By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — After two meetings with residents and attending a jam-packed public hearing, two of the town's members of the General Assembly recently delivered blunt opposition to the proposed Invenergy power plant.
“While the proposed site may be the most economically advantageous location for the developer, the placement of this mega-facility ensures an immeasurable adverse impact on the quality of the state’s environment,” wrote Burrillville Democrats Rep. Cale Keable and Sen. Paul Fogarty in a letter to the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board, the committee deliberating over the company's application.
Keable and Fogarty emphasized the health and ecological threats posed by the $700 million project, which they referred to as a “fracked gas power plant.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Gina Raimondo, a staunch supporter of the project, seems to be taking a more open view. A day before the recent letter was released, a spokeswoman for Raimondo told ecoRI News that the governor’s stance was unchanged. A day later, the tone has shifted.
“The Governor and her team are closely monitoring the plans and listening to community feedback and concerns. We will be learning more about the health and environmental impacts of the plans as the Energy Facility Siting Board continues its review of the proposal, and reviewing those impacts carefully,” Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger wrote in an e-mail.
Aberger went on to note that long-term energy needs must still be addressed and that renewables, such as wind and solar energy, are a part of the solution.
The letter from Keable and Fohgarty underscored that a new fossil-fuel power plant in their districts won’t be a part of that energy solution. The Clear River Energy Center would be built next to a large natural-gas compressor station and within 5 miles of the Ocean State Power natural-gas facility, which was completed in 1991 and is the largest power plant in the state.
“Siting a second power plant in the same town does not comport with any rational sense of fairness,” Keable and Fogarty wrote.
Residents, they explained, have suffered enough from the noise emitted from the existing natural-gas facilities, and a new energy facility would decrease nearby property values.
Keable and Fogarty also highlighted an issue not previously argued by opponents of the project: the impact on Eleanor Slater/Zambarano Hospital, a medical facility down the road from the proposed power plant site that treats 120 psychiatric, behavioral and geriatric patients. The letter stated that the hospital residents “are the very people that government exists to protect — government should not now put them in harm’s way.” An evacuation would be a humanitarian crisis, according to the letter.
Zambarano Hospital also gets its water from Wallum Lake, one of the many water sources that opponents say would be threatened by the large water usage needed to cool the proposed power plant. Other at-risk water sources, according to opponents, include Wilson’s Reservoir, Wakefield Pond, Round Lake, Pascoag Reservoir/Echo Lake, Pulaski Pond, Bowdish Reservoir and Lake Washington.
The letter also referred to heavy traffic in the village of Pascoag and other parts of Burrillville that would be impacted during construction of the proposed 1-gigawatt plant.
The developers of the power plant, Chicago-based Invenergy, responded to Keable and Fogarty, saying they “appear to be misinformed about a number of aspects of the project.” An e-mail quoting project manager John Niland, notes that water for the power plant would only draw from a single well in Pascoag.
“We’ll be the only user of that well, and won’t impact the rest of the town’s water supply in any way,” Niland wrote.
Renewable energy, he noted, won’t fill the void being created by the retirement of several power plants in the region. As a high-efficiency power facility, the Clear River Energy Center would emit fewer carbon emissions than the power plants it will be replacing, he wrote, while its capability to quickly ramp-up or dial-down electric output means it would ease the transition to renewable energy across the New England power grid.
“The plant’s efficiency will also produce ratepayer savings and help lower energy costs,” Niland wrote.
The two-member Energy Facilities Siting Board — the third seat remains vacant — is expected to issue a ruling on the project this fall. Permits and advisory opinions are also required from the Department of Environmental Management and Department of Health.
A second public hearing is scheduled for May 10 at Burrillville Middle School. A third hearing is planned for May 23 at Burrillville High School.