By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
WARWICK, R.I. — The rules and players involved in the approval process for the proposed Burrillville power plant has narrowed. On Jan. 29, the two-member Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) voted down several groups and individuals seeking to litigate in the approval process.
Burrillville Land Trust, Rhode Island Progressive Democrats of America, Fight Against Natural Gas, Burrillville Against Spectra Energy, Sister Mary Pendergast, Fossil Free Rhode Island and Occupy Providence were all denied status to intervene in the proceedings.
EFSB chairwoman Margaret Curran and board member Janet Coit said they rejected the parties because they wouldn’t be directly impacted by the power plant or would otherwise be represented by other entities. They said environmental concerns would be addressed through their vetting of the application and the permitting process being done by the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) and the Department of Environmental Management (DEM).
“The simple allegation, however heartfelt, is simply not enough to warrant entry as a party,” Curran said.
Coit said future public hearings allow all voices to be heard. “There is ample opportunity for public input, which we welcome and will consider,” she said.
Although public comment wasn’t permitted, two of the disenfranchised parties expressed their disappointment to the board. Peter Nightingale of Fossil Free Rhode Island interrupted the meeting and was led from the room by security, after announcing that the EFSB may have “acted in accordance with twisted statuary law, but government in that case will have failed in its fiduciary duty to protect our natural resources, air, land and water.”
Patricia Fontes of Occupy Providence then approached the lectern. “Remember Flint, Michigan,” she said. “The poor will die first and they have had no voice in the process.”
Two couples living across from the entrance to the proposed Clear River Energy Center were approved to participate in the decision process. Paul and Mary Bolduc and Dennis and Kathryn Sherman both oppose the project, because of health and environmental risks and potential harm to their property values.
Paul Bolduc, a 37-year resident of Wallum Lake Road, is particularly concerned about the use of polluted well water as a coolant at the power plant. In September 2001, underground storage tanks at a gas station in the nearby village of Pascoag leaked an unspecified volume of the now-banned gasoline additive methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE). The leak closed Pascoag’s only public water supply. Now, Invenergy, the developer of the power plant, wants to use that water to cool turbines at its 1,000-megawatt energy facility.
Bolduc wants assurances that steam emissions will not spread MTBE. He’s also dubious of a promise by Invenergy to clean the tainted water and discharge it into the municipal sewage system.
“It’s not good for this town,” he said. “I want to know how I’m protected.”
Pendergast, a nun and ecology director for the International Sisters of Mercy chapter in Cumberland, said the permitting process doesn’t address the ethics of a polluting power plant. She intends to pursue the issue by joining with the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), the only environmental advocacy group allowed to participate in the case.
The EFSB also denied a motion by the CLF asking that the board consider the state’s climate-emission-reduction goals in its decision. Coit said the EFSB doesn’t need to address the issue, “but it will impact our decision making on this application.”
“Our request was aimed at addressing all future proceedings at the EFSB, not just this specific proceeding,” wrote Jerry Elmer, a CLF senior attorney, after meeting in a blog post. “The carbon-emission-reduction provisions of the Resilient Rhode Island Act are now the law in Rhode Island, and the best way to put those provisions into effect is by writing them into the EFSB rules. CLF regrets that its request was denied.”
The hearing concluded without any decisions regarding the merits of the power plant. But the two-member board did approve measures seeking advisory opinions from several state agencies and groups. The Public Utilities Commission and the Office of Energy Resources will comment on the power plant’s role in the energy landscape. The Division of Planning will consider consistency with the state guide plan and state energy plan, and the socio-economic impacts. DEM, with help from the Executive Climate Change Coordinate Council, will advise on climate-change adaptation and mitigation. DEM also will be asked for opinions regarding fuel storage, impacts on fish and wildlife, water quality, compliance with the recent federal Clean Power Plan, and impacts on the regional cap-and-trade program, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
The state Department of Health will address public health, drinking water, power lines and wildlife. The state Department of Transportation will advise on utility permits for physical alteration, as well as traffic impacts and power-line detours during construction. The Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission will be asked if exceptions will be granted on historic land.
The Burrillville Planning Board will be asked for opinions relating to land use and noise impacts during construction and operation. The town building inspector will advise on erosion, sediment control and other municipal ordinances. The Burrillville Board of Review will provide information on variances and special-use permits. The tax assessor will advise on property taxes and the impact on abutters.
The Pascoag Utility District will be asked about water use.
The first hearing that allows public input is scheduled for March 31 at 6 p.m. in Burrillville. The site is either the high school or middle school. The Public Utilities Commission will host another hearing on an undetermined date. DEM and CRMC also will hold hearing public hearings, according to Coit.
Coit also noted that pending approval, the executive director of the state Planning Division will soon fill the vacant third seat on the EFSB.