A protester holds up a sign calling for state officials to halt plans for the Killingly plant. The protest took place in 2019. Photo courtesy of Not Another Power Plant

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has agreed to a request by the regional electric grid operator — ISO-New England — to keep the proposed natural gas power plant in Killingly out of its future plans.

“Based on a review of the record, including the confidential information provided by ISO-NE and NTE (Killingly’s owner), we find that the relevant condition for termination … has been met,” FERC wrote in a decision released Monday.

In November, ISO-NE had requested that FERC allow it to remove the plant from consideration in its next round for choosing future power sources, set for Feb. 7. ISO-NE had argued that NTE had missed key milestone dates for development and therefore the grid operator was no longer required to consider it for future power capacity obligations.

FERC agreed despite NTE’s protests. “We do not agree with NTE that ISO-NE’s requested termination is premature or based on faulty assumptions. We are persuaded by the evidence provided by ISO-NE that, the milestone date revisions indicate that Killingly will not have achieved all of its critical path schedule milestones, including commercial operation, until after June 1, 2024, i.e., more than two years after June 1, 2022 — the beginning of the 2022-2023 Capacity Commitment Period,” FERC wrote.

In an emailed statement, NTE said: “We are very disappointed and do not agree with FERC’s decision. The Killingly Energy Center is important for grid reliability, and we will continue to work to be the bridge for the region’s carbon-free future. We are currently evaluating our options to keep this important project moving forward.”

However, without a commitment from ISO-NE to use the 650 megawatts the plant would have supplied, building the Killingly Energy Center would likely be a less economically viable project. ISO-NE has always said that just because it had committed to Killingly didn’t mean it would necessarily be built – noting that many projects it commits to are abandoned.

ISO said in November that NTE would have the option to re-enter Killingly in the capacity market at a later time but would need to begin the qualification process for new resources again.

Killingly has been in the crosshairs of environmental advocates for six years. They have argued broadly that it is not needed and more specifically that it is counter-productive to Connecticut’s mandate for a 100% zero-carbon electric sector by 2040 and its other climate change reduction goals.

“We are happy that FERC agreed with ISO on termination. I hope we can put this behind us,” said Samantha Dynowski, state director of the Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club, one of the key opposition groups.

But she noted there is still an application before the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection for the pipeline that would bring the gas to the plant. DEEP has long said that it is limited in what it can reject.

“This closes the chapter on the project and it is now time to focus on market changes that will support a clean and reliable grid of the future,” said a DEEP spokesman in an email. “We have not evaluated if the recent FERC decision changes our tentative notice of determination to approve the (pipeline) application.”

DEEP did not respond to the question of whether it needed more authority to be able to reject plants like Killingly in the future.

“If DEEP feels they don’t have the tools to reject these sorts of projects, we need to put those tools in place,” Dynowski said. “It highlights the fact that ISO favors fossil fuels over renewables – so we need reform at ISO also.

“I hope we learned some lessons for Connecticut and the region,” she said.

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Jan Ellen is CT Mirror's regular freelance Environment and Energy Reporter. As a freelance reporter, her stories have also appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Yale Climate Connections, and elsewhere. She is a former editor at The Hartford Courant, where she handled national politics including coverage of the controversial 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. She was an editor at the Gazette in Colorado Springs and spent more than 20 years as a TV and radio producer at CBS News and CNN in New York and in the Boston broadcast market. In 2013 she was the recipient of a Knight Journalism Fellowship at MIT on energy and climate. She graduated from the University of Michigan and attended Boston University’s graduate film program.