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Nine northeastern states from Maryland to Maine sell power plant carbon dioxide emission allowances in quarterly auctions, reducing the number of allowances over time, and the allowance cost is added to electric bills.  A new study from the Caesar Rodney Institute titled “A Review of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative”, finds there were no added emissions reductions, or associated health benefits from the cap and trade program.  Spending of program revenue on energy efficiency, wind and solar power, and low income fuel assistance had minimal impact.

The allowance costs added to already high regional electric bills, and the combined pricing impact resulted in a 13 percent drop in goods production and a 35 percent drop in the production of energy intensive goods.  Comparison states increased goods production by 15 percent.  The regional program shifted jobs to other states.  A national emissions tax would shift jobs to other countries.  A better policy to reduce emissions is to eliminate carbon dioxide emission taxes and regulation, and encourage innovation.

The nearly decade-old Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) was always meant to be a model for a national program to reduce power plant carbon dioxide emissions.  The EPA explicitly cited it in this fashion in its now-stayed Clean Power Plan.  The program is often called a “cap and trade” program, but its effect is the same as a direct tax or fee on emissions.  That is because RGGI allowance costs are passed on from electric generators to electric distribution companies to electric consumers.

Most emissions reductions track lower generation from coal-fired power plants.  Coal’s decline began with dramatically falling natural gas prices beginning in 2009, and was accelerated by restrictive EPA regulations beginning in 2012.  Many older, smaller power plants were shut down rather than invest in expensive filtration equipment that would be needed to meet new standards. Lower natural gas prices indirectly influenced the decisions to close down the coal-fired generation.  We can parse the relative impact of these two forces and find, both nationally and in the RGGI states, EPA regulations impacted 28% of coal’s decline with 72% directly due to lower natural gas prices.

RGGI revenue expenditures had a marginal impact.  Between 2007 and 2015 low income utility bill assistance from RGGI revenue added only about $5 a year net to an existing federal program.  Grants for wind and solar power only accounted for about 1% of all the wind and solar power added by the RGGI states.   Over the same time period non-RGGI comparison states saw a 20% greater increase in energy efficiency.

New power plant construction in RGGI states didn’t keep up with closings leading to a doubling of electricity imports to 17% between 2007 and 2015.  Importing more power results in effectively exporting carbon dioxide emissions accounting for almost a fifth of the RGGI state emissions reductions.  A similar national loss of power plants could lead to electricity outages.

The United States has already reduced emissions more than the rest of the world since 2005 through innovative natural gas drilling techniques.  Emissions are down 12 percent in 2015 from the 2005 base year, about twice the rate of other developed countries, while emissions are up 45 percent in the rest of the developing world according to the European Commission in their report “CO2 time series 1990 – 2015 per region/country”.  We have many other opportunities to invest in innovation, such as, improved solar photovoltaic cells, more efficient batteries, small modular nuclear reactors, or nascent technologies that use fossil fuels without emitting carbon dioxide.

So, RGGI states exported carbon dioxide emissions and jobs.  It is one thing to export well-paying manufacturing jobs from one state with poor energy policies to another with better policies.  There is quite a more profound impact on the U.S. economy from exporting those jobs to countries with even worse emissions.  That is what a national cap and trade, or tax policy on carbon dioxide emissions would do.  The regional example has failed to show emission reductions, and there is little to show for several billion dollars in expenditures of RGGI tax revenue.  What do you know, the RGGI experiment did work as a national example of what not to do!  The RGGI states are thinking about extending the program for ten more years.  Perhaps they should kill it instead.

Link to full working paper: https://www.cato.org/publications/working-paper/review-regional-green-gas-initiative

-by Mr. Stevenson is director of the Caesar Rodney Institute center for Energy Competitiveness, and author of the Cato Institute working paper “A Review of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative”

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James Watt’s 1775 improved steam engine allowed the efficient removal of water from coal mines kicking off the industrial revolution.  The age of cheap, abundant energy saw global life expectancy double, and real personal income grow twenty-five fold.  The United Nations Economic Development Index compares the development stage of countries to the amount of electricity available to its citizens.  Access to cheap energy could free the 20% of the world’s population still living at subsistence levels to lower infant mortality and birth rates, and to increase income, education, health, and life expectancy.  Innovations continue today.  The combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unleashed natural gas production that saw an 80% price drop which forced other fuels to follow saving the average American family $1500 a year.

