Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
WARWICK, R.I. — The fate of the proposed Burrillville power plant has been pushed back three months, frustrating opponents of the $700 million project.
The Oct. 13 decision by the state Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) to afford Invenergy Thermal Development LLC 90 additional days to find a source of water for its proposed fossil-fuel facility was met with disappointment by critics of the natural-gas project.
“The fix is in,” “shame” and “Merry Christmas” were shouted by the 20 or so opponents of the Clear River Energy Center, after the decision was announced. Many sang Peter Seeger's “We Shall Overcome” as they marched from the hearing room.
Attorneys representing the town of Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) lobbied the EFSB in the days and hours before the hearing, saying the Chicago-based company had passed its deadline to complete its application.
Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for CLF, said Invenergy had ample time to fulfill its promise of finding a water source to cool the nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant. Without a known water supply, a dozen reports by town departments and state agencies are incomplete and therefore the entire project can't be judged, he said.
“We think the time has come to dismiss the docket,” Elmer said.
Burrillville town attorney Michael McElroy noted that the EFSB granted Invenergy a 30-day extension in September to file a water plan. Invenergy’s application is therefore incomplete and out of compliance, he said.
“Suspending the docket instead of dismissing it would amount to a gift to Invenergy of an indefinite extension,” McElroy said. “A suspension would only benefit Invenergy.”
Invenergy attorney Alan Shoer argued that a letter of intent to supply water from the Pascoag Utility District was denied too late in the application process to find an alternative. A second water district denied access to public water soon after. Shoer noted that both the Ocean State Power center in Burrillville and the Manchester Street power plant in Providence were granted lengthy delays to find sources of water during their application process.
“So there is precedence with the board’s own decisions with this type of circumstance,” Shoer said.
EFSB member Janet Coit said the rules allow for stopping the clock on the application process and that there is still time for public scrutiny of its merits.
Opponents cried out “Why?” after EFSB member Parag Agrawal said, “I do not want to indefinitely suspend this application, but want to give enough time to the applicant to come up with a water plan.”
The EFSB voted 3-0 to grant the suspension with a status update in 60 days.
After EFSB's decision, Burrillville town officials were dismayed. Town Council president John Pacheco III said he felt disgusted by the ruling.
The crowd of opponents muttered throughout the hearing, saying that the process had gone on long enough and that Invenergy missed key deadlines.
“We fail students who don’t do their homework,” said power-plant opponent Peter Nightingale, a professor at the University of Rhode Island.
Elmer reminded the board that Invenergy said in January it had ample time to find water and that the company must live with its decision to enter into a nonbinding agreement for water a year ago with the Pascaog Utility District.
“Invenergy made a careful conscious deliberate decision that made very tight, strict statutory deadlines for things happening before they had a secure water source,” Elmer said.
Invenergy, therefore, knew it would have a short time line to have its application completed and ruled on. “That was their choice and they ought to live with their choice,” Elmer said.
“They should not be allowed to profit by their own mistake,” McElroy said.
The hearing began with a letter from Burrillville attorneys requesting that the EFSB dismiss, rather than suspend, Invenergy’s application for failing to name a water source. That was followed by new testimony from a surprising source. In a rare public stance by The Nature Conservancy, Scott Comings, associate state director of its Rhode Island office, said, “Invenergy’s proposed Clear River Energy Center would do such harm to Rhode Island’s ecology, its biodiversity, and its resilience to climate change that we are compelled to oppose this new power plant.”
On Oct. 4, the EFSB called for the show-cause hearing because of Invenergy's incomplete application. Previously, both Burrillville and the CLF filed motions to dismiss the application due to a lack of a named water source for the proposed natural-gas/diesel power plant.
Attention is recent weeks has turned to Woonsocket as an alternative source for a water supply. Woonsocket officials and the City Council have denied that a new power plant is planned for that city but have been fairly quiet on the issue of providing water for the Burrillville project.
“The position I’m taking now is that I can’t comment at this time,” said Blake Collins, spokesman for the city.
Collins said the matter isn't expected to be addressed at the City Council's Oct. 17 meeting.