City of Dover, state and federal officials had plenty of accolades to go around as they celebrated the official grand opening Aug. 17 of Dover SUN Park, one of the crown jewels of the Diamond State’s green movement. But unmentioned was how much the clean power being generated for the city would cost Dover’s ratepayers.
City of Dover, state and federal officials had plenty of accolades to go around as they celebrated the official grand opening Aug. 17 of Dover SUN Park, one of the crown jewels of the Diamond State’s green movement.
But unmentioned was how much the clean power being generated for the city would cost Dover’s ratepayers. White Oak Solar Energy LLC’s contract with Dover contained a July 23, 2010 letter with confidential schedules of payment rates for solar energy. As stated on the bottom of the 20-year rate schedule, “This document contains trade secrets and confidential information exempt from disclosure.”
White Oak Solar Energy LLC, a Delaware corporation based at LS Power Development in East Brunswick, N.J., used the contract language to defend against at least three Freedom of Information Act requests, including one by the Dover-based Caesar Rodney Institute. The Caesar Rodney Institute hired Prickett Jones & Elliott attorney John Paradee to file a petition for the contract’s release with the Delaware Department of Justice.
Attorney General Beau Biden’s office compelled the city and White Oak Solar Energy to reveal the complicated contract to the public in late summer.
“Some of the requested documents had to do with proprietary information that will affect [White Oak’s] competitiveness,” Biden said. “I hear that argument all the time. I’m confident that sometimes that is the case. But I think sometimes that maybe is not the case.”
It is common in the utility industry to protect this kind of proprietary information, said Dover City Councilman David Bonar, the ombudsman for the Delaware Public Service Commission.
“If we disclosed the price it would possible jeopardize their bids on other projects,” Bonar said.
After receiving the contract, David T. Stevenson, director of the Caesar Rodney Institute’s Center for Energy Competitiveness, pointed out that electricity rates for local residents and businesses will go up $65 million during the next 20 years.
“The cost will be shared by Dover Electric Utility customers, electric customers around the state and by taxpayers, Stevenson said.
While residents will pay about $17.25 a year more, he predicted commercial users could pay $35,000 more per year. The forced use of green energy is one of the things hampering Delaware’s economy, said Stevenson, who has a degree in economics from Rutgers and is retired from DuPont.
“We can’t attract new manufacturing here and we can’t get them to expand,” he said. "And other manufacturers leave. We’re trying to reduce electricity rates. Wherever possible, the market should dictate what sells and what doesn’t.”
But, as pointed out by Stevenson, Dover residents will pay just $17.25 more a year because of solar energy, Dover spokeswoman Kay Sass said.
“That works out to $1.43 a month,” she said.
As for solar energy causing businesses to struggle, Sass said it was important to keep things in perspective.
“Personally, I don’t think that electric rates are what is making or breaking businesses right now,” she said. “Does it play a role? Absolutely. But so does our entire economy.”
Dover simply followed state mandates in opening up Dover SUN Park, Dover Public Utilities Director Ron Lunt said. Delaware has mandated that 25 percent of utilities’ energy must come from renewable energy by the year 2025, Lunt said.
“So, our consumers are going to have to have renewable sources in our portfolio,” he said.
The park is putting out approximately 17,000 megawatts of power, which amounts to 17,000 Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), Lunt said. Of that, Dover is buying 15 percent of the SRECs, the Delaware Municipal Electric Corporation, a consortium of the nine Delaware cities that own electric utilities, is buying 15 percent and Delmarva Power is buying the rest.
Dover City Councilman David Anderson is not against green energy and he is not against this contract per say.Editor's Note: This article was revised to clarify Dover City Councilman David Anderson's stance on the city's contract with White Oak Solar Energy. He does see the contract as imposing on individual liberty. Rather, he sees the state's Renewable Portfolio Standard Compliance (RPS) and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) requirements as leading to an assault on individual liberty.
But Anderson sees the impetus behind this contract an assault on individual liberty. Namely, Anderson takes umbrage with the state Renewable Portfolio Standard Compliance (RPS) and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) requirements. These regulations could lead to an assault on individual liberty due to the fact they will artificially cause either high costs or rationing, Anderson said.
“The state has forced us into a corner -- not just us but every utility that produces electricity,” he said. “We can’t possibly meet that 25 percent standards without either raising rates or rationing electricity.”
Bonar said there could be no debate about solar energy’s positive impact on the environment since it reduces the amount of carbon-based fuel. But it is expensive right now.
“The prices will come down over time,” he said. “It’s just whether society has the patience to wait for them to come down.”