FERC backs ISO-NE nix of ’21-’22 capacity contract for proposed Burrillville power plant

BURRILLVILLE – In another setback for a proposed $1 billion natural gas-burning power plant in Burrillville, federal officials have accepted a decision by the New England region’s power grid operator to cancel a key contract with the project.

In the ruling late Monday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission accepted ISO New England’s ruling to cancel its capacity supply obligation with Chicago-based Invenergy for the company’s proposed 1,080-megawatt Clear River Energy Center in the northwest corner of Rhode Island.

In doing so, the commission also denied Invenergy’s request for a waiver of ISO New England’s decision to cancel. Capacity supply obligations are auctioned by ISO New England for upcoming years, in part, to ensure the grid has enough energy for a certain period of time.

The decision cancels Clear River’s agreement for ISO New England’s 2021-2022 capacity commitment period only, and does not affect potential future agreements after 2022.

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In backing the cancellation, the commission also noted its decision does not address whether the proposed plant is needed.

“Our decision to accept ISO-NE’s request and deny Invenergy’s waiver should not be construed as a determination by the commission that the Clear River project is not needed, as that question is not before us,” it wrote.

The proposed Burrillville plant has been opposed by a coalition of residents, environmentalists and others.

Despite the ruling, Invenergy said it intends to push ahead with the project.

“We respect FERC’s decision on ISO-NE Tariff provisions and the CSO termination filing. This ruling does not impact the future of the project or Invenergy’s commitment to Rhode Island,” Invenergy spokewoman Beth Conley said in a statement Tuesday.

“While delays have shifted our timeline, the permitting process continues, and we’re confident this important affordable energy source for Rhode Island will be built,” she said. “As power prices in Rhode Island rise to the highest in the country, including the cold weather price spike happening this week, the need for this project is only growing.”

Meanwhile, the company’s application for a construction permit is still pending before the Rhode Island Energy Facilities Siting Board. The board had postponed public hearings on it while the commission’s ruling was pending.

“Invenergy states that, beyond the $44 million that it has already spent, it is committed to funding an additional $60 million in upgrades to National Grid’s transmission system, but that it cannot prudently agree to fully fund those upgrades until the Rhode Island Siting Board issue’s Clear River’s permit,” the commission noted.

ISO New England has said it sought to cancel its power supply agreement with Invenergy because the project has been delayed and it does not believe it is likely that the Burrillville plant will be completed by June 1, 2022, the start of its next capacity commitment period. The grid operator has said the Clear River project site remains undeveloped and it is unclear whether, or when, the Siting Board will approve the permits.

The commission concluded that allowing Invenergy’s capacity supply obligation to remain in effect would have “undesirable consequences” for both power grid system planning and energy market pricing.

Invenergy has argued it was making progress with the project, obtaining a capacity agreement with ISO New England in 2016, until “an opposition campaign by local and outside parties” led to Pascoag Utility District canceling a letter of intent to develop a water supply plan for the plant.

That, coupled with delays in obtaining an alternative water source, led to delays before the Siting Board, the company has said.

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