The United Nations Paris Climate Accord is specifically designed to end the use of coal, oil, and natural gas globally over time, in essence trapping billions in extreme poverty, for no real environmental gain.  Expensive and intermittently available wind and solar power are not a suitable replacement for low cost, reliable conventional fuels.  President Obama signed the agreement by executive action, ignoring the fact it was a treaty requiring two thirds approval in the Senate, knowing the Senate would not approve.

Candidate Donald Trump promised to remove us from this treaty and to expunge pervasive climate related regulations adopted by the Obama Administration.  Now President Trump is meeting with principle members of his staff to decide whether to keep his promise.  Several key members of the Administration are urging we stay in the agreement to avoid diplomatic blow back, and to have a seat at the table for future negotiations.  They claim we can repeal domestic regulations while staying in the Paris Treaty.  Pulling out of the Treaty might lead to diplomatic blow back once.  Staying in, but not meeting the commitments, will be a constant irritation.  As a major energy producer and consumer we will always have a seat at the diplomatic table.  We didn’t join the Kyoto Climate Agreement, but continued as a key player in future negotiations.

President Obama bragged the Paris agreement created enforceable carbon dioxide emission reduction commitments that would make his domestic climate agenda “bullet proof” from future efforts at repeal.  We agree.  Article 4 of the agreement requires a review of commitments every five years, and only allows changes in one direction – tighter.  The initial goals are not enough to have any significant impact on future global temperatures.  They are just a down payment on future cuts.  There is also a U.S. commitment to pay large sums into a wealth transfer fund for poor countries, but past such efforts mainly fed graft.  Section 115 of the U.S. Clean Air Act requires the EPA and individual states to meet goals established in foreign agreements.  Environmental groups are lining up lawsuits to force compliance with the commitments.

The President needs to keep his campaign promise and get out of the Paris Climate Treaty.  The most effective way to accomplish that is to send the Treaty to the Senate for a vote that would certainly lead to a rejection in U.S. participation.  We can then move on to review and repeal domestic regulations that do nothing for the environment, but raise energy costs, hurt electric grid reliability, and impede economic growth.

David T. Stevenson, CRI Director 

Member Trump Administration EPA Transition Team

E-Mail:  DavidStevenson@CaesarRodney.org

                                               

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Public Service Commission
Cannon Building
861 Silver Lake Blvd., Suite 100
Dover, DE 19904

RE: 3008 Rules and Procedures to Implement the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (Opened August 23, 2005), PSC Docket 56, published March 1, 2017

Please accept these comments in the matter of the adoption of rules and procedures to implement the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Act, 26 DEL. C. §§ 351-363, as applied to Retail Electricity Suppliers.  We note this proposed regulation is appropriate in light of Superior Court ruling, C.A. N15A-12-002 AML, dated December 30, 2016, upholding the claim by the Delaware Public Advocate and the Caesar Rodney Institute the Public Service Commission (PSC) incorrectly delegated authority to write this regulation to the Division of Energy & Climate pursuant to the clear language in the Renewable Portfolio Standards Act, and remanding the issue to the PSC for proceedings in accordance with the Court’s decision.

We appreciate the care and thoughtful approach of the PSC Staff in drafting the regulation.  We especially support the affirmation legislative intent was to recognize there is unpriced value to the RPS by allowing a 3% electric rate premium, but did not require those externalities be calculated as an offset against the Cost Cap Calculation.  However, we do point out one issue requiring additional clarity.  We recommend the following additions (in Italics) to clarify the inclusion of REC and SREC Renewable Compliance Charges from Qualified Fuel Cell Providers.

