Rhode Island Rejects Burrillville Gas-Fired Plant

A proposed 900-MW gas-fired power plant was rejected by Rhode Island regulators on June 20, leaving project developer Invenergy pondering its options for the planned facility in Burrillville.

Rhode Island’s Energy Facility Siting Board, after a daylong hearing in Warwick, said the plant is not needed. Chicago, Illinois–based Invenergy can appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court. The company has 10 days from the date the siting board finalizes its order to decide whether to appeal the decision.

“We will review the written decision and evaluate our options,” Invenergy spokeswoman Beth Conley said in a statement.

The Burrillville plant, known as the Clear River Energy Center, was first proposed four years ago, before falling power prices in the region and across New England brought questions about the economic viability of new power generation projects. Invenergy originally planned to bring the plant online this year; that date had been moved to 2023 pending state approval. A lower court in Rhode Island in April upheld a water agreement Invenergy had with the city of Johnston.

Strong Opposition to Plant

Environmental groups have opposed the Burrillville plant. Jerry Elmer, a senior attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, in a statement Thursday said, “This is a huge victory for Rhode Island and for the health of our communities.” Elmer said the board’s decision is “proof that communities can stand up to big gas and win. This is a victory for the Town of Burrillville. This is a victory for the State of Rhode Island. And this is a victory for the people of the world.”

Town officials also had opposed the $1 billion project. Burrillville Town Council president John Pacheco III said, “I am relieved. I am ecstatic.” Thursday’s decision from the siting board came after dozens of hearings about the project, and the involvement of 13 state and local agencies in what siting board chairwoman Meg Curran called “a long and arduous process.” The decision Thursday came on the first day of what was a planned three-day regulatory proceeding.

A report from ISO New England (ISO-NE) earlier this year outlining future generation capacity in the region did not include the Burrillville plant; in fact, the April Participants Committee Report listed no new natural gas capacity coming online in the region from 2023 to 2025. The fall in power prices over the past few years is notable. ISO-NE said its capacity auction in 2015 had prices clearing more than $17.50/kW-month, the highest level recorded. ISO-NE said 34.8 GW of capacity cleared its auction this past February, at a price of $3.80/kW-month.

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