Ocean State power plant under review after equipment failure

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BURRILLVILLE, RI — Ocean State Power has again come under scrutiny after a circuit breaker blew at an adjacent substation last weekend.

The utility, owned by New York-based LS Power Equity Partners, operates a 508-megawatt plant near the state’s northern border with Massachusetts, generating its electricity by burning methane gas.

Alan Henry, a 30-year-old resident on West Ironstone Road, told ecoRI News he heard a loud bang or explosion at 4.30pm on Saturday. “I went to the window to see what I could,” he said. “I didn’t see any smoke or fire.”

Harrisville Fire District Chief Mike Gingell said the noise was caused by a circuit breaker tripping at a nearby substation. “When a circuit breaker trips in your house, nobody hears anything,” he said. “To put it simply, when the circuit breaker tripped, unrelated to Ocean State Power, it made a big bang of the biggest [electric] son.”

According to Gingell, the department was automatically alerted when the power plant went offline. “There was no incident of firefighters other than this response,” he said.

The power plant was built in 1990, amid strong opposition, and is now one of the oldest existing power plants in the state.

Kathy Martley said it was difficult for residents to verify the incident. “It’s silent in this town,” she said.

Martley is a member of BASE (Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion), a community group opposed to fossil fuel infrastructure. Originally formed in 2014 to oppose the now-defunct fractured Burrillville gas plant proposed by Invenergy, the group advocates for the removal of all fossil fuel infrastructure, including Ocean State Power.

Earlier this year, city officials signed a new deal with LS Power, which will pay a reduced tax rate for the next six years, estimated to be around $2.1 million. The tax treaty replaces the current agreement, under which LS Power paid the city $2.6 million a year.

“Burrillville weighs big with this power plant as its source of tax money and isn’t putting its eggs in another basket,” Martley said.

The exact cause of the power plant failure remains a mystery. Steven Arabia, a spokesman for LS Power, declined to comment or answer further questions about the incident.

This is not the first problem at the Sherman Farm Road power plant. State records show Ocean State Power paid a $5,000 fine in 2010 for “numerous violations” related to its air license. The plant also exceeded its carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions several times between 2017 and 2021.

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) said the facility had several “minor exceedances” — five in total — between 2018 and 2020. It has not violated its air permit since late 2020, at the exception of minor opacity and the Environmental Protection Agency has been notified of the cases, according to DEM.

DEM also confirmed that Ocean State Power’s aerial permit expired in 2017, but noted that the company was still bound by the terms of its original permit, even though it had not applied for a new one.


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