Does Region Need More Natural Gas? Invenergy’s Final Burrillville Push Begins April 26


Take away the bluster and the exaggerated proclamations in the Providence Journal’s latest endorsement of the proposed Burrillville, R.I., fossil fuel power plant and it takes on one of the central arguments the state Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) must weigh as it begins its final stretch of hearings scheduled to begin April 26.

The EFSB is required to decide whether the proposed Clear River Energy Center and its near 1,000 megawatts of electrical output are needed to keep the lights on across southern New England for the two-plus decades it will be operating.

The recent Providence Journal editorial clearly argues “yes,” citing the ISO New England report that notes power plants are retiring across New England and a less-polluting energy facility is available to fill the void.

However, it’s not known when those 10 power plants identified as candidates to retire will close. They must give three years’ notice before shutting down. If approved by the EFSB, the Clear River Energy Center would be operational in 2021 at the earliest. The state of the regional power plant market beyond that is mostly speculation.

Opponents of the Burrillville project say proven cleaner technologies are already picking up the slack for retired power plants like the 1,530-megawatt coal-fired Brayton Point power plant in Somerset, Mass., that closed last year.

Energy efficiency, offshore wind and land-based solar continue to meet growing energy demand. In March, ISO New England released a preliminary report finding that usage and peak electricity demand will decline across the region over the next 10 years because of energy efficiency and new solar installations. And more renewable power is on the way, especially wind energy, with close to 10,000 megawatts of new projects proposed for the region.

Intermittency debate
A common argument against renewable energy is that it can’t be relied on to always make electricity and, therefore, only fossil fuels can deliver consistent power.

“There is no feasible technology to store power for use when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing,” according to the Providence Journal’s April 17 editorial.

“This is blatantly false, and getting moreso all the time as batteries get cheaper very fast,” said Brown University professor J. Timmons Roberts.

Lithium-battery storage has proven cost-competitive and is gaining significant momentum. Existing and proposed renewable-plus-storage projects, like one from Deepwater Wind, are already promoting themselves as full-time and on-demand power sources. Massachusetts and other states offer grants and incentives for battery energy storage projects, contributing to a projected ninefold market growth by 2022.

Other energy resources such as pumped hydro and Canadian hydropower can deliver electricity on demand. Pumped hydroelectricity is a simple, safe and old solution that can be ramped up by converting local mill ponds to backup hydropower power solutions to meet peak demand, which can typically be a few hours a week during heat waves or several days during cloudy and calm times, according to Roberts.

“There are many other potential storage modes. And the greatest benefits can come from efficiency, conservation, and ‘load shedding’ and ‘peak shaving,’” Roberts said. “With a decent effort on these, we can avoid building any new gas infrastructure and shut some down in a systematic way while keeping the lights on and the houses warm.”

Two issues
Jerry Elmer is leading the opposition to the Invenergy power plant for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) in its proceedings before the EFSB. Elmer noted that the Providence Journal editorial is arguing two issues: the Burrillville power plant and expansion of natural gas infrastructure.

“CLF believes that both issues — fossil fuel pipelines and fossil fuel power plants — are important issues, and they are related for obvious reasons,” Elmer said. “But they are not the same issue, and it is important to keep them separate.”

ISO New England and the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) both point to the need for greater energy diversity in New England. Currently, 96 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity is generated by natural gas. New England as a whole gets 48 percent of its electricity from natural gas. 

OER’s state energy plan notes that diversifying the electricity fuel mix with local renewable energy creates jobs, lowers energy bills and helps the environment.

The Providence Journal argues that a new cleaner-burning natural gas power plant will reduce the likelihood of rolling blackouts. “The hard truth is that the region needs more natural gas pipeline infrastructure to get that vital fuel here.”

Elmer noted that ISO New England’s Southeast New England zone continues to generate a surplus of energy, even with the retirement of old power plants such as Brayton Point. The proof: For three years, ISO New England has failed to accept half of the electricity capacity, or one of two turbines, from the Clear River Energy Center in its forward-capacity auction. The auction awards agreements to buy the power from an energy facility three years in advance.

ISO New England maintains that natural gas infrastructure needs to catch up with growing demand for the fuel. But it’s also urging the continued use of non-natural gas facilities such as nuclear and oil to remain operational to help ease gas-supply crunches. New natural gas power plants will be proposed as solutions to renewable energy’s intermittency issue but these energy facilities will only exacerbate already-strained natural-gas infrastructure, according to ISO New England.

