filed a draft complaint with the commission, seeking a retraction of the ads and an apology from the company. This week an environmentalist group retaliated against Delmarva Power with radio ads charging that Delmarva Power’s campaign against the Bluewater Wind project is using misleading information.
Under the bold headline “Public Notice” the ads say Delmarva Power customers may be forced into a 25-year contract with the offshore wind group that would drive up their rates more than 30 percent.
Delmarva Power says it is not illegal to use the phrase “Public Notice” in an advertisement, but the wording drew caution from Arnetta McRae, commission chairwoman. “She cautioned us that the phrase could be perceived as coming from a public agency. We care about what the PSC thinks, so we are recasting the ads,” said Delmarva Power spokeswoman Bridget Shelton.
Firestone agreed that it is not illegal for the company to use such wording. “It’s certainly improper,” he said. Giving the impression that information is coming from a public agency could open the door to a lawsuit, Firestone said.
Despite the attacks, Delmarva Power officials stand by their consultant’s numbers. “Our independent consultant worked in terms of the market price in 2014 when we would start paying for Bluewater Wind. Taking the market price versus the cost of Bluewater Wind, our consultant got a 39 percent rate increase for Delmarva Power standard-offer service customers,” Shelton said.
Bluewater Wind also takes issue with the advertisements. “Bluewater Wind is very disappointed that Delmarva Power would use the appearance of some type of governmental notice to attract the attention of readers and listeners,” said spokesman Jim Lanard.
More than the language, Lanard said Bluewater Wind took exception to the substance behind the ads, which he called flawed. “A Delmarva Power spokeswoman said the 30 percent increase in bills referenced in the ads referred only to the first year. The implication that bills will increase 30 percent for 25 years is an overstatement of extreme magnitude,” Lanard said. The debate over whether the 150-turbine offshore wind farm should be given the go-ahead has raged since a vote on a proposed power-purchase agreement between the wind company and Delmarva Power was tabled in December.
Bluewater Wind says its project will provide Delmarva Power’s standard-offer service customers with stable-priced electricity for the term of the 25-year contract required by House Bill 6, passed in 2006. The whole state will take advantage of the environmental benefits, says Bluewater Wind.
Delmarva Power, however, contends the length of the contract creates unnecessary risk and that the project will cause rates to increase for standard-offer service customers, whose rates shot up 59 percent when electric power was deregulated. Delmarva Power says it is unfair to single out standard-offer service customers to pay for the proposed wind farm, but legislation mandates the state oversee a process to provide those very customers with a long-term source of in-state generated power. “This debate should be based on agreed-upon facts. If Delmarva fails to explain why its numbers differ so dramatically from those of the Public Service Commission, it should pull its misleading ads,” said Nick DiPasquale, conservation chairman for Delaware Audubon.
New radio ads challenging Delmarva Power’s cost claims are being paid for by voluntary donations collected by Delaware Audubon. The ad campaign is meant to correct the record, said DiPasquale.
Wilmington economist Tom Noyes says Public Service Commission figures estimate a power purchase agreement between Bluewater Wind and Delmarva Power would cost the average customer $6.46 more a month, an increase of less than 5 percent. “But even that estimate is based on Delmarva Power’s mistaken assertion that natural gas prices will go down instead of up,” Noyes noted.
Firestone took exception to language in the Delmarva Power ads other than cost. He said phrasing in the ads indicating standard-offer service customers “may be forced” into paying for Bluewater Wind’s proposed project is misleading because those customers are free to choose a different electricity provider.
In addition to a retraction and apology, Firestone’s draft filing asks the PSC not allow Delmarva Power to recover from customers the cost of the ad and the retraction. The draft filing, Firestone said, meant he expressed an intention to file such a motion formally, and wanted to lay the legal argument against the ads out clearly, but wanted to wait to give the PSC an opportunity first to resolve the issue.
By Leah Hoenen
9 May 2008
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