Power-Plant Opponents Want Answers from Invenergy

Burrillville resident Paul Bolduc speaks with Janet Coit of the Rhode Island Energy Facilities Siting Board during a Sept. 21 public hearing. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Burrillville resident Paul Bolduc speaks with Janet Coit of the Rhode Island Energy Facilities Siting Board during a Sept. 21 public hearing. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WARWICK, R.I. — The public hearings continue in the fight to build the state’s largest power plant and many residents are still looking for answers.

On Sept. 21 the public got its first chance to tell the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) what it thought of the recent release of 12 advisory opinions, the state and local assessments that will inform the board for its decision to accept or deny the $700 million fossil-fuel project proposed for Burrillville.

During the recent listening session, most opponents focused on the Chicago-based developer’s failure to secure a water supply to cool the natural-gas/diesel power plant, a fact that was noted in six of the 12 advisory opinions.

Meg Kerr of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island said the absence of information from Invenergy Thermal Development LLC about water has prevented the habitat protection organization from rendering a complete review of the project's environmental impacts.

“We don’t have data from Invenergy. We can’t make decisions without complete information,” Kerr said during the public hearing at Toll Gate High School.

Kerr and others noted that emissions from the proposed power plant would jeopardize efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in Rhode Island.

“Adding a facility with a 40-year lifespan is not going to help us reach those goals,” Kerr said.

Burrillville resident Mary Bailey noted that the Clear River Energy Center will release up to 10,000 tons of carbon dioxide a day.

“It’s not a clean plant. If it were a clean plant they wouldn’t have to apply for a major pollution permit,” she said.

All three EFSB members attended the hearing but declined to answer questions, in particular, regarding the energy facility’s inability to follow local rules for noise and state regulations for building near wetlands.

Overall the scarcity of information and lack of accountability from Invenergy frustrated many living near the proposed site. Lifelong resident Kenneth Putnam Jr., 76, said Invenergy has yet to submit blueprints for the power plant.

“They have not given you folks or us any answers to anything they are going to do up there. They are going to be able to do anything they want because they have not told us anything,” he said.

Another opponent claimed the project would be twice the size of the Providence Place mall.

The failure of critical data prompted the town of Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation to file motions to dismiss Invenergy’s application. Invenergy, meanwhile, has sought a 30-day extension to name its water supplier.

Putnam’s son, Brian Putnam, has drilled water wells for 25 years. During that time, the water table has dropped across Burrillville, he said, noting that climate change is going to bring longer droughts and thereby reduce the local water supply even more.

John McMullan of the UA Local 51 union of plumbers and pipefitters said the nearly 1,000-megawatt project will cost $700 million to build, compared to $300 million for the 30-megawatt Deepwater Wind project off Block Island.

“We do realize that the technology and the cost is not there yet to replace an entire power plant. That’s a reality,” McMullan said.

Two more public hearings are scheduled: Oct. 3 in Burrillville and Oct. 13 in Warwick. The EFSB is expected to rule on the power plant by early 2017.