By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
The dozen power-plant advisory opinions presented by the state of Rhode Island and the town of Burrillville will be critiqued and criticized Sept. 21 at the first of three public comment meetings for the proposed Invenergy fossil-fuel power plant.
Initial responses to the reports have been negative. Most recently, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) filed a motion to dismiss the $700 million project due to the failure of the developer, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, to provide necessary information for the advisory opinions, which violates the state's Energy Facilities Siting Act.
“Invenergy has tainted the process irredeemably — there is no remedy that would not involve further violations of the careful procedures and precise timing set forth in the act. For this reason Ivenergy’s application should be dismissed,” according to the CLF motion.
Twelve state offices and municipal entities were given six months by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) to submit advisory reports by Sept. 12. According to CLF, half of those groups couldn't complete their analysis because of Invenergy’s inability to provide information. In the case of the Department of Transportation, Invenergy failed to submit any applications for permits required by the state agency.
The most significant omission is the lack of a water source for cooling the natural-gas/diesel power plant. This and other missing information prompted Burrillville officials to file their own motion to dismiss.
Jerry Elmer, senior attorney at CLF, authored the latest motion to dismiss. He noted that the absence of a water source prompted the Burrillville Zoning Board of Review to state in its advisory opinion that it can't evaluate Invenergy’s application. The Burrillville building inspector said the shortage of information is grounds for disapproval of the power plant. The state Department of Health wants to know the water source before assessing drinking-water quality at the site.
In its advisory opinion, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) noted that a water source and other information is required before it can fully assess wetland impacts and biodiversity impacts. DEM said Invenergy is also missing a design of the fuel-oil piping, pumping and storage tanks.
The Office of Energy Resources (OER), however, has endorsed the Clear River Energy Center, claiming it will lower carbon emissions and help meet Rhode Island’s greenhouse-gas-reduction goals.
Brown University professor J. Timmons Roberts has challenged those findings. Roberts, who serves on the state climate council’s science advisory committee, sees two main flaws with OER’s report.
First, the accounting of greenhouse gases relies on a consumption-based model, which means that the electricity use and subsequent emissions are calculated with data from power plants across New England and New York, not just from Rhode Island. Thus, the Invenergy power plant lowers regional emissions by replacing electricity from dirtier power plants in Massachusetts, but increases them in Rhode Island by building the largest fossil-fuel power plant in the state.
Although the OER report looks at a regional emissions model, it doesn't include new legislation in Massachusetts that mandates 1,600 megawatts of offshore wind power by 2027 and 1,200 megawatts of hydropower by 2022. Both goals thereby reduce, or eliminate, the need for a nearly 1,000-megawatt natural-gas power plant.
Roberts also noted that the OER report focuses at a seven-year horizon for emissions but not for the full 30-plus years the power plant will be in operation. Those added years are important, because renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage will have a greater influence on curbing fossil-fuel use and cutting emissions — factors that may make a new power plant unnecessary.
Building a new fossil-fuel power plant may also mean that the facility fills demand for future power needs while suppressing renewable-energy development, especially if natural gas is less expensive than renewable energy, Roberts said.
Methane leakage is also missing from OER’s conclusion on climate emissions. The report leaves out emissions from methane leaked during extraction and pipeline transmission of natural gas both in Rhode Island and from the regions where hydraulic fracturing is used.
“This is a huge flaw of consumption-based accounting,” Roberts said.
The Sept. 21 public hearing will be held at Toll Gate High School in Warwick at 6 p.m.