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Friday, November 8, 2019

Is this the end of the project that once threatened Charlestown’s drinking water?

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Image result for invenergy protestsEDITOR'S NOTE: Readers may recall that Charlestown was drawn into the fight against the Invenergy protest when the company signed a deal with an official of the Narragansett Indian tribe to purchase water in bulk from the underground water supply that everyone in Charlestown uses for its drinking water. In a rare, and pleasant, show of solidarity, tribal members joined with other residents to oppose the water sale and causing it to be cancelled. - Will Collette

 The Energy Facility Siting Board’s much-anticipated written decision regarding the fossil-fuel power plant that had been proposed for Burrillville, R.I., elaborates on the reasoning the application for the nearly 1,000-megawatt facility was denied. The report also leaves some issues unanswered.

Back on June 20, the three-person Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) made quick work of more than three years of hearings and proceedings by unanimously rejecting the Clear River Energy Center (CREC). The board ruled that the proposed natural-gas/diesel facility wasn’t necessary to meet regional electricity demand.

Its decision to deny the CREC, proposed by Chicago-based Invenergy LLC, was based on a broad interpretation of “need” for the facility and its fast-start capability.


Two other criteria required for approval, cost justification and environmental harm, aren’t addressed in the 33-page report, which was released this week. The EFSB didn’t address those issues at its late-June meeting, and leaves them out of its written decision, because, it argued, that failing to satisfy one criteria makes it unnecessary to scrutinize the other two.

“The board need not reach the remaining elements set out in the (Energy Facility Siting) Act in its consideration of the proposed facility’s application,” according to the report signed by EFSB chairwoman Margaret Curran and board members Janet Coit and Meredith Brady.

Although cost justification and environmental impacts were addressed in depth throughout the application review process, Invenergy and project opponents agreed that the questions of need and environmental harm were the central issues in determining the facility’s fate. The question of need, however, was the first debated at the EFSB’s June 20 meeting.

Invenergy positioned the power plant as a modern, lower-polluting, and reliable link from older, higher-polluting facilities to a dynamic, decentralized grid dominated by multiple renewable-energy sources. Company officials said the $1 billion facility would create 350 jobs, lower energy bills, and increase property tax revenue for the rural host community.

The EFSB, however, decided there is ample power now and in the future to meet energy expectations for the state and region, especially as renewable energy proliferates and energy-efficiency programs lessen demand.

The loss of a key power-purchase agreement on Sept. 20, 2018 and the failure to secure future ones through ISO New England, the regional operator of the power grid, hurt the developer’s credibility in the eyes of the EFSB.

The board’s recently released decision offers a summary of the proceedings that began when the docket was filed Nov. 17, 2015 and the course of discussion that led to the unanimous vote in June. 

It also recounts Invenergy’s struggle to secure a source for cooling water, its failure to obtain a power-purchase agreement for one of the facility’s power units, and other setbacks that delayed the hearing process.

Although Invenergy blamed the stoppages on public opposition and the EFSB itself, the written decision puts the fault squarely on Invenergy.

“It is worth noting that the majority of the delays were caused by the applicant,” according to the EFSB’s decision. “The board does not suggest that Invenergy did anything wrong in causing the delays. However, the board does want to make clear that Invenergy cannot place blame for the delays, or the consequence they wrought, on the board.”

The written decision elaborates on other details, such as the reasoning for dismissing Invenergy’s argument that the power plant was consistent with Rhode Island’s long-term energy plan.

“Adding a new natural gas plant — even a fast-start, more efficient one — does not advance the stated goals of greater fuel diversity, significantly lowered greenhouse gas emissions, or a transformed system,” according to the decision. “Adding Invenergy’s proposed facility would, at most, perpetuate the status quo.”

The EFSB’s written decision also noted that an advisory opinion offered by the Division of Statewide Planning didn’t satisfy the issue of need, even though the report by the state agency said the project is consistent with the state energy plan.

With the release of the EFSB’s written decision, the CREC application is officially nullified. 

Invenergy must file an entirely new application to restart the project, a process that would likely take years to advance.

Invenergy has 10 days to appeal the decision in Rhode Island Supreme Court.

“Invenergy is reviewing the EFSB’s written order and determining next steps,” Invenergy spokeswoman Beth Conley said.

Pending permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management were paused when the EFSB denied the application.

One of the primary objectors to CREC, the Conservation Law Foundation, promised to litigate against Invenergy if a court appeal is filed.