EFSB: Invenergy did not prove need for power plant, application denied

Resident Ken Putnam stands with other longtime plant opponents, waving to cars from in from of Town Hall.

WARWICK – The Energy Facility Siting Board has denied the application by Invenergy Thermal to build a power plant off Wallum Lake Road in Burrillvillle, finding that company lawyers failed to meet the burden of proving that the facility is needed to meet regional energy demands.

The vote – which brings at least a sense of closure to proceedings that have lasted for nearly four years – was taken just after 1 p.m. on Thursday, June 20.

The three board members unanimously agreed to deny the permit, noting that experts testifying on behalf of the town had demonstrated that other local sources can meet current demand, including a growing renewable market.

Cheers could be heard throughout the hearing room following the decision.

EFSB Chairperson Margaret Curren noted at the start of deliberations that while the board’s charge was to evaluate the proposal according to several factors, failure to prove any single element would result in denial of the application.

Much of the decision was based on the fact that the company did not have a capacity supply obligation for the facility – a commitment by a supplier to purchase the energy produced once the plant was live.

Curran noted that the electricity bidders could be the best available indicator of demand.

“Those bidders themselves are experts on long term forecasting,” said Curran. “Their lives are based on it. They have to focus on what the long term forecast is for them or they’re going to lose money.”

Invenergy had a contract with Independent System Operator New England but in September, the regional supplier took the unprecedented action of moving to terminate the agreement, pointing to delays in the application process.

“It is without question that that was an extraordinary decision by ISO,” noted EFSB member and Director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Janet Coit, pointing to the “relative ease” with which the supplier found alternative resources.

The long-anticipated deliberations by the board began with a recap of the proceedings, which included seven hearings over 12 months, advisory opinions from eight agencies and submission of hundreds of documents and written public comment, according to Coit.

The Chicago-based energy company first submitted the application to build the 1,000-megawatt, gas-burning facility on Oct. 25, 2015.

“I think the parties will agree it’s been a long and arduous process,” said Coit. “We know that many people have strong opinions about the plant.”

Coit noted that despite the length of the proceedings, the three members of the EFSB had no opportunity to discuss the application with each other, as it would have been a violation of the state’s open meetings law.

“It’s been a long and controversial process,” said member Meredith Brady, who also serves as the state’s associate director of planning. “It’s been a herculean effort to parse facts from rhetoric.”

EFSB members agreed with the often-heard assessment that at times, the applicant had been less than forthcoming with information, but they did not attribute it to active deception.

“I don’t believe any of the witnesses were lying or not credible,” said Coit. “There were a few instances where Invenrgy was misleading or not forthcoming.”

“It was more the right hand not telling the left hand what it was doing,” said Curren.

Brady added, “I felt there was no intent to deceive this board.”

Members said recent developments in renewable energy were also key to their decision.

“I think that it has been a striking growth,” said Curren, pointing to large scale renewables coming online

Coit noted that capacity prices have consistently decreased since the application was first submitted. 

“The estimated benefits have decreased with each passing year,” she said.

While the vote is an enormous victory to opponents of the plant, who declared the deal dead on social media within minutes, Invenergy could appeal the decision in Rhode Island Supreme Court.

The victory was celebrated by plant opponents Thursday night, with residents gathering by Town Hall carrying the now well-known yellow, “No New Power Plant,” signs.  Many drivers beeped their horns as they drove past and thanked the grassroots activists who have fought the proposal on social media.

“After four years of countless hours of hearings, testimony, rallies, community organizing, and filings, the plant is dead and the citizens of Burrillville and their allies can finally celebrate and breath a sigh of relief,” noted Keep Rhode Island Beautiful. “This is a victory for the people of Burrillville, for the citizens of Rhode Island, and the environment.”

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