It comes as no surprise the Bloom Energy Fuel Cell Project with Delmarva Power is costing much more than predicted in the Public Service Commission approval process. CRI participated in a marathon nine hour hearing and showed how tariff documents over estimated the benefits of the project at every level. We were the only group opposed to the tariff. Had the PSC commissioners adopted our analysis the tariff would have been rejected. This past Sunday, the Wilmington News Journal highlighted the problems in a front page story and an editorial.
Delmarva and Bloom admitted electric ratepayers would be stuck paying above market prices for power. They said it would be worth it because of claimed economic development benefit of jobs at a new fuel cell factory, offsetting higher future electric prices for conventional power, the avoided cost of buying renewable energy credits, and environmental benefits. Two years down the road our predictions are coming true:
· The cost will be at least three times expected and could go to a half billion dollars over the twenty year life of the project
· Overall economic development potential will be one third expected and the Delaware solar industry has been decimated by the offsets in Solar Renewable Energy Credits
· Environmental benefits would have been eight to ten times higher if a conventional natural gas power plant had been built and electric rates would have gone down instead of up
Delmarva Power submits monthly reports listing the tariff payments, fuel cost, and operating cost of the fuel cell project along with the offsetting revenue from the sale of the electricity. The PSC, using company documents, estimated the comparable levelized above market cost would be $3.30/month for a typical residential customer with 2013 being much lower. With only two thirds of the project complete in October the estimated cost is now $3.83 and, based on the last 14 months of data, we can extrapolate the cost when the project is complete will total $4.50/month.
The $3.30/month cost was to be further offset by $1.96/month through the avoided cost of buying renewable energy credits. However, the price of the credits crashedand the offset will only be $0.35/month. The net monthly cost will go from $1.34/month to $4.15/month, three times higher, about what our worst case estimate suggested. The total above market cost paid by ratepayers will go from an estimated $142 million to at least $437 million and could go higher.
Mistakes in the economic development analysis also overestimated economic development potential by a factor of three. If Bloom actually hires 900 people, a big if, the jobs will cost half a million dollars each in above market electric rates. Bloom is behind schedule in hiring and the News Journal reported most of the license plates on cars at the plant were out-of-state.
Environmental benefits were also exaggerated by comparing air pollution savings only against coal fired generation. The same $350 million investment made for fuel cells would have bought ten times the generation capacity of a typical new conventional natural gas generator leading to eight to ten times the air pollution savings. The power cost would have been a third the cost of the fuel cell generation and would actually have lowered electric rates.
The key question now is will future conventional power price increases and higher renewable energy prices offset the fuel cell tariff cost down the road. The US Energy Information Agency is predicting fairly stable demand and slow growth in future electric rates (one third the rate of increase used in tariff documents). Renewable energy credit prices reflect the installed cost of new wind and solar projects which have come down dramatically and are expected to fall further. The prospect of either higher electric rates or higher renewable energy credit prices going up enough to bail out ratepayers from the high cost of fuel cell power is extremely low.