Delaware’s Bloomdoggle

The surcharge on Delmarva Electric customers for Bloom Energy has been in effect for several years now. When news came out the charge was going up,  Rob Tornoe went to work.

Here is Rob’s commentary:

As I paid my electric bill last month, I came across a puzzling charge of $5.36 that I couldn’t quite explain. Naturally, I called Delmarva Power’s customer service number, and the nice woman on the line told me the “Transmission Capacity Charge” I was being billed for was the surcharge going to Bloom Energy. 

It’s official – I’m a venture capitalist! I hope my mom is proud. 

Back in 2011 in the race to create jobs, Gov. Jack Markell put Delaware in business with Bloom Energy, which had become the darling of the green energy world with their innovative, natural gas powered “Bloom Boxes.” 

In fact, Markell was so taken by Bloom Energy and their promise to create 900 well-paid manufacturing jobs in Delaware that he worked with fellow Democrats to change Delaware’s code to define Bloom’s natural gas fueled fuel cells as renewable energy. 

Well, despite sending $16 million in subsidies Bloom’s way, they company hasn’t come close to creating the 900 manufacturing jobs it agreed to. So far, they’ve hired “over 100 employees,” but are pretty unspecific about reaching the required 900. As of today, they list 14 openings in Newark on their web site. 

On top of that, there’s the pesky issue of how much the surcharge is costing. It was sold to customers as a “small fee” that would average $0.67 per bill. According to the News Journal, the average surcharge will near $6 on April Delmarva Power bills, which causes me to question if lawmakers had the wool pulled over their eyes. 

It’s bad enough that we’re using renewable energy policy to subsidize the natural gas fuel cell industry, limiting the growth of truly renewable sources, such as wind and solar. It’s also bad enough that these days, we can’t convince companies to do anything without promising them generous tax subsidies and credit lines extending all the way into customer’s wallets. 

But it’s the surcharge that really has me shaking my fist in disgust. I’m all about personal responsibility, but why is it suddenly up to me to fix every problem in the First State?!

Want your neighbor to have a job? You’ll have to pay an ever-increasing, somewhat infinite surcharge on electric. 

Want clean waterways? We’re going to have to add a fee to your property taxes to afford to clean them.

Want well-maintained roads? Well, you’re going to have to pay more at the pump for it. 

It seems more and more Markell’s economic policy is to lean on the little guy, instead of counting on the so-called job creators and captains of industry to do anything other than count their well-stacked piles of money. If Delaware is so cash starved (as recent revenue shortfalls indicate), why did we lower the tax rate on the top income bracket? If we’re so concerned about clean waterways, why is the state allowing Pinnacle Foods to walk away from the heavily-polluted former Vlasic pickle plant in Sussex County (and pushing to allow a South Korean poultry producer to purchase and re-open it, against the wishes of local residents in Millsboro)? 

This all reminds me of an old fairy tale I read as a child. A mill operator lied to a king, telling him that his daughter can spin straw into gold. Of course she couldn’t, but a little man appeared two nights in a row and spun it for her, in exchange for her necklace and ring. On the third night, when she had nothing else to give, he made her promise to hand over her first child. 

When I drive by the nearly-completed Bloom Energy factory in Newark, it’s this tale of Rumpelstiltskin comes to mind. Markell seems to be getting his wish – spinning straw into gold and creating jobs (ever so anemically) as he promised. Unfortunately, it’s you and I who are paying for it. 

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Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe. 

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