By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Opponents of the fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville, R.I., have a powerful new ally, as Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin recently announced his opposition to plans for the state’s largest energy facility.
Kilmartin cited the main arguments against the Clear River Energy Center (CREC), a $1 billion power plant that would be fueled by natural gas and diesel oil. He said the power plant may have been needed when the proposal was announced in August 2015, but rapid growth of renewable energy, mandates for greater offshore wind, and the likelihood of imported hydropower render CREC redundant.
The plant's developer, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, however, says the “fast-start” power plant will take care of intermittency or lulls in the electric grid when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. It will also be ready to fill power needs as older fossil-fuel power plants retire across New England, according to company officials.
Kilmartin is also siding with opponents who argue that emissions from the nearly 1,000-megawatt facility would prevent the state from achieving its greenhouse gas-reductions goals established by the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014. Invenergy and the state Office of Energy Resources argue otherwise, claiming the proposed power plant would lower regional climate emissions.
Kilmartin also takes note of the two issues most likely to derail the power plant: water and interconnection. From the outset, Invenergy has struggled to secure a source for cooling water. Two water boards in Burrillville and neighboring communities turned down offers from Invenergy to buy municipal water. Invenergy modified its power-plant design to a costlier cooling system that uses less water, but the out-of-state developer still had trouble securing agreements.
The town of Johnston eventually signed a water deal, but it quickly ran into legal trouble with the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the town of Burrillville. Both charge that Johnston has no grounds to resell water it buys from the Scituate Reservoir via the city of Providence.
“The agreement to buy water from Johnston would be precedent setting, and in our legal opinion, in violation of state law," Kilmartin said. "Perhaps there is no greater or important natural resource than water, and the General Assembly foresaw a century ago the need to properly regulate how municipalities are able to purchase, use, and sell water.”
The legal arena is perhaps Kilmartin’s best opportunity to assert the most influence. He intends to file amicus briefs for the court to consider, in the two lawsuits currently before Justice Michael Silverstein in state Superior Court.
The state Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) will weigh the outcome of the court cases in its decision to approve or deny the power plant. But the three-member board is currently preoccupied with two lawsuits filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The cases brought by Invenergy against National Grid and ISO New England argue that ratepayers should fund the cost to connect CREC to the power grid. National Grid and ISO New England say Invenergy should foot the bill.
At its last meeting, the EFSB expressed that passing the cost to ratepayers would breach a promise by Invenergy to pay for the power plant itself. The EFSB is scheduled to decide Jan. 30 whether the CREC application should be suspended until the FERC cases are resolved.
“Invenergy is attempting to have electric ratepayers pick up the tab for the more than $100 million transmission power line costs that the company had previously promised to absorb itself," Kilmartin said. "It's a classic bait and switch and the ratepayers should not be on the hook for it."
CLF and the town of Burrillville welcomed Kilmartin to the opposition movement.
“Attorney General Kilmartin has listened to the objections presented by many parties since this ill-advised proposal was made in 2015 — including 32 Rhode Island cities and towns that have passed resolutions against the plant. He has clearly done his homework on this issue and we encourage other public officials to do the same,” according to a statement from Burrillville officials. “This proposed project is not viable, not needed, and would negatively impact our state in many ways. We need to put a stop to it now."
CLF senior attorney Jerry Elmer concurred.
“CLF is delighted that Attorney General Kilmartin recognizes that Rhode Islanders should not be saddled with a huge price tag for a new fossil fuel plant our state doesn’t need and doesn’t want," he said. "We call on all of Rhode Island's elected officials to speak out against Invenergy's costly, reckless proposal.”