Charlestown Gets Say in Burrillville Power-Plant Saga

Energy Facilities Siting Board members Margaret Curran, left, and Janet Coit agreed to give Charlestown a role in the fate of the proposed Clear River Energy Center. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Energy Facilities Siting Board members Margaret Curran, left, and Janet Coit agreed to give Charlestown a role in the fate of the proposed Clear River Energy Center. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WARWICK, R.I. — There’s officially a new player in the Burrillville power-plant saga.

The town of Charlestown was recently given approval to weigh in on the proposed Clear River Energy Center, after the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) voted 3-0 at its Oct. 17 meeting to let the coastal town join as an intervener in the case.

The decision means Charlestown will host a public hearing and have a limited say in the remaining months of the approval process. It also delays by about six weeks the start of the final stage of the power-plant vetting process, which was set to start Oct. 31 and run through January.

The hearing requires a 30-day public notice and will likely be held the week after Thanksgiving at Charlestown Elementary School, 363 Carolina Back Road. The final evidentiary hearings will now begin Dec. 11 or later.

Charlestown sought intervenor status after the Narragansett Indian Tribe announced plans to sell water to Inventory Thermal Development LLC, the Chicago-based developer of the nearly 1-gigawatt fossil-fuel power plant.

The delay is considered a victory for opponents of the power plant, who believe that a prolonged application process may force Invenergy to abandon the project. Due to the latest postponement, a decision on the project isn't expected until March 2018 or later.

“The decision to postpone the commencement of the final hearing by at least six weeks will, overall, help opponents of Invenergy. This is because all of the recent information coming out of the ISO (New England) wholesale markets tends to show why Invenergy is not needed,” wrote Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), one of the intervenors in the power-plant docket.

Demand for power from the $1 billion project is one the key issues the three-member EFSB will consider in its deliberation, and will be debated by CLF, the town of Burrillville, and Invenergy. The Illinois developer says the natural-gas/diesel facility will replace retiring power plants and aid the transition to renewable energy. CLF and the town of Burrillville argue that ISO New England has yet to agree to buy all of the electricity from the power plant and that the rapid addition of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency make the proposed power plant obsolete.

As an intervenor, Charlestown is limited to arguing the issue of water taken from its town to cool the power plant. Last month, Invenergy announced that it will pay the Narragansett Indian Tribe to serve as a backup water source to its primary water source, the town of Johnston. CLF and the town of Burrillvillle are suing Invenergy over its agreement with Johnston. The outcome of the court case was considered a critical issue in the fate of the power project until Invenergy announced its backup water sources, which also includes Benn Water of Hopkinton.

On Oct. 10, the Charleston Town Council voted to investigate the effects of drawing water from the tribe’s reservation, which is within the lower Wood River aquifer. Charlestown then asked the EFSB to host a public hearing and to grant intervenor status as an “affected community."

Invenergy argued against granting Charlestown intervenor status because it said the town wouldn't be directly impacted by the proposed power plant.

The EFSB made four other decisions at its Oct. 17 hearing in favor of Invenergy.

All but one of the resolutions opposing the Clear River Energy Center passed by 35 cities and towns in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts was allowed to be submitted as evidence in the final hearing phase. Only Burrillville’s resolution was accepted. The remaining will be classified as public comment. Invenergy had questioned the lack of an expert witness to answer questions about the resolutions.

After the recent hearing, Burrillville town manager Michael Wood told ecoRI News that he was displeased with the decision.

“This (power plant) is a statewide issue. Everyone should have a voice and a say. So it doesn’t make sense to me,” Wood said.

The EFSB approved late-filed testimony on behalf of Invenergy from energy economist Marc Vatter. The testimony is a rebuttal to testimony by CLF’s expert witness Robert Fagan, who argued that the electricity from the Clear River Energy Center would exceed demand from the power grid.

The EFSB also delayed a motion by CLF to expose redacted testimony from Burrillville’s expert witness Glenn Walker, a New Hampshire-based energy consultant. Walker argued that there will be no demand for the electricity from the power plant in Rhode Island and New England. Invenergy claims releasing the data would hurt its business. The EFSB will decide on the motion once the final evidentiary hearings begin in December.

EFSB hearings scheduled for Oct. 18 and 19 have been canceled, since all of the motions and objections were addressed at the Oct. 17 meeting.

The delay means that the EFSB will continue to accept public comments.