TOM WARD - We need to stop kidding ourselves about power

TOM WARD - We need to stop kidding ourselves about power

I already know how the battle will turn out in the next decade or two between fossil fuels and sustainable energy like wind and solar. Fossil fuels will win. Why? Because they have to, or we’ll all be cold and unable to charge our phones.

It is only because we, as individuals, have not faced the pain of being without energy, that we have a spirited and sometimes nasty debate over things like the planned Clear River Energy Center power plant in Burrillville. If we were ever facing daily brownouts or blackouts to deal with electricity shortages, we’d be crying like babies, screaming for our “devices,” flat screens, and 24-7 energy freedom. So let’s stop kidding ourselves.

Putting aside Burrillville and the objections to Clear River that have been voiced there for a moment, the power plant will generate 900 megawatts of electricity in a new, state-of-the-art plant that uses far less natural gas than plants of that size in the past. As in everything else, power generation technology is improving, and using less fuel.

Think about this: Back in the 1970s, New England was turned upside-down in protest as the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant began construction near Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. After years of fighting and at a cost of $7 billion (in 1980s dollars!), Seabrook Unit 1 came online in 1990. It generates to this day 1,244 megawatts of power, and is the largest electricity generator in the region. While there are no carbon emissions at Seabrook, residents have worried about “China Syndrome”-type accidents for 27 years now, and highly toxic nuclear waste has been created.

Compare that to the proposed Burrillville plant. Clear River will generate about 72 percent of the amount of energy that comes from Seabrook, use U.S.-sourced natural gas, will never have a meltdown or nuclear accident, and at $1 billion will cost perhaps one-tenth the cost of a nuclear plant like Seabrook.

If we really want electric power (and we do, we’re spoiled), it will have to come from somewhere. In the United States, we are moving away from much dirtier coal. That’s progress. Eco-warriors, however, need to spend a moment with evidence from around the world. According to the World Health Organization, 31 of the 50 most polluted cities on earth are found in China and southeast Asia, including India.

In fairness, we used to be those countries. As the U.S. became an emerging economy back in the industrial age, we polluted our air and water, too. With our freedom and national wealth, we decided to clean the place up with the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. Asian nations are asking for what we had: A free pass on pollution until they catch up economically. Why? Because fossil fuels are so much cheaper and more predictable than solar and wind. For the next 20 years or more, that won’t change.

So why not more wind power? Well, there is this: On July 1, the Providence Journal wrote a story titled “Deepwater Wind: New project on the horizon?” In the report, the Journal wrote about proposals to build “a 90-megawatt wind farm” to supply Long Island. That’s one-tenth of what Clear River will generate. Deepwater Wind’s now complete 5-turbine test site off Block Island generates 30 megawatts of power. That means they’d need to build 150 wind turbines to equal the 900 megawatt output of Clear River in Burrillville.

Only weeks ago, the coal-fired Brayton Point in Somerset, Mass., was closed. It generated 1,200 megawatts of power. That’s gone, and another 3,000 megawatts of production is going to be shut down. An additional 6,000 megawatts are in danger of closing.

It’s true: We have more wind energy today, though neighbors of a proposed single turbine on Old Smithfield Road in North Smithfield have posted 27 “No Turbine” signs. So it’s not as easy as some would hope. And it’s also true: Solar power adoption is growing. But none of this is enough – not nearly enough – to replace fossil fuels. There is no electricity fairy.

Clear Water will come to Burrillville, or a different place. It will be a new natural gas power plant, because we insist upon unlimited access to what they give us, whether we care to admit it or not.

