Energy

National Grid Denied Waiver for Portsmouth LNG Facility

The Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) made quick work this morning of denying a request by National Grid to exempt its liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Portsmouth, R.I., from operating as a major energy source.

EFSB chair Ronald Gerwatowski said the storage and vaporization equipment being operated on Old Mill Lane was an energy facility and, as such, requires a license and adherence to energy-facility laws.

“There’s no ambiguity about it,” said Gerwatowski, during the Dec. 18 meeting. National Grid “didn’t do a very good job of convincing me that it was temporary in any sense. The argument that it is temporary just doesn’t hold.”

He noted that the Old Mill Lane site was approved as a temporary LNG storage and fuel pumping center to alleviate the natural gas outage on Aquidneck Island in January 2019. “But now it’s here as a multiyear solution for an uncertain number of years,” he said.

EFSB member Meredith Brady said the Old Mill Lane facility isn’t temporary but seasonal and permanent. As part of the 3-0 vote to reject the multinational corporation’s plea, she asked that the power-facility application move forward quickly to find a solution for local gas needs.

EFSB member Janet Coit expected National Grid to have filed an application to operate the facility as an LNG plant after it was granted the emergency two-year permit in 2019. The facility is removed in spring and rebuilt in the fall to offer standby gas needs during cold snaps.

“It’s clear that that facility, while temporary in nature each year, is something they are going to use year in and year out,” Coit said.

National Grid was given until June 1, 2021 to submit an application for an energy facility license. It could face fines if the deadline isn’t met.

After the decision, National Grid said it’s comfortable with having to apply for an energy-siting permit.

“Old Mill Lane plays a critical role in ensuring reliability to our Aquidneck customers on the coldest days of the year, and the company’s petition was an effort to get clarity about how to handle the permitting of these temporary, portable facilities,” spokesman Ted Kresse said. “The board’s ruling provides that clarity and gives the company a path forward.”

At the hearing, Gerwatowski scolded National Grid for not submitting its Aquidneck Island Long-Term Gas Capacity Study with its petition for EFSB exemption. The 127-page study notes that National Grid could keep its Old Mill Lane facility in operation for 13 years — well beyond its initial request for four years — as it considers and eventually deploys heating solutions for the three island municipalities.

“It was striking to me and more than disappointing that they wouldn’t have included this study in the petition in the first place,” he said.

Gerwatowski said this oversight by National Grid is reason for having an energy board overseeing power plant licenses and siting.

“This is why we need a siting board,” he said. “This is why we need to be able to dive into these things, because the local authorities do the best they can on zoning and everything but they have limitations on this.”

The Old Mill Lane site was authorized in 2019 to operate through this winter. Any extension will be addressed simultaneously with National Grid’s application to receive an energy-facility license.

Comments from the public, released after the EFSB’s Dec. 10 hearing, suggest likely opposition to the license.

Middletown formally filed its objection to the facility with 10 concerns:

The monitoring and regulating of transportation companies as they travel over town roads.

Security with respect to the number of tanks and close proximity of the tanks to municipal school buildings.

Evacuation plans and participation by the town’s fire department personnel in relation to these plans.

Training of any necessary municipal staff.

Impacts to air and groundwater quality.

Public health and safety.

Decommissioning of tanks at the end of project life.

Noise and hours of operation.

Public comment and review.

Diminution in property values and subsequent impacts to tax revenues.

Concerns with the viability of the project location and alternatives.

A Nov. 25 letter from Aquidneck Island’s eight members of the General Assembly objected to National Grid’s waiver request.

The state representatives and senators said they favor a decarbonized approach to heating, as outlined in National Grid’s Aquidneck Island Long-Term Gas Capacity Study.

“Rather than focusing on expanding yesterday’s technology, we need to continue to make progress toward decarbonization by expanding energy efficiency programs and electrification; implementing a demand response system; and exploring opportunities for other green technology innovations such as geothermal micro districts to reduce demand,” according to the letter. “We favor planning scenarios and implementation that would advance the goals and priorities articulated herein. National Grid should be working with customers to reduce gas demand in our communities.”

If LNG is deemed necessary in the short term, they suggested a storage facility be built on the Navy base instead of the Old Mill Lane location, which sits on the Middletown border.

Old Mill Lane resident Hugh Finnegan Jr. said National Grid has the power and money to find an alternative to building a facility in a residential neighborhood.

“Why do we pay taxes so we can get stepped on by a BIG corporation,” Finnegan wrote.

“The noise I heard all last winter and the fire shooting up in the sky when the tanks release pressure is extremely bothersome and concerning,” Middletown resident Theresa Spengler wrote.

Attorney General Peter Neronha argued for an emergency evacuation plan with a zone of 1 mile.

“A facility that stores LNG, converts it to gas, and transfers that gas into the distribution system for multiple consecutive winters, and possibly permanently, is a major energy facility regardless of whether it can also be described as seasonal or temporary,” Neronha wrote.

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