Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
WARWICK, R.I. — It took 5 minutes for the Energy Facility Siting Board on Sept. 26 to agree to postpone the power-plant hearing process so that a federal agency can settle a key power-contract issue.
The issue is the loss of a power-purchase agreement issued to Invenergy Thermal Development by ISO New England, the operator of the New England power grid.
The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), a major opponent of the $1 billion power plant slated for the woods of Burrillville, is declaring the project dead after Invenergy lost its so-called electricity capacity supply obligation (CSO).
But Invenergy, based in Chicago, said the valuable power-purchase agreement can still be salvaged and that the natural-gas/diesel-energy facility will go forward with or without the contract.
The decision to suspend the hearing process, which has taken nearly three years and was about three months from wrapping up, came after ISO New England, canceled an agreement to buy electricity from the proposed Clear River Energy Center.
CLF said the contract was nullified because there is plenty of electricity, now and in the future, from other power plants feeding the regional power grid.
CLF senior attorney Jerry Elmer said ISO New England had never before canceled a CSO. The environmental advocacy group expects that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will easily approve ISO New England's cancellation request.
But Invenergy argued that the CSO was canceled because of the many delays in the application process, which includes delays securing an agreement to buy water for cooling for the nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant.
Michael Blazer, Invenergy’s chief attorney, noted at the Energy Facilities Siting Board’s Sept 26 hearing that the CSO cancellation letter doesn’t state that the decision was made because of excess electricity but because of holdups in finding water and opposition efforts.
In 2016, ISO New England awarded the contract for one of Invenergy’s two fossil-fuel power generators, called Unit 1. It did so expecting that the turbine would be generating electricity in 2019.
“Invenergy has not made sufficient progress to achieve Clear River Unit 1’s critical path schedule milestones, and the commercial operation date for Clear River Unit 1 is more than two years beyond June 1, 2019, which is the start of the Capacity Commitment Period in which the resource first obtained a CSO,” according to the ISO New England letter dated Sept. 20.
Blazer said Invenergy has the time and money to endure this and other setbacks.
“Whether or not we have a capacity supply obligation, we are proceeding forward with this project,” he said. “We do not need a CSO for this project to be economically viable.”
When asked about Elmer’s assertion that the project is dead because the electricity is unnecessary, Blazer said Elmer is “just plain wrong.”
“With all due respect to Mr. Elmer, he’s plugging words into ISO’s mouth that ISO is not saying and has not said,” Blazer said.
Blazer explained that the size of the power plant, one of the largest in New England if built, is essential to meet power needs, as proven, he said, by the unusual spike in electricity demand over Labor Day weekend.
“It’s not going to get any better in the near term,” Blazer said.
FERC has 60 days from Sept. 20 to answer ISO New England’s request to terminate the CSO. Invenergy is expected to appeal to FERC to restore the power-purchase agreement. Invenergy has earned $26 million from selling its unused electricity allotment to other power producers for the years it will not generate power at the Clear River Energy Center.
The Energy Facility Siting Board is scheduled to hold a public status hearing Nov. 5, but Elmer believes FERC will not have an answer until later in that month and that the status hearing will be moved to Nov. 27.