Ward is publisher of The Valley Breeze


This editorial is so one sided, so devoid of opposing facts, one must wonder if it was written by Invernegy themselves! Tom paints a bleak picture of electricity desperation as if any day we will run out. The folks that know say otherwise and that's why Invenergy has been unable to sell Clear River's full capacity at auction. We don't need it. The lost capacity he cites has already been taken into account and is being replaced by other plants. Also consider that the devices, the TVs he talks about (along with our light bulbs, machinery and everything else) are a lot more efficient than they were even 20 years ago. Efficiencies in wind and solar are also improving. A recent study found solar's cost per Kwh to have dropped below that of natural gas. I'm not sure what his point is about developing nations. Because Asian nations are polluting themselves to death we should do the same? Oh and I love the line "Putting aside Burrillville..." Why not? Why should the host community have any say about the biggest development in the history of their town? The State of RI agrees with you Mr. Ward. I wonder if your attitude would be the same if Invenergy had selected an alternate site they considered near Miscoe Lake in Cumberland? Boiling this down: let's build a plant we don't need on pristine land surrounded by state forest we have made a multi-generational investment in protecting, adding to our greenhouse gas emissions at a critical point in the fight against climate change. The facts make it clear that this plant makes no sense in Burrillville or anywhere else in our region.

Tom, your points are well taken and I agree with all of them. Folks who state that solar power is cheap haven't priced it out. I did. In order to power my home, the total cost commitment to me would be nearly 30K. Now, my electricity bill is less than a hundred dollars a month, so let's do the math. It would take 300 months to break even, not counting battery replacement costs, upkeep and the like. Therefore, I'm happy to continue writing a check each month.

Next, I live in Pascoag, not far from the "pristine land" that has been mentioned repeatedly. The pristine land already has a facility there to accommodate the proposed facility and until this plant became a talking point for folks outside of our town, no one knew it existed. And, Ocean State Power has been running a clean burning plant for decades not far from us as well and we have welcomed their financial support via the PILOT program. Just a few years ago the "progressives" were touting gas as the miracle "clean burning" fuel, but in the intervening years it has somehow become evil. I laugh at their obtuseness and welcome the power plant, should it be authorized.

What argument can Mr. Ward make that the power situation is so dire in New England that building a massive industrial facility on the border of a state forest is justified? He is forgetting that peace between industry and the ordinary citizens who stand guard over cherished landscapes and seascapes is a highly valuable asset in the political economy of Rhode Island. The last time the energy industry attempted a similar end-run around this long settled and productive accommodation of views was in the 1970's. In that decade, four similar energy projects were proposed for Narragansett Bay: an oil refinery in Tiverton, a nuclear power plant at Rome Point in North Kingston, a liquid natural gas import terminal for the north half of Prudence Island, and another nuclear power plant on Ninigret Pond in Charlestown. All initially had the endorsement of state's major media and political figures. Thank heaven for the future of our state's economy those projects were stopped by an outraged citizenry who arose and "saved the bay." Indeed, had those projects been built, Narragansett Bay today would be about as attractive as Bridgeport Harbor to the young tech professional class who moving to our state and building our 21st Century economy. In other words, they would all be working in Boston! Providence would be vying with Bridgeport and Fall River and New Bedford, etc, as one of the principal dead zones in New England. Talk to any one of those bright young highly educated immigrants settling here and they will all speak as one in extolling the sheer physical attractiveness of our state: a sparkling bay and a verdant forest just minutes from work and home. Our environment, on land and water, is Rhode Island's number one economic asset. Wise policy does not devalue it by setting such a threatening precedent as over-turning the entire body of state and local land-use planning to build a power plant of questionable need on the border of publicly owned recreation and conservation areas. What will be next? A power plant next to Goddard Park? Plenty of cooling water there.

Anyone reading this can see I am NOT advocating for the Clear River plant to be in Burrillville. Many are so exorcised, though, that they are prone to misread what I wrote.
"Putting aside Burrillville" means "putting aside the proposed location."
My point is this, and it remains this: Like it or not, renewables like wind and solar are not yet ready to replace fossil fuels. The remain costly, and subsidized. We do need to move in that direction, and we will. But it won't be easy. The NIMBYism against a single wind turbine on Old Smithfield Road will be found in other places onshore. We aren't west Texas; we don't have space like that. So we will continue to use fossil fuels. Where the plant will be? I don't know. That's why I wrote: "Clear Water will come to Burrillville, or a different place."
We are doing three good things: More conservation, more renewables, and less fossil fuels. But the transformation will take more time than I think most of us would prefer.

