Invenergy says its proposed $700-million natural gas-fired power plant in Burrillville would be the most efficient generator of electricity that burns fossil fuels in New England.
The plan to build the huge facility — dubbed the Clear River Energy Center — will be formally announced Tuesday at a news conference with Governor Raimondo and Michael Polsky, chief executive of Chicago-based Invenergy, which has developed 9,000 megawatts of solar, wind and gas projects in Europe and North America since 2001.
If all goes as planned and the project receives approval from the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board, construction of the 900-megawatt combined-cycle generator in the northwest corner of the state would start next year and the facility would be up and running by 2019 when it would start selling power to the New England electric grid.
The plant would burn a fossil fuel — natural gas, but, said John Niland, of Invenergy, it would be as clean as possible by using the latest technology to maximize efficiency and reduce wastage. The facility would have two turbines powered by gas and a third turbine powered by steam created by harnessing the waste heat from the gas generators.
“It is the most efficient way to generate power using a fossil fuel,” said Niland, director of business development for the company.
And because it plans to sell power from the facility to the grid at a relatively low price, Invenergy expects it to displace older, less-efficient power plants that burn oil, coal or gas. The net result, the company says, would be an overall reduction in New England’s pollutants, including the carbon dioxide that is driving climate change.
If the facility were in operation today, it would reduce total carbon emissions from the region’s power plants by 9 percent, nitrogen oxides by 22 percent and sulfur dioxides by 25 percent, according to numbers calculated by a consultant to Invenergy.
That’s notable because on Monday President Obama put forward the Clean Power Plan for the nation, a state-by-state program that aims to dramatically cut emissions from power plants. Invenergy says the project is consistent with the new federal plan.
Rhode Island energy commissioner Marion Gold called the Invenergy proposal a “stepping stone” to a clean energy future for the state. She said that although the ultimate goal is to develop renewable sources of power, burning natural gas, which emits about half the carbon of coal, can lead to an overall decrease in pollutants.
Gold pointed to the approximately 40 percent reduction in emissions over the last decade in Rhode Island and the eight other Northeastern states that are members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. That drop came primarily from switching to gas as a fuel source from coal.
But not everyone is supportive of the Burrillville plant. Fighting Against Natural Gas, a regional advocacy group, is planning a protest outside the State House during the governor’s event.
“With climate change happening now, investing in more fossil fuels is immoral,” the group said on its Facebook page.
Invenergy’s power plant would be located on about 20 acres approximately a third of a mile southwest of Wallum Lake Road and adjacent to a compressor station operated by Spectra Energy on the Algonquin natural gas pipeline. (The land Invenergy is interested in is also owned by Spectra.)
The proximity to the pipeline — one of two major lines that supply gas to New England — was a key reason Invenergy chose the Burrillville location. The others were the closeness of high-voltage transmission lines that would require only minor improvements for interconnection and an adequate water supply for cooling that would come from a well owned by the Pascoag Utility District that was contaminated more than a decade ago and can no longer be used for human consumption.
The proposal comes at a time when the nation’s supply of natural gas is plentiful but the transport of the fuel to New England is problematic. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — a highly controversial method of extraction that uses a high-pressure mix of water and chemicals — has freed up previously unreachable stores of gas in shale fields in Pennsylvania and New York, but the pipelines into the six New England states are operating at capacity.
The constraints are a result of the region’s increasing reliance on gas for power generation. Gas was used to fuel only 15 percent of electric generation in 2000, but that figure has hovered between 40 percent and 50 percent in the past few years, according to Independent System Operator New England, which manages the region’s power grid.
While heating suppliers sign contracts to lock in capacity on the pipelines, power generators generally do not. That has meant that in recent winters when the temperature has plummeted and gas use has been at its highest, gas-fired generators have had to shut down or switch to more expensive fuels. As a result, electric prices on the spot market in the region have gone through periodic spikes.
Invenergy would get around the problem of tight supplies by taking the highly unusual step of buying guaranteed capacity on the Algonquin line. The company is currently in talks with Spectra, which would have to replace portions of its pipeline to ensure adequate supply to the power plant.
“We will configure the project so that no additional constraints are created on the pipeline,” Niland said.
He also said the project would help fill a hole created by the retirements of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station, Brayton Point Power Station and other older facilities in New England. ISO New England expects to lose about 3,500 megawatts of generating capacity by 2018.
– The Clear River Energy Center has the ability to make a difference because of its size. It would be more than three times the capacity of the gas-fired Tiverton Power Plant and nearly twice that of the Manchester Street Station in Providence, which also burns gas.
Few gas-fired power plants are as large as the Burrillville facility. It would be by far the biggest Invenergy has ever built.
“It is a lot of megawatts,” Niland said.
This article was written by Alex Kuffner from The Providence Journal and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.