3.2.21.1.1 The total cost of RECs retired to comply with the RPS, including that portion of the net Renewable Compliance Charge from Qualified Fuel Cell Providers used to meet REC requirements, plus       

3.2.21.1.3  The total cost of SRECs retired to comply with the RPS, including that portion of the net Renewable Compliance Charge from Qualified Fuel Cell Providers used to meet SREC requirements, plus           

3.2.21.3.2 The total cost of RECs retired to comply with the RPS, including that portion of the net Renewable Compliance Charge from Qualified Fuel Cell Providers used to meet REC requirements, plus

3.2.21.3.3 The total cost of SRECs retired to comply with the RPS, including that portion of the net Renewable Compliance Charge from Qualified Fuel Cell Providers used to meet SREC requirements, plus

3.2.21.4.2 The total cost of SRECs retired to comply with the RPS, including that portion of the net Renewable Compliance Charge from Qualified Fuel Cell Providers used to meet SREC requirements, plus

            While including the QFCP cost would seem to be self-evident, we note the Division of Energy & Climate has excluded these charges in past Cost Cap calculations.  The Division itself included the QFCP costs in the first three of four iterations of their proposed regulation “2102 Implementation of Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards Cost Cap Provisions”, now in the process of repeal.  The Division will be responsible for the actual calculation, and so needs a clear direction on including the QFCP charges.  We note the PSC regularly balances price, reliability, and environmental issues, while the Division of Energy & Climate is an advocate for renewable energy potentially biasing their regulatory process.  That is why writing the Cost Cap regulation was left to the PSC by the legislature.

The PSC should maintain consistency in its interpretation of the role of RECs from Qualified Fuel Cell Providers.  There are several precedents to consider.

  • The PSC approved the Fuel Cell Tariff in 2011. The Fuel Cell Act required the Commission to reject the tariff if the net levelized cost per month for the fuel cell project exceeded the net levelized cost of the highest current tariff, or the Bluewater Wind project.  The PSC Staff Consultant estimated the levelized cost of the Fuel Cell Tariff to be $1.34/month for the average residential customer compared to $2.27/month for Bluewater Wind.  Built into the assumptions was the Fuel Cell Act provision for energy production to offset the need for RECs and SRECs.  Without this offsetting value the cost of the Fuel Cell Project would have increased over $2.00 more a month, and would have exceeded the price cap requiring rejection of the Fuel Cell Tariff.  DNREC took this one step further and allowed each megawatt-hour of fuel cell generation to create two RECs, while an actual wind farm only creates one REC for each megawatt-hour of generation.  Clearly the REC value component influenced the PSC Tariff approval process.
  • The proposed regulation recognizes QFCP RECs in section 3.2.4 which spells out energy production from the QFCP can be used to fulfill the RPS requirements, and section 3.2.5 requires PJM-EIS GATS tracking similar to all other RECs and SRECs. The QFCP RECs are equivalent to any REC from any Eligible Energy Resource.
  • Every required annual report of RPS cost and the total Retail Cost of Electricity filed by Delmarva Power has included the QFCP cost without objection from the Division or the PSC Staff.
  • In PSC “Docket 13-250 Electric Bill Transparency”, the working group unanimously recommended, and the Commission ruled the Renewable Compliance Charge would be broken out on electric bills. It is now on each monthly bill and includes the QFCP REC cost.  How can the Commission explain to ratepayers any inconsistency of what they can see for themselves on an electric bill to what is used to determine whether the Cost Cap has been exceeded?
  • If the QFCP wasn’t supplying RECs, Delmarva would have had to purchase them under contract or on the spot market. We will shortly see the current contract cost for RECs when the Delmarva RFP solicitation for RECs is complete.  Clearly the QFCP RECs have a cost that adds to the Renewable Compliance Charge.  One could point out the QFCP RECs are expensive.  However, using information from the Delmarva 2014 IRP, page 73, Tables 8 and 9, we can calculate a forecasted cost for the current 2016 Compliance Year.  The costs are $68.14/REC from the QFCP, $33.73 /REC from three existing wind farm contracts, and $24.23/REC from the spot market.  The QFCP RECs are the most expensive but not extraordinarily so.  For example, SREC values vary from a high of $312 from the first residential procurement auction, to $217 from the Dover Sun Park, to $68 in the latest procurement auction, to $15 in the current Maryland spot market.  The Fuel Cell Tariff approval and construction of the generation facility was contemporaneous with the three existing wind farm contracts, and so are representative of a range of REC value at the time the Fuel Cell Tariff was approved.

In conclusion these precedents, and ratepayer expectations cry out for clarity on the fuel cell issue.  Please consider our clarifications to the proposed regulation to ensure the QFCP portion of the Renewable Compliance Charge is included in the RPS Cost Cap Calculation.

