Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
KINGSTON, R.I. — Climate change took center stage at the first of several public meetings designed to examine the claims made by the builders of the proposed Burrillville natural-gas power plant.
The Office of Energy Resources (OER) described how it intends to assess climate-change impacts produced by the nearly 1,000-megawatt Clear River Energy Center (CREC). One key assertion by the developer, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, is that building the state’s largest power plant will reduce climate emissions across New England and New York by 1 percent annually.
OER also will examine how the natural-gas/diesel facility will adhere to state laws and policies, including the goal of achieving an 80 percent reduction in statewide climate emissions by 2050. The Executive Climate Change Coordination Council (EC4), however, won’t be finished with the state emission-reduction plan until the end of this year.
The OER will use a consumption-based model to measure climate emissions from the proposed $700 million power plant. OER argued at the July 21 hearing that this model is favored because it tracks pooled emissions from several energy sources, meaning that much of Rhode Island’s power-plant emissions are calculated from an average of electricity use across the region, not by the number and type of power plants in the state. The model also doesn't track ancillary emissions from leaks during fossil-fuel production and pipeline transmission.
University of Rhode Island professor Peter Nightingale, of Fossil Free RI, criticized the analysis for excluding full life-cycle emissions and, in particular, methane leaks from natural-gas infrastructure. State agencies, he said, are also too politicized to offer subjective reviews of the project, he said.
“The problem is in the next couple of decades we might reach the tipping point on the climate,” Nightingale said. “By the time the benefits from the power plant show up 50 or 80 years from now we’ll all be dead and the climate will be ruined.”
Ellen Cool, a consultant for OER, said the climate impacts and energy efficacy will be compared to the other existing fossil-fuel plant in the state that it will be displacing. The report will also look at whether the CREC will discourage or promote renewable-energy development. It will compare the data and assumptions from Invenergy to energy information from National Grid, the Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).
Brown University environmental science professor Timmons Roberts said he doesn’t oppose using the consumption-based model, but believes that it creates problems by switching to a new accounting system after the state used the generation-based model to set emission reduction goals for the Resilient Rhode Island Act.
The power plant will emit 280 billions pound of carbon dioxide during its lifetime, Roberts said, an increase of about 30 percent in the state’s climate emissions. “So, it’s huge, and I think it will make it impossible for the state to meet its (reduction) targets," he said.
Roberts noted research that urged ending fossil-fuel power-plant construction by 2017, to keep the global temperature below the 2-degree threshold. State emissions would need to be cut by 10 percent annually for the next four years to meet the 10 percent reduction goal by 2020.
“It’s going to be extremely hard to meet these goals,” he said.
Massachusetts and Connecticut also adhere to consumption-based climate modeling, as does RGGI, a nine-state, cap-and-trade program. The consumption-based model has shown that emissions have been dropping since 2005, largely because power plants have become more energy efficient.
The question is whether the proposed CREC can prove that it will reduce emissions by replacing the electricity production form power plants like the coal-fired Brayton Point Power Station, which goes offline in 2017.
The OER study will also review the power plant’s adherence to state energy-efficiency goals and renewable energy.
Held on weekday more than an hour's drive from the site of the proposed facility, there were far few attendees than the hundreds attending previous public hearings in Burrillville. All 12 speakers, however, spoke against the power plant.
Climate activist Lisa Petrie of Richmond said OER’s analysis is fundamentally flawed because it fails to account for upstream climate impacts of methane leaks during extraction and transportation of natural gas. The Resilient Rhode Island Act requires a 6 percent to 7 percent reduction in emissions annually.
“We need to look at the numbers. It’s clear that our overall direction is doubling down on fossil fuels,” Petrie said.
Craig Maynard recently retired to Rhode Island from California. He is currently building passive solar homes.
“Humanity is facing the biggest crisis in its history. We must begin to think how our decisions affect not just ourselves but our dependents,” Maynard said. “Building a fossil-fuel power plant anywhere in Rhode Island at this time would be irresponsible and foolish.”
Former DEM botanist Richard Enser said climate change threatens 25 percent of land-based species by 2050. “The effects are likely to be catastrophic,” the South Kingstown resident said.
The power plant is planned for the center of Rhode Island’s shrinking northern hardwood forest. “It is imperative that the existing forest acreage be retained,” Esner said.
Nick Katkevich of Fight Against Natural Gas (FANG) urged OER to look at methane leaks along pipelines and at compressor stations. He also urged the agency to consider emissions from trucks delivering diesel fuel to the power plant for some 40 years.
John Hamilton said Rhode Island gets all of the greenhouse-gas emissions and environmental burdens while jeopardizing climate-reduction goals.
“We produce more power in Rhode Island than we use," the Charlestown resident said. "It’s not necessary to build this plant in Rhode Island for our use. So it makes no sense to build a thousand-megawatt plant because all of the energy is going to be exported out of the state.”
Rhode Island, Hamilton claimed, was targeted to host the power plant because of ease of siting the project. “We’re not getting any benefit out of this," he said. "Why are we doing this?”
CREC will also require an air-pollution permit from DEM. The permit, however, will likely be approved or denied well after the state's Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) rules on the project, which is expected by the end of the year. The air-pollution permit won’t be determined until May 2017.
DEM will examine the pollution-control technology, air pollution and a health-risk assessment that looks at the cumulative exposure to pollutants, as well as daily exposure.
The Department of Health, Department of Transportation, Statewide Planning, Pascoag Utility District, Burrillville tax assessor and Burrillville building inspector are also conducting advisory opinions. The state Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission issued a report June 28 stating that it has no objections to the project. All of the advisory opinions are due by Sept. 9.
Upcoming hearings include an Aug. 9 meeting at Burrillville High School hosted by the Department of Health. The EFSB is expected to rule on the application by the end of 2016. If approved, the CREC would take three years to build, and be operational by June 1, 2019.