PROVIDENCE – National Grid Rhode Island plans to start construction soon on its controversial Fields Point natural gas liquefaction plant at Providence’s seaport, the company said in a public notice Wednesday.
“Having secured all the necessary approvals for site preparation, we expect the mobilization and groundwork for construction of the liquefier to begin by mid-March,” the notice reads.
“As a result, you will begin to notice more activity on and around the Fields Point site,” it continues. “This will include the arrival of construction equipment, the transportation of gravel and other materials, as well as the ongoing work to remove any outdated auxiliary buildings.”
The company’s schedule calls for the plant to begin operating in 2021.
National Grid, the state’s largest utility company, said most of the activities around Fields Point in past months were related to preparation work needed in advance of construction.
That included the removal of an unused building on the southeast corner of the Fields Point property, as well as several smaller structures on the adjacent Allens Avenue property.
In Rhode Island, natural gas is used for heating, and for generating a vast majority of the state’s electricity.
The $180 million project will enable the transport of natural gas as vapor by pipeline to Fields Point for super-chilled liquefaction and storage.
Currently, liquefied natural gas is trucked into Fields Point from outside the state and is placed in National Grid’s storage tank there. The liquefaction facility will reduce or eliminate the need to truck the gas into Providence in liquid form, among other advantages.
“The Fields Point project will include the installation of new equipment adjacent to the existing liquefied natural gas storage facility,” the company said. “We are simply proposing to change the way we fill the existing tank.”
National Grid said the Fields Point project is one of its many initiatives to help the entire region move toward “an affordable, clean, reliable energy future.”
However, the project has been opposed by local officials, residents and environmentalists, including Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. He criticized the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when it approved the project in October.
In its decision, the commission concluded the project would not significantly impact public safety, the environment, nor National Grid ratepayers.
Elorza was not persuaded.
“By adding yet another environmental burden to the already overburdened communities of color in Providence, this facility is an affront to our city’s climate, energy and racial equity goals,” the mayor said.
“I want to recognize the long and difficult fight that ‘NO LNG in PVD’ has fought. While this may feel like a setback, your efforts are not in vain. You have elevated this issue and advocated for our community,” he added. “There is so much more we can do together to address environmental injustices and create a healthier, cleaner, and more prosperous Providence for all our communities.”
Regarding the project’s cost, National Grid has said it is not proposing any change to the retail rates that customers pay as a result of the project.
“In fact,” the company said, “the project is premised on the expectation that it will actually reduce price volatility for retail customers and allow for stable, predictable natural gas costs for customers in the long term.”
National Grid also said its gas operations at the port have been safe.
“The existing facility at Fields Point is used to store liquefied natural gas and has continuously operated since 1974 without incident,” the company said. “National Grid owns and operates 13 liquefied natural gas storage facilities, a liquefied natural gas trucking company, and two liquefaction facilities in New York City and Long Island, all with excellent safety records.”
Apart from neighborhood safety concerns, opponents have criticized the project for its connection to environmental harms caused by fracking – the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mixture is directed at shale rock to release the gas inside.
National Grid said the project itself will not increase the volume of natural gas extracted from any region.
“Shale gas,” it said, “is one of the many gas resources that feed the interstate pipelines [to Rhode Island] along with conventional gas, underground storage, re-gasified liquefied natural gas and renewable bio-methane.”
Updates on the Fields Point project can be found online.
Scott Blake is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com