Delays Push Burrillville Power Plant Toward Irrelevance

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — A final round of public hearings for the proposed fossil-fuel power plant starts in mid-October, but there has been plenty of activity in recent days related to the $1 billion natural-gas/diesel facility.

The lengthy struggle to find a water supply recently prompted Invenergy Thermal Development LLC to declare that it will not start generating power by June 1, 2019. That’s the date that the operator of the regional power grid, ISO New England, agreed to start taking electricity from one of the two proposed 485-megawatt natural-gas generators at the proposed Burrillville power plant.

But the fate of the Clear River Energy Center won’t be determined until around January — and construction is expected to take more than two years. Thus, in a June 30 report, Chicago-based Invenregy announced it's pushing the start date off until June 1, 2020.

The delay was expected as Invenergy received two extensions from the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) to find a water supply to cool its nearly 1,000-megawatt plant. Burrilville and Woonsocket both said no to offering water to Invenergy, before Johnston agreed to sell the facility water.

Invenergy sold its 2019 obligation to generate that electricity through an annual reconfiguration auction to another power plant in New England. The buyer and the payment hasn't been released by ISO New England.

The delay is good news to opponents of the power plant who see any holdup as an opportunity for renewable energy to match the capacity of the power plant and thereby render the Burrillville facility unnecessary.

“With each additional passing year, Invenergy is needed less and less," said Jerry Elmer, senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). "That is because the New England states are collectively acquiring significant quantities of new renewable-energy resources."

Motion to dismiss
On July 13, the town of Burrillville filed its third motion to dismiss Invenergy’s application before the EFSB. As with the previous motions, Burrillville argues that Invenergy has exceeded the time limit to complete its application. Specifically, plans for the 55 structures slated for the site are either incomplete or unsubmitted, according to the motion. Those plans require review by the town building inspector and others.

"The town submits that Invenergy has already had 20 months to produce ‘complete plans for all structures’ and to ‘remedy the lack of compliance’ but has hailed to do so," according to the complaint.

The motion to dismiss will likely not be considered by the EFSB for several weeks.

Already ongoing is a Supreme Court lawsuit by CLF and the town of Burrillville contesting the validity of the agreement that allows Johnson to sell water to Invenergy. Oral arguments in that case are expected Aug. 24.

Good humor man
Despite what’s at stake by building Rhode Island’s largest power plant, there is still room for humor. In response to Invenergy appointing its top attorney, Michael Blazer, from its headquarters in Chicago to its legal team in Providence, Elmer filed the following tongue-in-cheek response with the state Supreme Court, the court that determines if lawyers can participate in a single case without passing the bar in that state:

“Since October 2015, Invenergy has had only six lawyers (including four partners) from two Rhode Island law firms (including one of the state’s largest firms) litigating all alone against CLF, a non-profit, public-interest environmental law organization. Of course Invenergy wants more lawyers.”

Elmer also wrote in an e-mail to the media and interested parties, “Even if Invenergy hires an army of lawyers, they will find it impossible to make a convincing case in favor of paving over a forest in order to build a diesel oil and fracked gas power plant in rural Burrillville.”

CLF and the Burrillville have three lawyers opposing the power plant.