When I first heard about Bluewater Wind’s proposal to build an off-shore wind farm for Delaware’s future electricity needs, my Dutch side perked up and said “Heel goed!” However, after sitting through several presentations where Bluewater representatives responded to cost and risk questions by showing pictures of stranded polar bears and hinting that global warming could turn Hockessin into shorefront property, things began to smell fishy. Bluewater’s presentation amounted to environmental blackmail, as confirmed by Green Delaware’s Alert 577:
…we are not idealizing Bluewater. They want to make a lot of money, and clearly overreached with the proposed “escalator” clause…but the bottom line is that we MUST make a transition to non-polluting energy sources and wind is available and effective.
Fortunately, Bluewater’s message that its proposal MUST be accepted at ANY cost was based on a false dilemma. It’s “global warming” message presumed that the only alternative to off-shore wind was coal.
2007’s SB19 requires Delaware to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2019. Therefore, the issue is not WHETHER renewable energy will be used, but WHICH. Possibilities other than offshore wind are available, such as Delmarva’s proposal to get energy from land-based windmills in Pennsylvania. This option was apparently dismissed for political and economic reasons. Lt. Governor Carney summarized these reasons in January of this year when he said:
"The Bluewater Wind project already promises up to 500 construction jobs during the two to three year build out, as well as providing 80 - 100 operation and maintenance jobs during the life of the wind farm…I am not just talking about Bluewater Wind's proposed offshore wind farm, I am talking about offshore wind energy projects that will likely follow in the region, including in New Jersey and Maryland, as the demand for clean, renewable energy increases…This positions Delaware perfectly to become the hub of this new emerging business, creating hundreds of new jobs directly… If this hub does not locate in Delaware, it will be located somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic States. I want it to be here.”
These reasons sound compelling at first, but two BILLION dollars, which is the expected price of Bluewater’s wind farm, seems like a lot of money to pay for 80 – 100 permanent operation and maintenance jobs, and a possibility of becoming a regional hub for wind energy. When advocates resort to reasons like these, it implies that the proposal cannot stand on its own merits.
On April 23 of this year, Delaware’s Senate Energy and Transit Committee produced a report that recommended against Bluewater’s proposal, supporting its recommendation with a list of compelling reasons :
- The proposal presented a “Large risk”, owing to $2B invested in a single electricity-generating proposal that would lock-in energy customers for 25 years.
- It imposed an “exceptionally large premium…of 28% on the electric user”
- Among the three options that had been considered, “BWW was in no sense the winning bidder. However, the PSC (Public Service Commission) did not follow the logic of the bid evalutions…which would have led to a rejection of all three bids and a possible re-bidding.”
- “Had the RFP (Request for Proposals) been conducted in the context of the IRP (Integrated Resource Planning), as required by HB-6, both solar energy and energy efficiency resources could have been compared to offshore wind to specify a portfolio that could best satisfy the HB-6 standard – the ‘greatest long-term system benefits’ met ‘in the most cost-effective manner’ – while achieving comparable environmental gains.”
In other words, the report recommended that the RFP should be redone because two promising options for handling Delaware’s energy needs – solar energy and improved efficiency – had not been considered.
Both of the unconsidered options offer important advantages:
- They can be pursued incrementally, without committing Delmarva and its customers to a long-term contract involving billions of dollars for a project that will not produce energy for several years.
- They can be pursued through a combination of ordinances and tax or rebate incentives without producing any new bureaucratic or monopolistic entities.
- They preserve a fiercely competitive business environment. Individual homeowners and businesses will be able to purchase items and systems from a competitive market. This competitive market will naturally improve quality and costs over time.
- Ordinances and incentives can be adjusted to keep up with new technological developments.
Improvements in energy efficiency come down to replacing one technology with another to serve existing needs. For example, light bulb suppliers can phase out filament light bulbs and promote fluorescent ones.
Solar energy, however, is something new, and Delawareans can already benefit from tax incentives. These incentives cut the cost of solar-energy systems by significantly more than half and make them viable for homeowners and businesses on an ROI basis.
These incentives have already created a flurry of activity in Delaware’s solar power industry, which we can expect to reduce costs as production scales increase. If a greater rate of adoption is desired, the State can improve the incentives.
How hard is it to add solar panels to your home? It’s actually quite easy because Delaware’s incentives have created an attractive market for solar panel contractors. I know this because our family installed a 5.2 kWdc system in January after estimating that the costs would be recovered in about six years. The process was about as difficult as hiring a contractor to install replacement windows. Less than two months after we signed the contract, Delmarva gave us the OK to turn on our installation. The system is guaranteed for 20 years, which means that for at least the last 14 years of the system’s life, it will be providing us with “free” electricity.
Even better: The collective roofs of Delaware have the potential to produce more electricity than Bluewater’s 600 MW offshore wind farm.