Key Clear River Energy Center Hearing Canceled

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

A pivotal hearing for the fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville, R.I., has been canceled after the out-of-state developer reversed course on two key issues.

The Jan. 30 show-cause hearing was intended to answer questions about the controversial water agreement between Invenergy Thermal Development LLC and the Narragansett Indian Tribe. The meeting before the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) was also supposed to answer a more critical issue: a lawsuit that addresses funding the interconnection cost for the nearly 1,000-megawatt Clear River Energy Center.

The Chicago-based developer, however pulled out of the water deal Jan. 22 and announced Jan. 24 that it was dropping the complaint against National Grid and ISO New England, the operator of the regional power grid. The complaint before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sought to eliminate ISO New England’s requirement that the cost of connecting the proposed power plant to the grid, which is estimated at more than $100 million, be paid by Invenergy.

“(Invenergy) continues to believe that such assignment is demonstrably unjust and unreasonable, and that none of the responses to the complaint have shown otherwise,” according to the company's withdrawal-of-complaint letter.

The EFSB feared that Invenergy’s request would mean that ratepayers would fund the interconnection cost, thus violating a promise by Invenergy that it would finance the entire project. The EFSB ordered the show-cause hearing to decide if the application process should be suspended until the lawsuit before FERC is resolved.

Invenergy insisted that the interconnection expense is relatively insignificant and if National Grid paid there “very likely would be no monetary impact on Rhode Island ratepayers whatsoever.”

Nevertheless, Invenergy said it wanted “to eliminate even the false perception of negative ratepayer impact” and withdrew the compliant.

Soon after Invenergy’s decision, the EFSB cancelled the Jan. 30 meeting.

“Since the issues that were the basis for the show-cause hearing no longer exist, the order requiring Invenergy to appear to show cause is vacated and moot,” according to the EFSB.

Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, believes the hearing should go forward, as a second and related lawsuit remains before FERC. In that lawsuit, ISO New England and National Grid have asked FERC not to allow Invenergy to be freed from paying the interconnection costs.

Elmer sent a letter to the three-member EFSB asking that it not cancel the Jan. 30 show-cause hearing as the second lawsuit still leaves an important issue unresolved. After news broke that the hearing was canceled, Elmer said he was disappointed and suggested that the action by the EFSB could be grounds to appeal the power plant if it's approved.

Invenergy hasn't said how it plans to resolve the interconnection cost, but according to filed documents, the developer would have to pay a $9 million deposit for the electricity hookup to ISO New England by Jan. 22.

Invenergy didn't reposed to a request for comment about paying the fee. But it notes in its letter to the EFSB that it paid a $4.3 million financial assurance to ISO New England.

"Lest there be any doubt, Clear River remains fully committed to moving forward with permitting and to constructing the project with all deliberate speed," Invenergy said.

As it stands, the EFSB is expected announce a date for the final phase of hearings. The hearings are expected to last several months. A decision on the $1 billion project isn't likely until late summer. If approved the power plant could be operational by 2021.