The Clear River Energy Center application before the EFSB, however, is for a two-turbine power plant. Having ISO New England purchase agreements in place for both turbines will likely convince the siting board that the electricity is needed to keep the lights on. Yet, Invenergy has so far only received an agreement for one turbine. Elmer said both turbines should receive contracts for the project to get approved.

“Invenergy has made a careful, conscious, deliberate decision not to put in any evidence that would support a single-turbine plant,” Elmer said. “At the end of the hearing, there may be no evidence that would allow the EFSB to approve the pending application.”

Invenergy has maintained that the electricity from both turbines will be relied on to meet future electricity demand and that ISO New England will eventually buy electricity from both turbines.


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  1. As noted, one of the "central arguments" the EFSB "must weigh" is the question of the need for the power. And need for the power is CLF’s central argument against approval of the plant. However, there are two other "central arguments" that the EFSB "must weigh" according to the EFSB’s legislative enabling act: What social good will the plant provide—or not? and, Can the plant be built without doing unacceptable harm to the environment?

    For CLF, the third issue, environmental impact, is a minor aspect of its case against the plant. The Town of Burrillville, however, is attempting to make unacceptable harm to the environment the heart of its argument against the plant. But so far, without much luck, or—critically—attention from the media, (with the exception of ecori news.) It is evident that the news making/chattering class of Rhode Island is unaware that an Environmental Impact Statement has not been conducted concerning Invenergy. Incredible as that news seems when you consider that plant would be built on the property line of a state wildlife management area. But Burrillville’s petition to the EFSB to order an EIS was denied in December. So equation is now thus: Power Plant + State Forest – EIS = Approval of Power Plant. (What political genius of Gina Raimondo to have engendered that.) And yet the nabobs natter on, ignorant.

    Especially egregious is their ignorance of the Ocean State Power EIS thirty years ago—the EIS that saw FERC, US Fish&Wildlife, and DEM condemn the present Invenergy site as an alternative to Ocean State’s preferred site where the plant was finally approved. (Not even ecori news has reported that story.)

    It is just mind-blowing. One observing this train-wreck-in-plain-sight unfolding—that in the convenient absence of all that an EIS would reveal the EFSB will certainly be bound to grant Invenergy its license—one knows exactly how Cassandra felt as she gazed from the walls of Troy.

    News about the need for the energy argument and the arguments over emissions, arguments that Invenergy is happy to entertain, have completely diverted the media’s attention away from the one really dangerous vulnerability in the Invenergy lobby’s case for the plant.

    Picture next to Cassandra out in the sun a Greek PR flack—disguised by the gods, of course—offering her grapes from gold platter.

  2. The sad part is that all this energy being put into fighting this plant in Burrillville is being done by lawyers, not scientists. We hear that wind and solar can provide reliable and continuous power when batteries and storage ponds can be erected. Sorry Professor at Brown . . . . . that is just a lie. There is not enough lithium in the world to build enough short lived and big enough batteries to provide that kind of power. And environmentally? Lithium is no prize. Does Burrillville want about 500 wind turbines surrounding their town? Ask the people in Falmouth, MA. or on a pristine lake in Maine whether wind turbines are the answer. Ask those that hike the historic Appalachian Trail if the overhanging transmission wires and visible wind turbines give their experience any less value.

    No, the real thing we must weigh is whether or not anything we do is really going to make any difference in our climate. To date we have made the greatest reduction of all nations in our reduction of CO2, better than all the other countries in the world. And do you know how we have done it? Natural gas. That’s right. We are now energy independent and can actually EXPORT natural gas for a profit. It is cheap, clean and there is almost an unlimited supply right in our backyard. And know what? The rest of the countries that are still polluting at record amounts don’t have to comply with the Paris Accord until 2032. Something else . . . . the environment over the last two decades has not warmed, the ocean has not risen more than a centimeter, and if anything winters have been colder and longer with more snow than usual.

    Gas plants provide cheap clean energy that is reliable and always there. When the supply can be relied on by a new pipeline from Pennsylvania it will remain cheap. It’s time to get the lawyers and politicians out and get scientists, like those at ISO-NE.

  3. @JJLutz the scientists at ISO that you want to hear from have spoken and they say RI doesn’t need another power plant:

    "In March, ISO New England released a preliminary report finding that usage and peak electricity demand will decline across the region over the next 10 years because of energy efficiency and new solar installations."

    The report is available at

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