Sincerely,

David T. Stevenson
Director, Center for Energy Competitiveness
Caesar Rodney Institute
e-mail: DavidStevenson@CaesarRodney.org
Phone: 302-236-2050
Fax: 302-827-4558

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You can make your voice heard right now at the Delaware Public Service Commission (PSC) to protect against future electric bill increases.

The PSC is considering a regulation on how to calculate the cost impact on electric bills of Delaware’s requirement that our electric suppliers purchase more expensive and unreliable wind and solar power every year.  In 2010 the legislature amended the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard Act (REPSA) to include a cost cap of 3% on electric bills. The legislature figured there was value in using renewable power, but it didn’t want to overburden ratepayers, many who are living paycheck to paycheck.  Thus, it wrote a cap into the law that said electric bills should never go up by more than 3 percent to buy renewables.  If the cap was exceeded, the requirement for more renewable power was to be frozen until costs came down.  In 2011, the legislature again amended REPSA to allow a portion of the cost of fuel cell generation that Delmarva is forced to buy (and for which ratepayers are forced to pay) to count as renewable energy so Delmarva would not have to buy as much wind and solar power.

Well, that cap was exceeded in 2013. Renewables now add about 9% to electric bills, or $100 a year to residential bills, but there is no freeze!  Some industrial customers are paying a job-killing half million to a million dollars a year.

The story of how a freeze was avoided should make your blood boil.  The legislature added the 3% cost cap in 2010 and told the PSC to draft a regulation governing the cost cap calculations, with DNREC’s Division of Energy & Climate (Division) performing the actual calculations.  Then, the two agencies would consult to determine whether a freeze was called for. This division of labor made sense.  The PSC regularly balances the competing objectives of price, reliability, and environmental concerns in approving utility rates.  The Division of Energy & Climate advocates for renewable energy, which could potentially bias its approach to a cost cap calculation regulation to avoid a freeze.

The PSC ducked its responsibility, impermissibly delegating the duty for drafting the cost cap regulation to the Division.  The Division took its sweet time finalizing the regulation (almost four years), until the end of 2015 — thus avoiding doing a calculation that would have led to a freeze.  Moreover, the Division’s final regulation twisted the calculation process to avoid a freeze.  First, it flatly ignored the cost of the Bloom Energy fuel cell project.  Look at your electric bill: you will see the Renewable Compliance Charge broken into the fuel cell cost (Delaware Qualified Fuel Cell) and the wind and solar cost separately.  Divide the charge by your total bill to see what percentage you are paying.  Even though the fuel cells are fueled by conventional natural gas, the legislature approved fuel cell generation counting against the RPS requirements at twice the rate of an actual wind farm!

Second, the Division attempted to calculate the value of unpriced externalities, such as the health impacts of less air pollution, and count those externalities as part of the cost of electric supply.  In doing so, it used outdated emissions data, outdated health impact values, and counted jobs created in the solar industry, while ignoring jobs lost because of higher electric rates.  After exaggerating the benefits, it wanted to allow another 3% price increase!

The REPSA requires that our electric suppliers purchase 25% of their power from renewable sources by 2025; the current year’s target is 14.5%.  The idea was to generate renewable power in-state.  Instead, we are only generating about 1% of the power we use from in-state solar projects.  The rest is coming from landfill gas and biomass projects that were in place before the REPSA became law, natural gas-fired fuel cells, and out-of-state windfarms that raise electric bills but create no Delaware jobs. The point is that for all its cost and effort, the REPSA isn’t even close to doing what it was supposed to – but it is increasing the amount that Delawareans pay for electricity.

The Delaware Public Advocate (DPA), a state agency tasked with advocating the lowest reasonable rates for regulated utility consumers, and CRI petitioned the PSC to do its job and issue regulations.  The PSC refused.  The DPA appealed the PSC’s order and won!

The PSC has now drafted proposed cost cap regulations.  To read them, go to http://regulations.delaware.gov/register/march2017/proposed/20%20DE%20Reg%20713%2003-01-17.htm .

Here’s where you come in.

