Imprudent, unhealthy doings at the Delaware Electric Cooperative

Shortsighted plans at Delaware Electric Cooperative
Coop should not invest members’ energy future in new coal plant

Alan Muller
Green Delaware

Years ago, I suggested in the State News that Delaware Electric Cooperative (“the Coop”) should invest in conservation and efficiency programs in its own service area, benefiting members and local businesses, rather than send this money our of state to buy nuclear power from Virginia.

The Coop neither generates its own power nor buys it in a competitive market.  A long standing contract obligates it to buy 95 percent of its power from Virginia-based Old Dominion Electric Cooperative (ODEC), at whatever ODEC’s price turns out to be.  (The Coop is represented on ODEC’s Board.)  ODEC owns generating capacity but still buys most of the power it sells to the Coop.

At the end of 2008, ODEC lost its largest customer, Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, representing 28 percent of its load.  NOVEC said in a newsletter:  “It is only fair to our customers that we pursue lower cost power that may be available from other wholesale suppliers.” ODEC paid NOVEC 50 million dollars as part of the separation.

Recently, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 106, calling on Delaware electric retailers to reduce their energy sales by 15 percent and give priority to conservation and efficiency.

Why, then, is the Coop, through ODEC, planning a giant new 1500 megawatt coal plant in Surrey County, Virginia?  This “Cypress Creek” plant is estimated by ODEC to cost 4 billion dollars.  Independent reports suggest it could be 6 billion or more.  Coop members could be on the hook for ten percent or so of this.

Cost estimates for the resulting power are in the range of 9 to over 12 cents per kilowatt hour, roughly three times the cost of eliminating the need for that power through conservation and efficiency.

A report by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc. notes that:

“Uncertainty over construction costs and the costs of complying with future federal carbon dioxide emission reduction requirements have, in significant part, led to more than 80 coal power plant cancellations, delays and rejections by state regulatory commissions.”
“Publicly available information suggests that there are less expensive alternatives to the Cypress Creek Power Station that would reduce environmental impact and avoid the risk of expensive regulatory costs that would be borne by ODEC’s consumer members.

The pollution picture is even worse than the economics:  Emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide would be 14.6 million tons per year.  Emissions of health damaging air pollutants are estimated in the permit applications to be about 42 million pounds per year = 114,000 pounds per day = 4700 pounds per hour.  Most of these would be belched from 615 foot smokestacks, enabling them to travel long distances.  The pollutants include 20 million pounds annually of carbon monoxide, 7.4 million pounds of sulfur dioxide, 5.4 million pounds of particulate matter–dust, 566,000 pounds of sulfuric acid, 920 pounds of  lead, 118 pounds of mercury, among others. All these are regulated because they are proven to cause illness, death, reduced intelligence in children, birth defects, and other major problems.  (Like many new coal proposals, Cypress Creek is “greenwashed” with claims that it will also burn “biomass.”  The proposed amount is two percent and emissions would increase from adding it to the coal.)

ODEC claims its“consumer-members are projected to save $14 billion if Cypress Creek Power Station is Constructed.” ODEC spokesperson Jeb Hockman was not immediately able to provide us with any substantiation of this.

A number of groups including the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Coalition To Keep Surry Clean oppose the Cypress Creek proposal for pretty obvious reasons. Count Green Delaware among them.

In our view, this project would be an imprudent investment Coop of members’ money. It would contribute to both global warming–Delaware is especially vulnerable–and death and disease–which we have enough of already. It would mock Gov. Markell’s energy agenda.

Coop members and the general public should “just day no!”

We have a chance to do that at the annual meeting of the Coop on Tuesday, August 11th, at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington. The business meeting starts at 7:00 PM after a chicken dinner. Coop president Bill Andrew has told us non-members will not be allowed to speak at the meeting. So, it’s especially important that DEC members attend and speak out. Coop democracy is more than deregulation and a chicken dinner.

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