Burrillville Power Plant in Danger of Being Delayed Indefinitely

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The proposed Burrillville, R.I., power plant received another setback as the application process looks to be suspended for up to two months and possibly indefinitely.

Last Thursday, Invenergy Thermal Development received notice that it lost its contract to sell electricity from its proposed Clear River Energy Center. Losing a guaranteed buyer for its power is a major financial setback. The agreement is looked on favorably by lenders, and for the past two years Invenergy received $26 million from selling its unused electricity allotment to other power producers.

Over the weekend, Invenergy, the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the Office of Energy Resources, and the town of Burrillville drafted a request to suspend the hearings so that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) can review the cancellation of the electricity contract, called a “capacity supply obligation.” It’s expected that FERC will approve the request, which was made by ISO New England, the operator of the regional power grid.

Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for CLF, said the news is a death sentence for the $1 billion energy project.

“This is another nail in Invenergy’s coffin. It cannot and will not be built,” Elmer said.

Elmer has declared Invenergy dead previously, but the Chicago-based developer was propped up financially by re-selling its power allotment. Now that source of revenue appears to be shut off and a potential approval is months away. If approved, the power plant wouldn’t likely be running until 2021 but with no promise of a buyer for its electricity.

Invenergy won’t address the financial bind it appears to be facing, but its lead attorney told ecoRI News that the region needs an efficient and fast-starting natural-gas/diesel-fueled power plant to meet future energy needs.

“As thousands of megawatts of existing capacity are coming off the grid and residents are facing some of the nation’s highest electric rates, the need for the Clear River Energy Center in Rhode Island is only growing,” said Invenergy’s chief legal counsel, Michael Blazer. “Invenergy remains committed to filling this need, and as the project makes sense for the state we are continuing development work and look forward to the EFSB hearing resuming.”

It’s expected that EFSB will address the request to suspend the application process when hearings resume today, Sept. 26, at 10 a.m. If the request is granted, all meetings will stop until a public status hearing scheduled for Nov. 5 or Nov. 27, depending on when FERC rules on ISO New England’s request to terminate the power-purchase agreement. FERC has 60 days to make a ruling.

With the latest development, a decision on the power plant is not likely until February at the earliest, and that depends on whether Invenergy withdraws its application altogether.

“Invenergy may not know that it’s dead, but it’s dead,” Elmer said. “It’s a zombie.”