Frankly, reading the content of this editorial is akin to reading the so-called political news reports that are all the rage lately. The same talking points are reiterated over and over again in the hopes of someone of "lesser intelligence" latching onto them as fact. And referencing Projo...well, now, that takes the cake.

ACTUAL FACT: ISO-NE, the non-partisan oversight body responsible for maintaining our electric grid's stability and sufficiency has NOT been interested in purchasing all of the power that Invenergy would like to sell under the name of the "Clear River Energy Center" (sounds kind of like a nice children's museum, doesn't it?). In 2016, Invenergy was only able to sell HALF of what it wants to build in its first attempt, and NONE in this year's 2017 attempt. And that 2016 half was sold only after several rounds into the auction, resulting in a fraction of the amount that they expected - and amount to a fudge-factor surplus in the scheme of things.

ACTUAL FACT: This gas/diesel burning plant, while cleaner than previous versions of similar plants, is now known to be still dirtier than previously admitted. The infrastructure that supports this "natural gas" (oh wait, there's another euphemism - similar to the green color used in their advertising) is old and faulty, just like our roads and bridges around here, and is leaking methane across the country like a sieve. And methane is roughly 30 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. Although one might mistakenly argue that carbon dioxide must be safe, because it is "exhaled naturally as a product of breathing" - NOT IN THESE QUANTITIES! And if we cut down trees to make room for this plant, we lose the very tool we need to handle this overabundance.

ACTUAL FACT: Rhode Island is actually very energy efficient, and its energy consumption is going DOWN - and has been doing so for a decade thanks to improvements in efficiency technology. Feel free to check out the information on RI maintained at the Energy Information Administration if you don't believe me.

ACTUAL FACT: There are more "alternate energy sources" besides wind and solar. How about hydroelectric? Canada can't sell enough of it - and in a buyer's market, well, we all know what THAT means. And the Northern Pass project is in full swing, working TOGETHER with the area residents to ensure a successful project. What a novel idea!

(oh, and to let you in on a little secret...ISO-NE actually KNOWS about these inefficient - aka, cost ineffective - plants closing down...long before they actually DO...shhhh, don't tell anyone, but they factor that into their calculations, as dumb as you think they are....)

There's more, but I think that's enough for one day.

First, the Ocean State power plant site is six miles to the east of the Invenergy site, not at all close to Pascoag. Second, the site is industrially zoned, but zoned F-5 "Farming 5 acre." The "facility" already present is a compressor station for the Algonquin gas pipeline. It has been there since the 1950's and was grandfathered in as an "exception" when the town's modern zoning scheme was adopted in the early '80's. When an exception is granted, the zoning status and everything else that goes with it does not change. That land is still F-5. Third, the Invenergy site was considered and rejected as a viable alternative to the Ocean's State Power's preferred site during the OSP Environmental Impact Statement process in the '80's conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Among other negative testimony about the site which borders the George Washington-Pulaski State Forest was this summary statement from RI DEM biologist, Chris Raithel: "On the basis of what I know of these sites I have listed, this seems by far the most inappropriate location for a power plant." Mr. Raithel, and the US Fish & Wildlife Service which also deplored a power plant on this site, was referring to the bordering state forest, the Boy and Cub Scout reservation contiguous with that, and the five other state forests also contiguous: Durfee Hill Wildlife Management Area, Quaddick State Forest and Park, Buck Hill Wildlife Management Area, the Douglas State Forest, and the Mine Brook Wildlife Management Area. These privately and publicly protected lands amount to a hair over 25 square miles. So the real reality check here is comprised of two additional facts: One, the location of this plant in the middle of an area where the public has invested so much to protect it from industrial development, and protect their own access to a variety of outdoor recreation is no tempest in a teapot; it is a very big deal indeed. Second, it is a fact that the State of Rhode Island has never permitted a major or a minor industrial facility on the border of such a state forest, park or beach.

