Rhode Island Power Plants by Carol Masiello

 

Misery loves company and in the world of electric deregulation nothing is truer. Deregulation promised competitive pricing and lower electric bills for Rhode Islanders but years later many see those promises as being unfulfilled. A representative for the Energy Project for the National Conference of State Legislatures observed that electrical deregulation has been a flop for most of the 25 states that have tried it. When deregulation began in 1998, all Rhode Island customers had access to the competitive market but rampant mergers dwindled the choices. Customers could remain with the Standard Offer Service but those that tried the competitive market returned disillusioned. (As of 2001, competitive suppliers were serving only 0.5% of RI customers) In 2002, after years of frustration with the system, Rhode Island House Speaker John Harwood introduced a bill that would revamp the stateís competitive electricity market. The bill aimed to change the fact that 99% of the state's electricity customers continue to buy from the default utility provider (Narragansett Electric) and it would allow Rhode Island municipalities to set up aggregations to help customers benefit from a large economy of scale, and (hopefully) purchase power at a lower rate. The price Rhode Island consumers pay for electricity has risen five times since June of 2000, an increase of 66%.

Power plant proliferation was not as serious an issue on the Rhode Island side of the border as it was in Massachusetts. Rhode Islanders have had more battles against the new plants in Massachusetts than in their home state. Three plants have been proposed for the valley side of the RI line and only two have been built. Ocean State Power was the first to come into the valley (1985) and broach a new environmentally friendly type of power plant, a gas fired combined cycle plant. Burrillville officials were happy about OSPís plans to build two plants on 40 acres of land owned by Blackstone Valley Electric off of Sherman Farm Road. The project would more than double the townís tax base, Burriville would get $73 million dollars in taxes over 20 years. Each year's payment equals about 10 percent of the town's budget. In effect, the payments lower the tax rate by $4 to $5 per thousand dollars of assessed valuation. Uxbridge and Burriville residents launched a campaign against the plant, hiring lawyers who questioned the environmental impact of placing a power plant in a wooded rural neighborhood surrounded by four conservation areas. Their main concerns were emissions, what type of fuel oil would be used as a backup and what would happen to all the steam vapor generated from the four million gallons of water used daily taken from the Blackstone River. Power companies at the time were not congenial to buyout plans or concessions, so the battle for a compromise from OSP was a long one. Eventually OSP agreed to a $400,000 buyout of properties within a half-mile of the plant in Burriville and Uxbridge, although OSP strongly felt that there were no health issues and that there would be no loss of property value. Of the 65 properties eligible for buyout in 1991, Ocean State Power purchased 26. Since then, Ocean State Power has been able to pick its new neighbors and has resold homes that it bought. The OSP/ Burriville Community Foundation got $12 million dollars for civic projects over a span of 20 years along with a scholarship fund of $2.1 million dollars for 20 years. In addition, Ocean State Power has a 20-year agreement with the Harrisville Fire and Water District totaling $1.46 million. Over 20 years Ocean State Power's charitable giving will total $2.4 million. There have been a few problems with the plant over the years. In 1994, a backup oil storage tank leaked 9,700 gallons from a million-gallon storage tank. In March 1994, a muriatic (hydrochloric) acid spill caused the formation of a vapor cloud, which led to the evacuation of about 50 people in nearby homes. During the drought of 1997, an Uxbridge trucking company was fined for illegally taking water out of a local Uxbridge reservoir, causing neighboring wells to go dry. The water was being drained to help meet OSPís high daily water demand.