Last September MDN told you that a new natgas-fired electric plant planned for the People’s Republic of Rhode Island in Burrillville was on life support, with antis reaching to pull the plug (see Proposed Rhode Island Gas-Fired Plant on Life Support). In March we told you the project isn’t dead quite yet (see Proposed Rhode Island Gas-Fired Plant Still has a Pulse). The pendulum has swung the other way once again, with the patient’s heart going into arrhythmia (i.e. irregular heartbeat).
MDN first told you about the Burrillville, RI project back in August 2015 (see New NatGas Powered Electric Plant Coming to…Rhode Island?!). Invenergy is the project builder for the Clear River Energy Center, a 900-megawatt electric generating plant that will run on natgas.
The plant would lower RI residents’ electric bills by a collective $280 million and replace aging coal and oil power plants–cleaning the air in the process. With the jobs created, the investment in the facility, and lower electric rates, it’s calculated this single plant will have a $1.3 billion impact on the economy of RI.
So-called environmentalists oppose the project because it burns an evil fossil fuel.
The plan was to begin construction in summer 2016 and have the plant up and running by 2019. What’s happened since the initial announcement? A lot of bureaucratic bull.
The project has been under review and a final decision by the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission was slated for January 2019. Didn’t happen. Because of delays in building the plant, the Independent System Operator (ISO) New England filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to cancel the plant’s capacity supply obligation, or CSO. CSO’s are contracts awarded years in advance to supply electricity. ISO says there’s no way this plant will be producing electricity on time, and so they want out of the contract, to find someone else to produce the electricity.
IOS New England has just issued a report that forecasts electric generation (how and where) out to 2025. Invenergy says it still wants to build Clear River Energy Center and get it online by 2023. However, the report/forecast from ISO NE shows zero new electricity coming from Rhode Island during that time period. Without a contract with ISO NE (i.e. permission to flow electricity to the grid), the project is going nowhere fast. Hence our observation the project is going into arrhythmia.
* A recent report from ISO New England does not include a controversial 900 MW natural gas plant, bolstering opponents belief that the project will never be constructed.
* The April Participants Committee Report did not include any natural gas capacity from 2023 to 2025, around the time Invenergy indicated the project would be operating.
* Invenergy, however, says it remains committed and the project is “moving forward as planned.” The ISO’s report to the New England Power Pool and its projections “reflect that timing,” the company told Utility Dive.
It has been four years since Invenergy proposed the Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville, Rhode Island, and in that time New England capacity prices have fallen while renewable resources have grown.
“I think it’s now clear to everybody that the ISO system does not need Invenergy. It’s a completely superfluous plant,” Jerry Elmer, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation told Utility Dive.
Originally planned to be online this year, Invenergy has most recently targeted 2023 to begin operating the plant. But the report indicates no new gas capacity coming to the grid operator from 2023-2025, and no new capacity at all in Rhode Island where the plant is proposed.
An ISO official said the information in the NEPOOL report reflects data from the grid operator’s interconnection queue, which is comprised of projects for which developers have applied to connect to the regional power grid. The ISO said the Clear River project is included in its 2021 numbers, based on the in-service date the company provided at the time those slides were put together. But market dynamics have changed.
“When they proposed the plant, they believed they were going to be minting money,” Elmer said. “Since then there have been a lot of changes in the New England energy markets. … Demand has declined, supply has increased, and as a result capacity clearing prices have gone down precipitously since 2015 when Invenergy filed the proposal.”
In February, ISO-NE said its 13th auction cleared 34.8 GW of capacity at a price of $3.80/kWh month, compared to $4.63/kW-month in the 2018 auction, $5.30/kW-month in 2017 and $7.03/kW-month in 2016.
In 2015, the year Invenergy proposed the plant, the capacity auction cleared at more than $17.50/kW-month, its highest level ever.
“Projects in the queue are studied to determine what transmission system upgrades would be needed for the projects to safely and reliably connect to the grid,” ISO representative Matthew Kakley said in an email. “I can tell you that the Clear River project is listed in the queue as a project that has applied to interconnect.”
The project “is moving forward as planned,” Invenergy spokesperson Beth Conley told Utility Dive.
She noted that an evidentiary hearing at the Energy Facility Siting Board of Rhode Island recently concluded, and the project’s water agreement with the town of Johnston was upheld by Rhode Island Superior Court on April 23.
“In addition to meeting these critical project milestones, ISO-New England is aware of Clear River’s development timeline and its short-term projections for the region’s energy supply reflect that timing,” Conley said. “Rhode Island needs affordable and reliable energy from the Clear River Energy Center, and that’s why we remain committed to building this necessary project.”
According to Elmer, closing arguments in the evidentiary hearing are due via memorandum in May, and the siting board could make a decision in June.
“This case has so far taken much longer than anybody anticipated,” said Elmer.*
*Utility Dive (Apr 29, 2019) – 900 MW Invenergy natural gas plant faces uncertain future in ISO NE
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