Legal & Regulatory

Plan to Build New 1-GW Plant in Rhode Island Officially Dead

A project to build a 1-GW gas-fired power plant in Rhode Island has officially ended, after developer Invenergy took no action to appeal the project’s rejection by state regulators, who earlier this year voted unanimously against the plant’s construction.

Invenergy had until Nov. 15 to challenge the formal denial of a construction license for the project by state officials. The state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) issued that denial on Nov. 5, after the EFSB in June had voted against permitting the project.

The siting board in its denial detailed changes in the regional energy market that factored into its decision to reject the plant’s construction, including that wholesale energy prices in New England have fallen even as coal and nuclear generation has been retired. It cited the growth of energy efficiency programs, lessening power demand, and said solar farms and several offshore wind power projects will provide new regional power generation.

Chicago, Illinois-based Invenergy could have appealed the Nov. 5 decision to Rhode Island’s Supreme Court during a 10-day window that closed at 4 p.m. Eastern time Friday, but the deadline passed with no action from the company. A small group of project opponents, most of them local residents holding signs saying “No New Power Plant,” waited outside the courthouse in Providence on Friday. They cheered when they were told Invenergy had not filed an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Invenergy spokeswoman Beth Conley in a statement said, “The need for low-cost reliable power continues to grow around the nation and in Rhode Island. Invenergy will continue to develop projects in markets where our efforts will deliver better outcomes for energy consumers.”

Legal Challenges

The Burrillville project—known as the Clear River Energy Center and first announced in August 2015—was the subject of numerous legal challenges from local residents and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), a Boston, Massachusetts-based environmental group, among others. Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the CLF, on Friday told local media, “The case is over. Invenergy lost. The climate won … all of the signals from the energy market were that the plant was not needed, the plant would not be economical, the plant would not make money, and Invenergy would have been wasting time and effort pursuing an appeal.”

Elmer in a statement Nov. 5 after the EFSB denied the construction permit said, “As we said in June, this is a huge victory for Rhode Island and for the health of our communities. In the face of climate emergency, opening a fossil fuel plant that will spew carbon pollution for decades is simply reckless. After years of lies and misinformation, Invenergy’s efforts to pave over a forest to build this dirty plant have been dealt a substantial loss. This is proof that communities can stand up to big gas and win.”

The Burrillville plant, which was being designed to provide caseload power, would have burned natural gas and also would have had the capability to burn low-sulfur diesel oil. The project was sited in an area that opponents said was “critical forest habitat.”

Supply Contract Terminated

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in November 2018 granted a request from ISO New England (ISO-NE), the regional transmission organization (RTO), to terminate a capacity supply obligation contract with Invenergy and the Burrillville plant. FERC said that continuing to factor in the potential output of the 1-GW power plant could impact planning for the future needs of the regional electric grid, and could have a negative impact on other proposed power plants in the Northeast. Invenergy at the time objected to FERC’s decision.

ISO-NE said it made the September 2018 filing with FERC because of delays to the Clear River project. The RTO said Invenergy’s problems with securing a water supply were largely behind the filing, noting that the plant’s startup date had been pushed back from 2019 to at least 2021, or later.

ISO-NE awards capacity supply obligations at annual auctions that confirm electric capacity three years before it’s needed, in order to guarantee that the regional power grid will have enough power supply well in advance of when it could be used. In return for offering the grid a level of security, developers are paid a premium for the power they could provide. That money comes on top of the price they’re paid for the power they actually generate.

The EFSB—the lead permitting authority for the power plant—suspended final hearings for the project after ISO-NE made its filing with FERC on Sept. 20, 2018. At the time, Conley, the  Invenergy spokeswoman, said “This ruling does not impact the future of the project or Invenergy’s commitment to Rhode Island. While delays have shifted our timeline, the permitting process continues, and we’re confident this important affordable energy source for Rhode Island will be built.”

After hearings resumed earlier this year, the EFSB voted in June to reject the power plant.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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