The PSC did eliminate the use of externalities in the cost cap calculations.  However, the wording is not clear enough: the fuel cell costs are excluded from the cost cap calculation.

CRI thinks the cost cap calculations should take into account the cost to buy solar and wind power and the amount going toward Bloom energy fuel cells when calculating the total cost of REPSA compliance.

If you think so too, let the PSC know. Written public comments are due by Monday, April 24, and the PSC will conduct a public hearing at 1 PM, April 6.  Written comments may be sent to Joseph DeLosa, Public Service Commission, 861 Silver Lake Blvd., Cannon Building Suite 100, Dover, DE 19904, or by e-mail to joseph.delosa@state.de.us.  The hearing is at the same location.

We are encouraging submission of written comments to the PSC similar to the following with the subject line “Regulation Docket No. 56”: “We support the proposed regulation, but please add clarifying language to ensure that the net cost of Renewable Energy Credits from a Qualified Fuel Cell Provider shall be included in the RPS Cost Cap Calculation.”                            

The improved regulation will probably result in a freeze to the increasing requirement for wind and solar power.  It will keep the cost from rising further.  (Interestingly, the price of solar installations has fallen so far it is likely that new solar projects will still be built without the state mandate, as is happening at many locations across America now).

David T. Stevenson
Director, Center for Energy Competitiveness
Caesar Rodney Institute

 

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The Obama Administration set records on expansive and expensive new environmental regulations.  In one example, compare the 56 federal implementation plans forced on states during the Obama years to the 5 total imposed by the combined Clinton and Bush presidencies.  Unfortunately, the Obama years also yielded the slowest regulation driven environmental gains in decades, 2% in seven years compared to 2% a year from 1980 to 2009.

The primary force for a better environment turned out to be innovations in natural gas production, a development the administration and environmental groups fought, that was carried out by private industry on private lands. Natural gas prices dropped 80% as producers figured out how to use horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to release tightly held gas from shale formations.  Falling natural gas prices dragged down the price of coal and oil that shows up in lower electricity, gasoline, and heating costs, and is saving families over $1500 a year in lower energy prices!  Fuel switching from coal to cleaner burning natural gas at power plants added almost another 5% improvement in air quality.

Obama era regulations targeted three primary substances; ground level ozone and fine particles the Environmental Protection Agency claimed posed a health hazard, and carbon dioxide the EPA linked to rising global temperatures.  Ozone levels improved by 1% a year up to 2009, but only improved 1% in seven years under Obama.  Fine particles improved 3% a year up to 2009, but only improved 3% over seven years under Obama.  The Obama regulatory effort reduced carbon dioxide emissions by an amount that will lower global temperatures by 0.01°C by 2100, essentially zero impact!  Carbon dioxide reductions from power plants can be attributed 70% to fuel switching for lower prices, and 30% to new regulations.

EPA cost benefit analysis showed new regulations would cost tens of billions of dollars a year to implement.  Free market sources, such as, the US Chamber of Commerce, estimated the cost to more likely be hundreds of billions of dollars.  Either way, a lot of money for marginal air pollution improvements.

The problems don’t end with air pollution regulations.  Voluntary multistate programs to improve water quality in areas such as the Chesapeake Bay brought Water Quality Index improvements of 25-percent from 1986 to 2010. That improvement ended after the voluntary agreement became a regulation in 2010 requiring states to institute mandatory steps, such as, storm water management regulations.  No water quality improvement, but those regulations have managed to increase new home prices by $10,000 each in the Chesapeake watershed.

Aggressive requirements in motor vehicle miles per gallon standards were also mandated.  The latest information shows average MPG for the nations motor vehicle fleet actually dropped from 17.6 MPG in 2009 to 17.5 MPG in 2014.  The mandated MPG standards were unreachable and will likely be scaled back to a more practical level by the Trump Administration.

The Obama Administration, often through procedural short cuts and with support from questionable science, relied on ineffective regulations to “improve” the environment.  Predictably, results were poor.  We look forward to the Trump Administration rolling back bad regulations, and following the rule of law.  We expect a focus on actual improvements to the environment. This could include increasing infrastructure spending on securing drinkable water (remember Flint?), improving sewer systems, and reclaiming brownfields and Superfund sites.  Under the new administration, infrastructure spending could double without increasing the budget by using sources such as multi-billion dollar fines from the Volkswagen settlement for fudging tail pipe emissions, and other large settlements instead of handing them over to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, favored interest groups of the Obama EPA administration.