Bleeding Heard Do Gooders, especially the Tree Huggers, and others of their ilk, that are so "MY Agenda" driven that they are totally incapable of reading an article, commentary, not in line with their corrupted View and Field of Vision on an Issue.

This FACT once again clearly demonstrated as Mr. Ward, with another of his highly intelligent, thoughtful commentaries on an issue, require his making a follow-up comment, and explanation, because of those that are so lacking in Reading Comprehension Abilities he must try to hold their hand and guide them to some degree of levelheadedness and understanding

Tom...Great Article! Thank You for trying to explain it to those incapable of doing so.

But, you need to STOP banging your head against the is a complete and total waste of time. These kind are absolutely hopeless!

AGAIN...Thank You for trying!

Tom Ward, I believe you made a similar claim a while back. Like before, you dismiss a whole slew of information.

The first is the electricity ISO's own prediction of less consumption year over year. As the states and energy companies continue to roll out energy efficiency programs, consumption will naturally decrease over time. Upgrading appliances, systems, and building materials will also contribute.

Second, add in the mandated renewables program from each state and the fed. This is alone will force wind, solar, hydro, and bio to take a bigger chunk out of the market. There is a giant push for energy storage happening throughout New England, that is intended to offset peak loads and unpredictable supply.

Third, GAS. Natural gas is precious in New England. The peak electricity consumption in NE happens in summer and winter. Winter, NG plants switch to diesel or some other fuel to meet the demand. Summer totally depends on the overall weather. The rest of the year is no problem. Another NG plant means that we add to the natural gas bottleneck and gas prices increase accordingly.

As old plants are retiring, new infrastructure is coming online. Will a new, large natural gas plant be built somewhere near us. I don't know. But all the info I gather leads me a big "doubt it".

Mr. Eccleston, you missed my point; Ocean State Power has been in existence for many years and has never posed a danger to our community and has done nothing but further the interests of the town via the PILOT program we have enjoyed. I would hazard a guess that this proposed power plant would not kill off the wildlife, poison the air and pollute the town. From what I've seen and read about OSP, it's quite a clean venture and I'm sure the associated local, state and federal regulators would ensure that no harm would come to us.

We are now left with a philosophical discussion regarding whether or not the power would be bought, who would buy it, etc... And, we can agree to disagree on the use of public lands. I believe there would be no impact for folks wanting to use the public lands as the use is defined today.

Thank you, Veritas, for the civil tone of your response. I didn't miss your point about Ocean State. I totally agree! Subject to a genuine Environmental Impact Statement, the site was judged to be appropriate, and everyone---though perhaps not the immediate neighbors---has been satisfied with the decision since. A rational and thorough process arrived at a rational decision that has only been ratified more strongly by time. The point I made was that the Invenergy site is a very different case, quite far away from Ocean State, and in fact already determined, in the Ocean State EIS process, to have detrimental impact on the surrounding, mostly state-owned, forest. Now if we had a rational process today, the EFSB would again have invited a competent authority to conduct an environmental impact statement regarding the CREC. But they didn't. The EFSB might as well include a philosopher among its members because their decision making process this time around has deliberately avoided the only species of discussion that should be relevant, that of competent authorities in the ecological sciences, such as the one I quoted from the OSP case, DEM biologist Chris Raithel, whose summary statement in his testimony should give pause to thoughtful people who are inclined to support the Invenergy project. I quote it again for the reader, "On the basis of what I know of these sites listed, this seems by far the most inappropriate location for a power plant." In short, the gist of my total position: No philosophers need apply. And I'm conceding a lot with that.... Because I am familiar, chapter and verse, with the philosophers in 19th century America who gave the original impetus to the environmental preservation movement long before ecological science caught up.