Invenergy Hearing at the Public Utilities Commission

Jerry Elmer

Starting on Monday, July 25, 2016, the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is hearing Docket #4609 about the proposal from Invenergy to build a new 900-megawatt fossil-fuel power plant in Burrillville, Rhode Island. The PUC is considering two specific questions about the Invenergy proposal: (a) is the plant needed for the reliability of the electricity grid (that is “to keep the lights on”); and (b) what would the impacts of the plant be on electricity ratepayers (that is, on you and me)? At the end of Docket #4609, the PUC will give an Advisory Opinion on those two questions to the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB), which will make the ultimate ruling on whether or not to grant Invenergy a permit.

CLF is addressing both issues by presenting evidence and expert witnesses on those subjects at the PUC next week.

The testimony of CLF’s expert witness, Robert Fagan, is that the Invenergy plant is not needed. You can see Fagan’s testimony on the PUC website, here. As you can read, Fagan says that the plant is not needed at all [page 7, lines 12–18]; is specifically not needed in the short or medium term [page 3, line 28, to page 5, line 5; page 11, lines 10–15]; and is also not needed in the long term [page 27, line 17, to page 33, line 7].

Fagan’s testimony takes into account all of the expected future retirements of dirty old coal, oil, and nuclear plants that Invenergy talks about as a way of trying to scare the PUC into coming to a contrary opinion. Fagan also testifies that there are cleaner, economically viable alternatives to Invenergy in the form of energy efficiency and clean renewable energy projects. [Page 5, line 6, to page 6, line 1; page 12, line 8, to page 27, line 16.]

The testimony of CLF’s other expert witness, Christopher T. Stix, is about the wildly misleading figures that Invenergy has presented about supposed ratepayer savings from its plant. I have written before about Stix’s testimony, and that earlier blog contains a link to the testimony itself.

Thus, there are three main issues in the case. As noted above, one issue is whether the plant is needed, and a second issue is what the ratepayer impacts will be. Those issues can get really technical, and people discussing those issues often use a lot of jargon that is hard to understand.

But CLF’s main issue in the case is the environmental issue, and our position can be stated very simply, using short words and no technical jargon:

If the Invenergy plant is built, it will be impossible for Rhode Island ever to meet its short-, medium-, or long-term carbon-emission-reduction goals.

That is the gist of CLF’s final expert witness, Dr. Timmons Roberts, in the EFSB. (You can read Dr. Roberts’ blog on the plant’s climate impacts here.)

CLF’s plan for the overall case (in both forums, the PUC and the EFSB) is simple: We want our witnesses Robert Fagan and Christopher Stix to dispel the myths that have been spun by Invenergy: that the plant is needed to keep the lights on and that it will have vast ratepayer benefits. Then, we will ask the EFSB to deny Invenergy a building permit based on the carbon emissions.

In other words, if Invenergy’s claims about the need for the plant and the ratepayer benefits were true – which they most assuredly are not – this would be a different case. If the Invenergy plant really was needed to keep the lights on – which it is not – it could be hard for the EFSB to deny Invenergy a permit, despite the obviously terrible consequences for climate change.

But the Invenergy plant is not needed, and Invenergy has lied about the ratepayer benefits. CLF believes that after we have demonstrated those facts, it will be easier for the EFSB to ultimately deny Invenergy a permit.

In my next blog, I will discuss that third issue, carbon emissions, and I will do so without jargon!

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