For more details on air quality improvements see our study “Sorting Root Causes of Air Quality Improvements 2009 to 2015” at https://criblog.wordpress.com/2017/02/12/sorting-root-causes-of-air-quality-improvements-2009-to-2015/ .

David T. Stevenson, Director, Member Trump Administration EPA Transition Team

E-Mail: David Stevenson@CaesarRodney.org

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Delaware and Maryland utility commissions have one more shot to convince electric grid regulators to lower the cost of the Artificial Island Transmission Line.  Governors Markell and Hogan have joined forces to fight the burdensome cost of this project, but a new approach is needed.  If we want to win this fight we need to negotiate using an alternative approach.  More local power generation could replace the transmission line.  This could lead to lower electric rates instead of higher rates, to a more robust economy, and to improved electric reliability.

 

The Artificial Island project is a technical response to importation of power.  Maryland and Delaware are the second and fifth highest electricity importing states in the country.  In 2015 Maryland imported 41% of its power, and Delaware imported 32%.

 

Importing power lowers electric grid reliability.  It also adds cost.  Regional grid manager, PJM Interconnection, is responsible for maintaining reliability with a combination of pricing mechanisms, and transmission line policy.  There are line charges to compensate for longer power transmission distances, congestion charges to encourage lower peak demand, and capacity charges to encourage more local generation.  See the graph below to see how these premiums can go.  These premium charges roughly equal the added monthly costs of the proposed transmission line, are already added to our electric bills, and most of the cost will continue even if the new transmission line is built!

 

Cost Premiums in Delaware & Maryland for Grid Congestion and Transmission Cost

dave stevenson Artificial Island

Source: PJM Interconnection Real Time Statistics

So, how do we boost local generation?  Start by asking electric generation and distribution companies already invested in the state what state policies would encourage more generation.  State policies led to lower local generation in very real ways and changed policies can help reverse the trend.  Prepare to kill some sacred cows when we hear the answers.

 

Maryland and Delaware are the only two states in the thirteen state PJM region with a tax on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.  The cost of that tax is passed on as a hidden tax on electric bills.  Our generating facilities burning coal and natural gas have to charge more, and lose bids to supply power.  Consequently, local power plants operate less frequently.  For example, the Indian River power plant in Millsboro, Delaware, is only operating 20% of the time compared to an average of 55% for coal fired plants nationally.

 

The tax was designed to reduce emissions but all it has really done is shifted the emissions out of state, and discouraged power plant construction locally.  The revenue was supposed to be used for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, but after a decade of work only a quarter of annual tax revenue is being spent on such projects.  Ending the tax would lower electricity prices and would allow more power to be generated locally.

 

In Delaware we only need to build the equivalent of three to four new power plants to become self-sufficient.  Calpine recently completed a new natural gas fired power unit in Dover and has the permits needed for a second unit.  What incentive does Calpine need to build the second unit?

 

Exelon recently acquired Delmarva Power, the state’s largest electric distribution company, and is one of the largest generation companies in the nation.  A decade ago distribution companies owned all the generation facilities as well with a guaranteed rate of return regulated by the Public Service Commission.  Delaware and Maryland joined a handful of other states in deregulating the price of generated power thinking this would increase competition and lower electric cost.  The actual result was the sale of generating facilities and a 70% increase in electric rates in the deregulated states.  Partial reregulation might encourage distribution companies to build at least some new generation capacity.

 

Exelon is one of the largest builders of large scale solar farms in the country.  A little known fact is utility scale solar is now essentially competitive with conventional power plants during high demand daylight hours.  Delaware policy has emphasized building smaller scale systems that actually add cost to our electric bills.  Yes, in this case bigger is better and a policy change is needed.

 

Land acquisition is a barrier to building more solar.  The state could offer marginal state owned open space land for long term lease for solar farms to lower start-up costs.  The revenue could be used for state park operations.

 

No doubt a dialogue to boost local power generation would uncover more opportunities.  The result would not only avoid the added cost of the Artificial Island project but might lower existing electric rates by as much as 15% removing a barrier to job creation, and could lead to up to a billion dollars in new construction projects.   

