Ocean State Power Plant Under Scrutiny After Equipment Failure
May 27, 2022
BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Ocean State Power has come under scrutiny again after a breaker blew at an adjacent substation last weekend.
The utility, owned by New York-based LS Power Equity Partners, operates a 508-megawatt plant near the state’s northern border with Massachusetts, generating its power by burning methane.
Alan Henry, a 30-year resident on West Ironstone Road, told ecoRI News he heard a loud bang or explosion at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. “I went to the window to see what I could,” he said. “I didn’t see any smoke or fire.”
Harrisville Fire District Chief Mike Gingell said the noise was caused by a breaker tripping at a nearby substation. “When a breaker trips at your house, no one hears anything,” he said. “To simplify it, when the breaker tripped, unrelated to Ocean State Power, it made a big bang from the bigger [electric] wires.”
According to Gingell, the department was alerted automatically when the power plant went offline. “There was no fire department incident other than that response,” he said.
The power plant was built in 1990, amid strong opposition, and is now one of the oldest existing plants left in the state.
Kathy Martley said it was difficult for residents to verify the incident. “It’s hush-hush in this town,” she said.
Martley is a member of B.A.S.E. (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion), a community group opposed to fossil fuel infrastructure. Originally formed in 2014 to oppose the now-dead Burrillville fracked-gas plant proposed by Invenergy, the group advocates for the removal of any and all fossil fuel infrastructure, including Ocean State Power.
Town officials earlier this year signed off on a new agreement with LS Power, which will pay a reduced tax rate for the next six years, estimated to be around $2.1 million. The tax treaty replaces the current agreement, under which LS Power paid the town $2.6 million annually.
“Burrillville is weighing big with this power plant as their money source for their taxes and not putting their eggs in another basket,” Martley said.
The exact cause of the failure at the power plant is still a mystery. Steven Arabia, a spokesperson for LS Power, declined to comment or answer further questions about the incident.
It’s not the first trouble at the power plant on Sherman Farm Road. State records show Ocean State Power paid a $5,000 fine in 2010 for “numerous violations” related to its air permit. The plant also exceeded its carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions a number of times between 2017 and 2021.
The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) said the facility had several “minor exceedances” — five in total — between 2018 and 2020. It has not violated its air permit since the end of 2020, except for a minor opacity and the Environmental Protection Agency was notified of the instances, according to DEM.
DEM also confirmed Ocean State Power’s air permit expired in 2017, but noted that the company is still bound by the terms of its original permit, even if it hasn’t applied for a new one.