Major Hearings This Week for Burrillville Power Plant

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The latest hearings resume Sept. 18 with critical testimony being debated in the long process to decide the fate of the proposed Burrillville power plant.

The public meetings before the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) will offer direct testimony and cross-examination from experts who will argue the need for adding nearly 1,000 megawatts of natural gas and diesel power to the electric grid.

The developer, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development, will present Ryan Hardy, an energy market expert with PA Consulting and energy consultant Ellen Cool of Levitan & Associates Inc.. In pre-filed testimony, they argued that the Clear River Energy Center will reduce carbon emissions, as the highly efficient gas-burning plant replaces older, more-polluting energy producers. Hardy noted 6,000 megawatts of energy capacity from power plants at risk of retirement, as listed by ISO New England in 2016.

Hardy also noted that southeastern New England is considered a constrained zone for energy and needs new dual-fuel power plants to meet energy demand spikes in the winter, a claim that is shared by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The town of Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) will counter with testimony from Brown University professor and climate-change expert Timmons Roberts. Roberts argued in written testimony that the power plant, which could operate for 50 years, will increase greenhouse-gas emissions and prevent the state from achieving its carbon emissions reduction goals. The goals aren’t mandatory but were set by the state Resilient Rhode Island Act.

Updated testimony has also been submitted from Glenn Walker, an engineer and power-plant appraiser, on behalf of Burrillville, saying that electricity demand is declining while offshore wind, solar energy, and Canadian hydropower will fill the electricity gap created by retiring fossil-fuel power plants. The fact that Invenergy has only secured a power-purchase agreement with the grid operator for one of its two turbines is further proof of the lack of electricity need in the region, according to Walker.

Robert Fagan, an energy expert for Synapse Energy Inc., argued on behalf of CLF that there is an energy surplus in southern New England, thus negating the demand for the Clear River Energy Center. He noted that future demand is declining and that old power plants are not retiring fast enough to require a nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant.

New revelations
CLF, the environmental group arguing against the project, said Walker’s updated testimony includes two major findings. First, is that the project lacks permits from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The project’s air pollution and wetland permits are still pending and may never be issued, according to Walker’s testimony.

The second finding of consequence is that Invenergy received $20 million from selling one year of its unfulfilled power contract. The contract was awarded to Invenergy by ISO New England, but the electricity wasn’t delivered due to more than two years of construction delays. Yet, Invenergy, as the holder of the contract, can sell the agreement to another power producer.

“Invenergy does not have a power plant. Invenergy does not have a permit for a power plant,” said Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for CLF. “But Invenergy is gaming the system, making tens of millions of dollars off the backs of ratepayers.”

The Sept. 18 hearing will be held at the PUC building, 89 Jefferson Blvd in Warwick, conference room A at 9:30 a.m. Hearings will also be held at the same location and at the same time Sept. 20 and Sept. 26.

The Sept. 20 hearing is expected to address landscaping, cultural and historical issues, and electric magnetic fields.

A decision on the power plant isn’t expected until the end of the year or in early January.