No Need: Siting Board Denies Burrillville Power Plant

Opponents of the proposed Clear River Energy Center celebrate the vote by the Energy Facility Siting Board. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Opponents of the proposed Clear River Energy Center celebrate the vote by the Energy Facility Siting Board. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WARWICK, R.I. — The proposed Clear River Energy Center power plant essentially died on June 20.

On the first day of final and open deliberations, the state Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) unanimously voted down, 3-0, the application for the nearly 1,000-megawatt fossil-fuel facility.

Rather than slog through the entire application, including written testimony, advisory opinions, and supporting documents, the EFSB only addressed the question of need for the $1 billion facility.

With decisiveness, EFSB member Janet Coit reasoned why electricity from the proposed natural-gas/diesel power plant isn’t needed in Rhode Island or New England, now or in the future. Fellow members Margaret Curran, chairwoman, and Meredith Brady agreed with Coit’s explanation.

Coit focused much of her argument on reports showing a robust energy landscape, declining wholesale contract prices, and a power grid that keeps older power plants in operation if needed.

The evidence of the stable electric supply was reflected in the price drop for the valuable power-purchase agreements, which was driven down by an influx of renewable energy, such as offshore wind and small-scale solar, and the growth of energy-efficiency initiatives.

Although the three-member board had three days set aside to debate, it only needed about two hours to reach a consensus.

In order for the application to be approved, the developer, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development, had to satisfy three criteria: show a need for the electricity; show a financial benefit; and show limited harm to the environment. If any one of the three was rejected, the entire application is denied.

The EFSB could have debated the other two issues, but declined, citing recent rejected applications by siting boards in Connecticut and New Hampshire. Curran has 60 days to issue a written report. Invenergy then has 10 days to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.

Invenergy’s lead attorney, Michael Blazer, declined to comment and the left the building soon after the decision. Local legal experts say the prospects of a successful appeal are slim, as the court generally sides with the EFSB.

Gov. Gina Raimondo enthusiastically embraced the power plant when it was introduced in August 2015, but she eventually took a more-neutral stance on the project, saying she wanted to see the process play out.

“The EFSB has conducted a thorough and independent process,” Raimondo’s press secretary, Josh Block, said. “Today's outcome reflects years of public input and deliberation, and the governor respects the board's decision.”