Delays Could Derail Proposed Burrillville Power Plant

Opponents of the proposed Burrillville fossil-fuel power plant listened carefully during a recent Energy Facilities Siting Board meeting. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Opponents of the proposed Burrillville fossil-fuel power plant listened carefully during a recent Energy Facilities Siting Board meeting. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WARWICK, R.I. — Not much happened at the March 6 meeting of the committee deciding the fate of the proposed Burrillville power plant. But time could be running out for the $1 billion fossil-fuel facility.

The 30-minute meeting of the three-member Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) was mostly spent “thinking out loud,” as board member Parag Agrawal put it. To be fair, the EFSB isn't allowed to deliberate in private, so at times meetings are slowed by discussions about clerical and procedural issues.

As such, the entire March 6 meeting was spent deciding what types information the EFSB would need now that the developer, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, was forced to upgrade to an expensive, water-saving cooling system for the 850- to 1,000-megawatt power plant.

The EFSB decided that it will likely request advisory opinions from the Department of Health, Department of Environmental Management, Department of Transportation, Office of Statewide Planning, the Providence Water Supply Board and the town of Johnston, which agreed to sell water to the natural-gas/diesel power plant.

All of these reports and subsequent hearings will likely add months to the approval process and may put Invenergy at risk of not making good on its contract to deliver power to the regional energy grid.

Last year, ISO New England, operator of the regional power grid, agreed to buy 485 megawatts of electricity from the Clear River Energy Center if the power plant is operational in 2019. Chicago-based Invenergy can delay that contract for one year. But building the facility may take two to three years, and can only begin after the EFSB renders its decision. The final vote may not happen until this fall or later.

“Time is not on Invenergy’s side,” said Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, one of the primary opponents of the proposed power plant.

Elmer noted that after a hearing later this month, weeks and months might pass to allow state agencies and town departments to prepare new or revised advisory opinions. After which, up to four months may be needed for attorneys to debate any element of the Invenergy application. The EFSB will then announce the fate of the energy project, but any appeal of the decision will further delay the project. If the project survives all appeals, only then, Elmer said, would Invenergy be able to secure loans necessary for construction to begin.

“So, all in all, time is running short for Invenergy,” Elmer said.

The clock will start ticking again for the Clear River Energy Center at a hearing scheduled for March 21 at the EFSB office in Warwick. Public comment will not be allowed.