Federal regulators approve liquefied natural gas project in Providence

Updated at 6:57 p.m.

PROVIDENCE – Federal regulators have approved a controversial plan by utility giant National Grid PLC to build a $180 million liquefied natural gas facility at its Fields Point site on the waterfront south of downtown Providence.

Currently, liquefied natural gas is trucked into Fields Point from outside the state and is placed in National Grid’s storage tank, with a capacity of 600,000 barrels. National Grid then sends it out to customers as vapor by pipeline or in liquid form by truck.

The project would enable companies to also transport gas as vapor by pipeline to Fields Point for super-chilled liquefaction and storage. Utility companies store natural gas in liquid form because it takes up a lot less space than as vapor.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the plan late Wednesday. National Grid hopes to start construction early next year, a company spokesman said.

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In its decision, the commission concluded the project would not significantly impact public safety, the environment, or National Grid retail ratepayers.

Regarding public safety, the commission wrote: “National Grid’s design includes acceptable layers of protection or safeguards that would reduce the risk of a potentially hazardous scenario from developing into an event that could impact the off-site public.”

The project has drawn sharp opposition from local officials, residents and environmentalists. Thursday, Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza issued a pointed rebuke of the decision.

“I am extremely disappointed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to approve the Fields Point Liquefaction Project,” the mayor said in a statement. “By adding yet another environmental burden to the already overburdened communities of color in Providence, this is an affront to our city’s climate, energy and racial equity goals.”

Elorza commended a group of opponents of the project called “NO LNG in PVD,” short for No Liquefied Natural Gas in Providence.

“While this may feel like a setback, your efforts are not in vein,” the mayor added. “You have elevated this issue and advocated for our community. There is so much more we can do together to address environmental injustices and create a healthier, cleaner and more prosperous Providence for all communities.”

National Grid said two of its main customers, Narragansett Electric Co. and Boston Gas Co., have asked it to add liquefaction capability to enable them to deliver gas to National Grid by pipeline.

National Grid is Rhode Island’s largest provider of electricity and natural gas.

“National Grid is transforming its electricity and natural gas infrastructure to support smarter, cleaner and more resilient energy solutions,” National Grid Rhode Island President Timothy Horan said in a statement Thursday.

“The order issued … by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission represents a significant step forward in that effort, as we look to modernize our facility at Fields Point to meet the demands of our customers and become more efficient in our operations,” Horan said. “Liquefied natural gas is just one piece of the region’s energy portfolio – but it is a critical one. It provides up to 40 percent of the gas supply by National Grid’s customers in New England to heat their homes and businesses during the coldest days of the year.”

In 2005, the commission denied a proposal by KeySpan LNG to use its existing liquefied storage tank at Fields Point to support the development of a new liquefied natural gas import terminal. In 2007, National Grid acquired KeySpan’s assets.

National Grid filed for approval of the current project in April 2016.

The commission concluded the details and the regulatory circumstances of the current proposal are different than the 2005 proposal.

“We do not believe the outcome in KeySpan should determine the outcome here,” it wrote. “Prior to KeySpan, we had permitted companies to make modifications to liquefied natural gas facilities without requiring that existing facilities be upgraded to comply with contemporary regulatory requirements.”

Scott Blake is PBN staff writer. Email him at Blake@PBN.com.