Momentum Builds for Power Plant Opponents

Burrillville, R.I., residents of all ages protested the proposed power plant during a May 23 hearing at the high school. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Burrillville, R.I., residents of all ages protested the proposed power plant during a May 23 hearing at the high school. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Text and video by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — The third public hearing since March 31 once again drew a capacity crowd, with most expressing a passionate disapproval for the natural-gas power plant proposed by Chicago-based Invenergy.

“Invenergy, please go away. I ask you nicely, we don’t need you in our town,” resident Lynn Clark said during the four-hour speaking session held May 23 in the Burrillville High School auditorium.

Opponents, most wearing yellow and red stickers and T-shirts that simply stated “No,” outnumbered supporters more than 6 to 1, focusing on issues such as impacts on nearby parks, campgrounds and wildlife. Many criticized Gov. Gina Raimondo's support for the Clear River Energy Center; others presented documents by the state Department of Environmental Management and Invenergy that contradicted any need for a fossil-fuel plant.

Resident Donald Champiany read from a 2011 blog post by Invenergy CEO and founder Michael Polsky that voiced support for renewable energy over polluting fossil-fuel power.

“What a hypocrite. But in this case he wants to use a contaminated water supply,” Champiany said.

The polluted water supply is the infamous public well closed by the state Department of Health after it was contaminated by a leaking underground gas tank in the 1990s. Several residents spoke against Invenergy’s plan to use the water to cool the 900-plus-megawatt power plant.

“Opening this monster is like unsealing an open wound,” said resident Debbie Craig, who recounted friends who left the village of Pascoag after being sickened by the contaminated well water.

Most supporters of the $700-million project represented unions, and urged the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) to approve the project and its 300 construction jobs.

Paul Lander, of the Rhode Island Carpenters Union, said the project will be safe and built correctly to minimize environmental damage. “Hold them accountable and it will be done right,” he told the EFSB.

Several union members, however opposed the project. Resident Ron Lizotte, a member of the Teamsters, said if the power plant is built a hospital should also be built, for all of the sick people.

“This is not the place for a power plant,” he said.

Resident Erin Olkowski said building the state’s largest power plant is not a local or NIMBY issue but a state issue. “In a state 48 miles long, this is all in our backyard,” she said.

The hearing was the first of many related events this week. There is a hearing for new bill that could derail the project scheduled for May 26. If passed, the legislation would allow local voters to decide the fate of the project by approving or denying any tax deal.

It would create uncertainty for Invenergy and likely cause the Illinois company to pull its plans for the project, according to Jerry Elmer of the Conservation Law Foundation.

A rally by opponents of the project is planned prior to the May 26 hearing outside the Statehouse.

Invenergy's development director, John Niland, speaks at a Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce breakfast on May 26. The event is open to the public. 

The EFSB plans to hold another public hearing June 30 in Warwick, followed by another hearing in September or October. A decision on the project is expected by February at the latest.