CLF: More Fossil-Fuel Plants Won’t Lower Emissions

The Chicago-based company building the Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville, R.I., claims the natural-gas power plant will save ratepayers millions and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Project opponents are highly skeptical. (Invenergy)

The Chicago-based company building the Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville, R.I., claims the natural-gas power plant will save ratepayers millions and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Project opponents are highly skeptical. (Invenergy)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is challenging the proposed natural gas-fired power plant in Burrillville, R.I. The Boston-based organization, which has an office locally, has been influential in crafting renewable-energy policy and environmental legislation, and has advocated for the state to address climate change.

Now the advocacy group says the nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant hinders Rhode Island’s greenhouse-gas reduction goals. Established in 2014, the Resilient Rhode Island Act requires the state to cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

“The proposed power plant, because it would be fired by a fossil fuel, would emit atmospheric carbon and would consequently have an impact on Rhode Island and global climate,” wrote CLF attorneys Jerry Elmer and Max Greene in a letter to the to the state Energy Facility Siting Board.

Chicago-based Invenergy LLC submitted plans for the Clear River Energy Center to the siting board on Oct. 29. A public hearing for the project is scheduled for Jan. 12 at the Public Utilities Commission office in Warwick.

During a Nov. 19 meeting of the state Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4), Gov. Gina Raimondo talked about the need for the state, businesses and nonprofits to make plans to “meet the challenges of climate change.” This includes, she said, cutting greenhouse-gas emissions and preparing for sea-level rise.

However, in August, Raimondo gave her endorsement for construction of the state’s largest power plant that runs on both natural gas and diesel fuel, and locks the state into decades of carbon dioxide emissions. Her support for the project comes before the state can adopt its greenhouse-gas reduction plan. A study for the plan was recently awarded to the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM). The nonprofit, which is overseen by air-quality directors from all six New England states, expects to complete its plan next fall.

“I do support (the new power plant),” she told ecoRI News as she left the recent EC4 meeting. “It’s highly efficient. I support natural gas as a bridge to renewables. And this particular plant is very efficient and all the more reason I do support it.”

According to Invenergy, the Clear River Energy Center will be the most efficient in New England and bring significant savings to Rhode Island ratepayers by producing energy at a lower cost than existing power plants, especially those that run on coal and oil. However, none of Rhode Island’s power plants run principally on either fuel.

From 2019 to 2022, cumulative savings to Rhode Island ratepayers resulting from Burrillville’s new power plant are projected to exceed $280 million, or about $70 million annually, according to the Illinois company.

Invenergy says greenhouse-gas emissions reductions will be achieved by replacing higher carbon dioxide-emitting plants, such as the coal-fired Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Mass. The 1,493-megawatt facility is scheduled to close June 1, 2017.

Elmer said these dirtier power plants rarely run because of the high supply and low cost of natural gas. In fact, New England’s overall energy mix emits less carbon dioxide than the proposed Clear River project, according to CLF.

“Building an expensive, new, long-lived, fossil fuel-fired power plant now would make it impossible for Rhode Island to meet its climate goals. That is the key issue in this case,” Elmer wrote in his CLF blog.

Elmer also challenges the big-dollar savings, saying any financial benefit applies to all New England ratepayers. The savings to Rhode Islander, he claimed, is likely about 0.5 percent.

“It would be dangerous and unwise to build a new, long-lived $700 million carbon-emitting fossil-fuel plant for such a tiny, remote, speculative pecuniary benefit,” Elmer wrote.

CLF has suggested an agreement with the Clear River project that is similar to the one made for the proposed 674-megawatt natural-gas power plant in Salem, Mass. The result of a lawsuit filed by CLF led to a deal that requires the new power plant to reduce carbon emissions annually. The power plant must also close by 2050.

CLF cited the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Act, which states: “Before approving the construction, operation and/or alteration of major energy facilities, the board shall determine whether cost effective efficiency and conservation opportunities provide an appropriate alternative to the proposed facility.”

If approved, the Clear River Energy Center is expected to begin construction in 2016 and will be operational in 2019.