By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
As expected, half of the power output from the proposed Burrillville, R.I., fossil-fuel power plant was excluded from the recent power-purchase auction held by the operator of the New England power grid, ISO New England. The auction results were anticipated because ISO New England told Invenergy, the developer of the Clear River Energy Center (CREC), last fall to remove its second natural-gas/diesel-fueled generator from the bidding because of construction and permit delays.
Interpreting the overall auction is a glass-half-empty or glass-half-full proposition.
Invenergy, based in Chicago, claims the auction confirms that that power plant is needed for future electricity production, and that the proposed facility is already lowering energy prices. The fact that one of the 485-megawatt generators, unit 1, was accepted by ISO New England two years ago means that it will replace more polluting and more expensive electricity from existing power plants that will likely retire, according to the company. Had unit 1 not been in the auction, the electricity payment price would have been 31 percent higher, according to company officials, who claim the CREC is saving New England ratepayers $870 million.
“The Clear River Energy Center will be a workhorse for meeting Rhode Island’s future electricity needs, and it would be a mistake to view the auction results as a sign that this investment is not needed to ensure future energy reliability and affordability,” according to a prepared statement from Invenergy.
Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), argued that the latest auction confirms that the power plant is unnecessary, and the math proves it. In all, 34,828 megawatts of electricity and energy efficiency were approved in the auction, known as FCA 12. Elmer notes that 514 megawatts of that electricity is from new energy sources. Thus, the 485 megawatts from CREC's second turbine aren't needed now or in 2021, when the contracts from FCA 12 take effect.
Invenergy argues that 1,500 megawatts of energy capacity that qualified for FCA 12 included power plants that are near retirement, such as the 383-megawatt Bridgeport Harbor coal power plant in Bridgeport, Conn.
“The latest ISO New England capacity auction confirms that the Clear River Energy Center is already lowering energy costs for Rhode Island consumers and meeting a critical need while driving older, dirtier energy sources to retire,” according to Invenergy.
The Bridgeport Harbor coal plant, however, is being replaced with a new 485-megawatt natural-gas power plant. ISO New England's analysis of FCA 12 indicates that prices are dropping while there is a healthy surplus of electricity for 2021-2022. Energy output of 40,612 megawatts qualified for the auction, while 5,605 megawatts came from 206 new sources of power.
Invenergy seems undeterred by the excess energy supply, and in January paid a multimillion-dollar deposit to connect CREC to the regional power grid. The deposit, however, is refundable.
Invenergy initially intended to have the $1 billion power plant built and running by 2019. Delays have pushed the start date to June 2021. The project still requires approval from the Rhode Island Energy Facilities Siting Board. The final stage of hearings have been pushed back to late July and could run through October. At that point, Invenergy will likely have a better idea about the future of CREC, as it learns if its second turbine will be allowed to bid in FCA 13.