Power Plant Issued Setback, Opponents Seek Repeal

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — The operator of the regional power grid recently issued another setback to the proposed fossil-fuel power plant. ISO New England informed Invenergy Thermal Development LLC that it shouldn't bother selling the electricity from one of its power units in an upcoming regional power auction.

The proposed Clear River Energy Center (CREC) is designed for two 485-megawatt General Electric natural-gas/diesel-fired turbines. In 2016, ISO New England agreed to buy electricity from Unit 1 when, and if, the power plant is built. But last year and this year ISO New England didn't accept a bid to buy power from Unit 2, siting sufficient electricity supply in the region. Now, according to Invenergy, ISO New England says permitting delays for the project prompted its latest action. ISO New England wouldn't confirm this reasoning to ecoRI News and Invenergy didn't respond to a request for comment.

Electricity is acquired by ISO New England through annual auctions. If accepted, ISO New England promises to buy the power from a power plant three years in the future. This three-year, forward-capacity auction helps ISO New England know where to draw power from as it disperses electricity across the six-state power grid. The auctions also help power plants, especially proposed facilities, know their future revenue stream. That revenue stream is vital information for banks as they consider how much money to lend to a new power project.

Invenergy insists that the exclusion of Unit 2 isn't a setback and the Chicago-based company offered new testimony from an energy consultant arguing that the proposed fossil-fuel facility is still needed. Yet, the project has already been held up at least a year, because of a prolonged process of securing a source of water for cooling the power plant. The delay forced Invenergy to sell its right to deliver electricity to the grid from Unit 1 for 2019, the year CREC was first expected to go on-line.

Invenergy maintains that CREC will be needed in 2020 and beyond, when older, less-efficient and less-profitable power plants retire. Invenergy often refers to ISO New England's list of power plants that may retire. The problem is that many of these “at-risk” facilities have yet to announce that they will be shutting down, which they typically make public about three years in advance of closure.

In the meantime, new renewable-energy projects are also adding electricity to the grid, while energy-efficiency programs are reducing demand. Opponents of the Burrillville power plant note reports that show that these gains in low-emission power sources eliminate the need for the $1 billion CREC. Massachusetts and Rhode Island have also pledged to increase their offshore and onshore renewable-energy development well beyond the nearly 1,000-megawatt capacity of CREC.

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) called the recent action by ISO New England a “bombshell,” and accused Invenergy of withholding information about the auction decision made by ISO New England and information about receiving water from a municipal supply in Fall River, Mass. The town of Burrillville has filed a motion with the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) to dismiss CREC’s application due to the questionable way Invenergy brokered this water deal.

On Nov. 3, CLF filed a separate motion with the EFSB asking that the new advisory reports be sought from state agencies because of the news that Invenergy hasn't sold half of the power from its proposed plant.

“All along, Invenergy insisted that some day — some day — it would clear its second turbine in some future forward-capacity auction. But ‘some day’ never came,” CLF senior attorney Jerry Elmer said. “CLF continues to believe that, once all the facts are known, the EFSB will have to turn down Invenergy’s permit application.”

The EFSB has yet to respond to the latest motions by CLF and the town of Burrillville.

These revelations and motions come as the power plant is entering the final phase of the application process. A public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 5 in Charlestown over a controversial 11th-hour decision by the Narragansett Indian Tribe to sell water to CREC. Another public hearing is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Burrillville over the same issue.

On Dec. 8, the final series of hearings that focus on expert testimony commence at the EFSB office in Warwick. These hearings are expected to run through February. A final decision on the CREC application is expected in March or April.