By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff
Paul Roselli has spent much of the past three months traveling Rhode Island and speaking with anyone who is willing to listen. His one-man barnstorming tour, though, isn’t meant to entertain. It’s about sharing information regarding the controversial plan to build a fossil-fuel power plant in the woods of northern Rhode Island.
Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC has proposed building a 900-megawatt natural-gas/diesel power plant in Burrillville. There has been plenty of opposition to the plan, and Roselli, while an opponent, is focused on providing Rhode Islanders with facts.
“What’s amazing to me is how perception becomes reality,” Roselli said during a recent coffee-shop interview with ecoRI News. “We’re building it because we need it. It will make electricity prices cheaper. It’s a perfect place to build because a gas line is already there. The town must want it because the Town Council approved the tax deal.
“We have to do away with those perceptions. They’re not reality.”
Roselli’s free “Learn the Facts” talks are sponsored by the Burrillville Land Trust and the Rhode Island Association of Conservation Commissions. It took the Burrilliville resident about 60 hours to put the presentation together, and more time scheduling talks.
Once he arrives, Roselli sets up the screen, projector, computer and sound system, and then talks and takes questions for the next 1-2 hours.
As of Feb. 8, the president of the Burrillville Land Trust had given 33 talks, in such communities as Barrington, Cranston, Middletown, Newport, Wakefield and Woonsocket. He's also held a talk in Uxbridge, Mass., and Thompson, Conn. Audience sizes have ranged from five to 105, and have included environmentalists, legislators, policymakers and Invenergy officials.
The facts, however, remain the same.
If built, the Invenergy power plant would be the largest new energy project in New England, and at a time when global, regional, state and municipal interests are shifting away from fossil fuels for electricity production, as renewable-energy programs grow and solar power becomes cheaper per megawatt than fossil fuels.
Roselli said most of the information he presents comes from the project application submitted by Invenergy and from testimony at hearings.
“It’s their facts and figures,” he said. “I basically read their information out loud.”
The presentation includes facts about emissions, water use, taxes, environmental impacts and what the proposed power plant will look like.
For instance, Roselli talks about the perception that electric rates will be reduced. He quotes from Invenergy testimony that says, “Savings will be small but meaningful.” Using Invenergy’s own testimony, he explains to the audience that means 1 percent to 4 percent savings during the first three years, although those savings aren’t guaranteed.
“If your monthly electric bill is a hundred dollars, you could save four dollars, one dollar or nothing,” he said. “Those are the types of things we go through and discuss.”
He also points out other realities, such as the proposed power plant’s enlarged footprint. A new water system to cool the fossil-fuel facility has added another 18-20 acres to the project, increasing its size from 64 acres to about 84.
He notes that thousands of trees will be cut down and topsoil dug out.
“They’re going to cart away stumps and topsoil and replace it with crushed rock and a red clay-like material,” Roselli said. “This cat litter-like material is for oil spills, and with a two-million-gallon tank, there is going to be leaks. The trucks coming in and out of the facility also are going to leak. Nasty chemicals from the plant will leak. There’s going to be spills.”
Roselli also notes the amount of tanker-truck traffic has been terribly underestimated. The proposed Clear River Energy Center will store 2 million gallons of diesel oil and 2.25 million gallons of water on-site. A typical tanker truck, Roselli notes, carries 8,000 gallons of oil or water. He calculates that to initially fill those tanks will require 250 oil deliveries and 280 water deliveries. That’s one-way truck traffic for just the first fill-ups. If the volume of natural gas to the facility is low and diesel oil needs to be burned, the 2 million gallons only lasts three days.
When the facility is running on natural gas, 11,000 gallons of water are required daily for cooling. When it’s running on oil, a considerable amount more is required to cool the power plant, nearly three-quarters of a million gallons daily.
The water deliveries likely could be coming from Johnston, which has agreed to sell water to Invenergy. Roselli notes that the trip takes 34 minutes one way — he has driven the route, Route 6 to 295 to 44 to 100, to time it — and he notes that Route 100 is a winding single-lane road that has sharp corners.
“This state is in 1960 with its mindset when it comes to energy,” Roselli said. “Gas for cars, oil for heating. We’re stuck with fossil fuels. We need to change this mindset and create an alternative reality.”
Editor's note: For more information, e-mail Paul Roselli at email@example.com.