By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — When will the proposed fossil-fuel power plant be operational? According to the developer, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, the start date is June 1, 2021. But the list of doubters is growing.
To become a reality, the Clear River Energy Center must be approved by the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB). That process has been delayed two years by permitting and water-use issues. Now, a new lawsuit filed by two energy developers claims the project can’t meet its already-past-due deadline and wants Invenergy to hold off from selling electricity from the proposed power plant into the power grid.
Calpine Corp. of Houston and LS Power Associates LP of New York are asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to revoke Invenergy’s power contract, because it's unlikely that the power plant will be approved and built in time to honor it. They claim Invenergy is lowering energy prices by bidding into electricity contract auctions that the company knows it can’t fulfill.
Power plants are funded, in part, through advanced agreements made with regional grid operators who promises to buy the power for a fixed price three years in the future. These forward-capacity auctions help power plants manage their books and secure financing for construction, as is the case for the proposed $1 billion Clear River Energy Center.
Delays have forced Invenergy to abdicate a previous agreement to sell power from one of the Clear River Energy Center's two natural gas-powered turbines. Invenergy has failed twice to receive a power-purchase agreement for Unit 2, the second 485-watt turbine at the proposed fossil-fuel plant.
To make matters worse, Invenergy announced in November that Unit 2 was disqualified from the annual forward-capacity auction set for February.
Calpine and LS Power claim the power plant can’t move forward until both turbines have power agreements and that allowing Unit 1 to keep its agreements artificially lowers prices for other power plants participating in upcoming auctions. The companies note that Invenergy is mired in a lawsuit with ISO New England, the regional grid operator, over the expense of connecting the power plant to the grid. The litigation and other unresolved issues are prompting Calpine and LS Power to ask FERC to order ISO New England to remove Unit 1 from the upcoming auction.
“Accordingly, any chance of the Clear River project achieving even the newly ‘targeted’ commercial operation date of June 1, 2021 would appear to be out the window,” according to the recent lawsuit.
On Dec. 22, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the town of Burrillville filed a letter with the EFSB, asking the three-member board to address the latest lawsuit at the scheduled Jan. 30 show-cause hearing. The public meeting will decide if Invenergy's application should be suspended until the first legal dispute is settled.
CLF senior attorney Jerry Elmer has noted that the lawsuit with National Grid and ISO New England could last months. Even if it were settled quickly, the interconnection timeline is behind schedule. The process requires four stages that can’t be completed by June 2021, according to Elmer.
CLF, an intervenor in the application process, recently asked Invenergy to show its plans to be running by 2021 and to explain why it failed to complete an interconnection contract by Dec. 1, a deadline necessary to reach its target start date.
There’s also the matter of the final hearings for the application process. The evidentiary meetings offer testimony from experts witnesses who represent Invenergy and the project’s opponents such as CLF. Those hearings aren't expected to start until April and run through the summer, provided there are no further delays.
Elmer said of the hearings, “If we can demonstrate (accurately) that Invenergy keeps lying, that will hurt Invenergy’s credibility.”
Elmer accuses Invenergy of falsely claiming four times, at hearings and in writing, between Nov. 20 and Dec. 13 that it will have the power plant running by 2021.
Invenergy declined to comment for this story.
Invenergy introduced the Burrillville power-plant proposal in August 2015, with the goal of being running by June 1, 2019. Delays in permits and securing a water source for the plant have added two years to the timeline.
Invenergy’s desire to have ratepayers fund the interconnection cost and unanswered questions about existing water agreements prompted the EFSB to call for the show-cause hearing. The board will decide if Invenergy’s application should be delayed until after the lawsuits are settled.
“With each passing day, Invenergy seems to be getting into more and more trouble,” Elmer said. “With each passing day, it appears less and less likely that Invenergy will ever be built.”