David T. Stevenson, Director

Center for Energy Competitiveness

                               

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Legislative Hall in Dover, Delaware

This article originally appeared at the Watchdog.org website on January 20, 2015. Read the original at http://watchdog.org/193657/legislative-priorities-2015-delaware-way/

Last week was the first week the state Legislature was in session, but they will soon adjourn for budget and finance hearings before getting back to lawmaking in mid-March. Five new representatives and one new senator took their oaths of office for the first time, but this Legislature looks almost identical to the last one: the Democrats control the governor’s mansion, the House of Representatives 25-16, down from 27-14 last year, and the Senate 12-9, down from 13-8.

Notably absent from the last General Assembly were bills to make Delaware’s economy more free as the state—well-known as the “Switzerland of America” for its easy incorporation process and fair Court of Chancery—faces competition from Nevada and North Dakota for corporate business and from the Sun Belt for jobs. This year the Caesar Rodney Institute hopes to see legislation to address the following issues:

1. Education Savings Accounts: Delaware has “school choice”-IF your idea of school choice is to allow a child to transfer from one public school district to another (provided that district has room).While that’s better than nothing, that’s not really school choice.

CRI supported a bill last year called the “Parent Empowerment Education Savings Account Act” (PEESAA) which would have introduced Education Savings Accounts as an option for low-income and special-needs students who are the most likely to need additional services not being offered by the traditional public schools. This bill was tabled in the House Education Committee but we hope ESA’s and other bills encouraging school choice are brought up this year.

2. Prevailing Wage (PW): Delaware has an insanely wide range of wages a that business who wants a public construction contract has to pay its employees to get the contract.

Every January the state Department of Labor mails out its PW survey to union-friendly contractors and conveniently “forgets” to remind non-union-friendly construction companies to ask for, and return, the survey. This results in wage variance like $14.51 per hour for a bricklayer in Sussex County, but $48.08 per hour for the same job in Kent and New Castle Counties. Not to be outdone, boilermakers get $71.87 an hour in New Castle County, but “only” $30.73 in Kent County.

These high rates prevent many construction projects from being started and make those which are done more expensive for taxpayers. If the PW won’t be eliminated, we hope the state will instead use the U.S. Occupational Employment Statistics survey. This would reduce rates by almost 40 percent on average and free up nearly $63 million of spending from the State’s FY15 capital budget, including almost $18 million for more school capital improvements.

3. Make Delaware the next right-to-work state: Delaware is not a right-to-work (RTW) state and, between that and our inconsistent-as-applied PW law, many businesses outside the state choose not to move here. Incorporating and buying office space in Wilmington for some high-paying executive jobs is one thing. But Moody’s Analytics in late 2013 said Delaware was the only state at immediate risk of falling back into a recession and a lot of this is due to more businesses closing than opening in Delaware. Pass legislation to end forced unionization and support pro-job growth policies instead.

4. Tax and regulatory reform: Only five states have a Gross Receipts Tax, which is a tax on revenue generated before profit and loss is factored in. Three of those states have no further taxes on corporate earnings and the only other state (Virginia) that does has lower tax rates. Between this tax, high personal and corporate income taxes, franchise taxes, and overall over-regulation by state agencies, Delaware is increasingly threatening its “Incorporation Golden Goose” as Nevada and North Dakota work to take business from the state. This needs to be addressed.

5. Work to lower energy prices: Delaware has electric rates 25 percent higher than the states we compete with for jobs like nearby Virginia. We import close to one-third of our electricity from out of state, the highest rate in the nation. Some of this is due to our geography, but a lot of it is due to the state’s failure to build a network of natural gas pipelines from the Marcellus Shale to Delaware.

Coupled with the state’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon tax scheme and taxpayer subsidizing of “green” companies like Bluewater Wind (gone), Fisker Automotive (didn’t build cars in Delaware), and Bloom Energy (still has not brought the promised 900 high-paying full-time jobs), Delaware cannot grow its economy if energy prices are high. We want the Legislature to pass natural gas pipeline extension and end participation in RGGI and subsidies for “green” companies.

What issues do you think the state Legislature should focus on this year?

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