"Renewable" energy news (John Nichols)

SAFE director John Nichols appeared on the Rick Jensen show to comment on the Skipjack Wind Farm and a proposed expansion of the Renewable Portfolio Standard. He was variously referred to by the talk show host as an “energy researcher/activist” and a “number cruncher.”

As a lead in, Jensen noted that Nichols was on the show a number of years ago (he has actually appeared several times). The Bloom Energy project was just being proposed at the time, said Jensen, and the official word was that it would cost typical Delmarva Power customers less than a dollar a month. Nichols said the cost would be far higher, and experience has proven him right.

If you don’t believe this, check out page 2 of your monthly Delmarva bill and you’re likely to see a monthly “qualified fuel cells” charge (aka Bloom Energy) of $5 or higher plus an approximately equal charge for “wind & solar”). And it took “two years of lobbying” by John Nichols, Sen. John Kowalko (a liberal), and others to prod the Public Service Commission into ordering that the numbers be broken out in this fashion.

From this point, Jensen was basically looking for a cost estimate of what the current “renewable energy” proposals would do to monthly electric bills for Delawareans.

Nichols provided a ballpark estimate of current renewable energy charges to Delmarva Power customers (all in for fuel cells, wind and solar) of $80 million per year. If the RPS is expanded from 25% renewable to 40% or higher, as was specifically proposed by most of the attendees at a meeting that Sen. Harris McDowell convened on the subject in May, it would be reasonable to assume the subsidy level doubling over the next few years, i.e., rising to $160 million per year.

There’s a wild card in the game, however, in that offshore wind projects can’t proceed without establishing specific subsidies that are contractually payable by the ratepayers. Power companies don’t want the liabilities on their books, which is basically why Delmarva Power wasn’t willing to enter into a binding purchase agreement with Bluewater Wind. The upshot in that case was that Delmarva eventually agreed to front the Bloom Energy fuel cell project in lieu of proceeding with the Bluewater deal.

The Skipjack Wind Farm is a Maryland deal at this point, but the developer has offered an $18 million bribe to the state for park infrastructure in return for permitting a connection to the grid in Delaware. If the power goes into the grid in Delaware, however, this might raise expectations that Delawareans are going to contribute to the excess cost – which would be done by creating a new class of renewable energy credits called ORECs. It’s hard to say how the ORECs would be priced, so the amount of subsidy involved could run higher than we think.

Shifting from costs to benefits, Nichols questioned whether there would actually be any amount of benefits from offshore wind projects (or other wind and solar projects for that matter).

First, wind power is intermittent and therefore adds nothing to the capacity of the electric grid. The effect of using it is to temporarily displace power from more reliable sources and drive up the cost of power from fossil fuel or nuclear plants by only using them intermittently.

Second, wind power has significant environmental drawbacks including killing numerous birds and bats as has been amply proven by the demonstration wind turbines installed in Lewes.

The renewable energy thrust stems from politics versus engineering/science and the current crop of Delaware legislators seem foolishly inclined to go along with the crowd. One idea to slow things down would be to bring back Sen. Greg Lavelle, who at least has acknowledged that the effect of expanding the RPS would be to impose a tax (which requires a 2/3 vote under the Delaware Constitution versus a simple majority).

Jensen thanked Nichols for his insights, but we're not aware of any notable reaction to the program.

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