The Connecticut Supreme Court upheld state approval for Florida-based NTE Energy to build a $700 million, 650-MW gas-fired power plant and dismissed opponents’ claim that regulators should not have approved the project without also considering environmental impacts of necessary upgrades to a feeder natural gas pipeline.
The court ruled Sept. 28 that the Connecticut Siting Council properly refused to consider environmental impacts of installing a natural gas pipeline to the proposed plant when weighing the project’s public benefit.
While a lower court had also found the council was not required to consider environmental effects of the pipeline, two high court judges did not support the three-member majority's vote.
The plant is proposed in the town of Killingly, on the state’s eastern border with Rhode Island, for utility owner Eversource.
About 2.5 miles of an existing pipeline running through wetlands would have to be upgraded to expand its volume to serve the power plant, but the upgrades have not been proposed and details are not available.
The court rejected opponents’ claims that the siting council improperly segmented the generating plant from the pipeline to avoid a comprehensive review of the total project’s overall environmental impact. The lower court acknowledged that the two are “intertwined” and the power plant can’t function without the pipeline but noted that line upgrades also will need council review.
Judges said St. Augustine-based NTE must develop a plan to restore the site if pipeline upgrades are not approved but plant construction begins.
Opponents argued that Eversource could ask for a declaratory ruling from the council that the pipeline would not have a substantial adverse environmental effect and not need its approval.
The high court ruled based on state law that says the council needs to consider only the environmental impacts of the plant together with other “existing” facilities and not the impact of nonexistent facilities. “We recognize that, as a purely practical matter, the council cannot consider the actual environmental impact of a future project, the nature and scope of which is indeterminate and that has not yet even been proposed,” the court majority said.
But the ruling also said that the law does not mean that the council must ignore that a proposed plant will depend on future existence of another facility that may well have a significant adverse environmental effect. It added that the regulator could find that the plant’s benefit is “entirely speculative” since there is a “significant likelihood that the second future facility will not be approved.”
The law also does not prohibit the council from considering the two proposals together, the high court said. The two dissenting justices said the council should have used its discretion to consider the potential environmental impact of the future gas pipeline.
NTE proposed the plant in 2016 and won state approval in 2019, with plans to have it operational in 2020.
Glastonbury, Conn.-based Gemma Power Systems was selected as plant EPC contractor in 2020. Its contract value was not disclosed. The firm ranks at No. 329 on ENR's Top 400 Contractors list, reporting $268.1 million in 2020 revenue. The plant’s power train contract was awarded to Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas.
The Killingly project, if built, would be the first major natural gas plant constructed in Connecticut since 2018.
Mary Miller, an atorney for the opponent group, Not Another Power Plant,, said it "was pleased that the court encouraged a 'full and fair consideration of the [pipeline expansion] issue' by all permitting authorities in the days, and possibly years, to come" She added that the group "still considers the pipeline expansion to be a grave threat and will continue to do all it can to protect the valuable environmental resources in its anticipated path."