CLF: E-mail Contradicts Power Plant's Expert Witness

Attorneys review documents before the start of the Jan. 8 hearing of the Energy Facility Siting Board. Front left are Michael McElroy, town of Burrillville, Michael Blazer, Invenergy, and Jerry Elmer, Conservation Law Foundation. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Attorneys review documents before the start of the Jan. 8 hearing of the Energy Facility Siting Board. Front left are Michael McElroy, town of Burrillville, Michael Blazer, Invenergy, and Jerry Elmer, Conservation Law Foundation. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Video and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WARWICK, R.I. — The latest round of hearings for the proposed Burrillville power plant was dominated by a lengthy cross-examination of a single expert that included a potentially damaging e-mail.

Ryan Hardy, hired by Invenergy Thermal Development LLC to advocate for the proposed Clear River Energy Center, took the stand for the full six hours of hearings on Jan. 8 and 9. Most of time Hardy was locked in a circular debate with attorneys representing opponents of the nearly 1,000-megawatt natural-gas/diesel facility. At issue is whether the power plant is needed to supply electricity to southeastern New England, particularly after the loss of a vital power-purchase agreement.

Jerry Elmer, of the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), and Michael McElory, attorney for the town of Burrillville, used inverse logic to discredit Hardy’s written statements asserting that the power-purchase agreement, or capacity supply obligation (CSO), awarded to the Chicago-based developer was proof that the plant is needed to keep the lights on and the electric grid running smoothly in the years ahead.

Elmer and McElroy reasoned that the termination of the CSO last fall by the operator of the regional power grid, ISO New England, therefore means that the proposed fossil-fuel power plant is unnecessary.

On Jan. 9, McElroy pointed to Invenergy’s own application stating that losing the power-purchase agreement would be “potentially condemning to an otherwise considerably valuable resource (the power plant).”

Hardy repeatedly said the loss of the CSO, and subsequent confirmation by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, was the result of Invenergy failing to meet construction and approval benchmarks, “not whether or not the plant is needed.”

Throughout the two days of cross-examination Hardy balked at efforts to make him admit that the loss of the CSO dooms the $1 billion project. But he came close.

“I believe it was (Invenergy’s) opinion that the CSO was valuable, for sure, and that it was something they did not want to see terminated,” Hardy said.

The near acknowledgment of Elmer’s and McElroy’s line of argument didn’t last, as Hardy quickly added, “I don’t agree that it condemns the (power plant). In the state of Rhode Island a facility needs an EFSB permit to be built. It does not need a CSO.”

But Hardy’s written words seem to contradict his assertion that the CSO isn’t required for a power plant to get approved. In an Oct. 4, 2017 e-mail sent to two Invenergy senior managers, John Niland and Ken Parkhill, ahead of a meeting with ISO New England, Hardy offered advice that undermines his testimony.

Hardy wrote, “Based on our experience before the Rhode Island EFSB and NTE Killingly’s (power plant) experience before the (Connecticut) Siting Council, it appears that the applicable state permitting boards are unlikely to approve the construction of new natural gas plants without having secured a CSO through an FCA (ISO New England auction).”

ISO New England runs the regional electric grid and issues the coveted power-purchase agreements, which serve as a subsidy for building new power plants.

Elmer asked Hardy if he believed what he wrote in his e-mail. Hardy said he didn’t. Instead he insisted that the e-mail was only about potential issues and questions that Niland, Invenergy’s director of business development, would encounter during the meeting.

“This is not my opinion. These are talking points that were for Mr. Niland to have a discussion with the ISO New England,” Hardy said.

Elmer said Hardy’s response shows that he was either being dishonest with Invenergy or asking Invenergy to be dishonest with ISO New England.

“Now that it is known that Ryan Hardy lies in his dealings with Invenergy, his testimony becomes much less believable,” Elmer told ecoRI News.

Hardy’s e-mail also erodes Invenergy’s standing with the three-member EFSB, Elmer said.

“This casts Invenergy in a very, very unfavorable light,” he said. “The fact that they would lie to the ISO is very revealing and damaging to Invenergy. ISO depends on getting accurate information from power-plant operators all over New England. They use that information to keep the grid running. If a plant operator gives false, dishonest information to the ISO, the ISO is unable to do its job.”

Elmer noted that questions asked by EFSB members about the CSO auctions, particularly inquiries about the surplus electricity that ISO New England includes in each annual auction, shows that the board in concerned that Invenergy is getting crowded out of the southern New England energy market. Recent auctions show that not only is there surplus electric power generation in the near term but that the overall demand for a conventional power plant is shrinking because of the growth of solar energy and energy efficiency.

“The EFSB is focusing on the crucial data points that show that the plant is not needed: the existing surplus of capacity without Invenergy,” Elmer said. “This is good for opponents of Invenergy.”

This “need” debate is expected to continue at the next hearings scheduled for Jan. 16 and 17.

First, Hardy must finish his questioning before the EFSB. Then CLF’s energy expert, Robert Fagan, will answer questions about his contention that reports by ISO New England and other energy-market projections show there is no near-term or long-term need for the Clear River Energy Center.

The hearings are held at the Public Utilities Commission, 89 Jefferson Blvd. in Warwick. They start at 10 a.m.