Data Request Complicates Power-Plant Plan

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — There have been dozens of requests for information from interveners looking to gain insight into the claims made by the developers of the proposed fossil-fuel power plant. But one query in particular has opponents thinking that the Clear River Energy Center (CREC) is in trouble.

“I think it’s a total game changer,” said Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust and an organizer with the town’s anti-power plant movement.

Roselli believes the July 13 request for data from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) suggests that the state agency has serious concerns about the nearly 1,000-megawatt natural-gas facility and its impact on wildlife and the environment. DEM’s detailed scrutiny into wetlands, insects, birds and turtles means that the agency is truly troubled by the prospects of the natural gas/diesel facility, according to Roselli, a Burrillville resident.

“Given the limited survey of flora and fauna on site and the brief treatment of each in the application, these sections are presently inadequate to assess either. Please provide a thorough accounting of biodiversity impacts from the project,” according to the DEM letter.

Roselli, who has a degree in plant soil science, said approval of CREC is unlikely if DEM moves forward with an in-depth investigation. “That alone has stopped projects in their tracks,” he said.

Roselli likes that DEM's 12-page request for missing information also suggests that the project’s developer, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC of Chicago, is guilty of omitting environmental assessments for projects that take place while the power plant is built. This work includes clearing 67 acres of woodland, plus 83 acres of disturbed forest for new gas lines, power lines, transmission towers, a new access road, a pipeline that delivers cooling water from a polluted well and a sewer line to the town's sewer facility.

Botanist Richard Enser, the former coordinator of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s since-defunded Natural Heritage Program, recently told ecoRI News that DEM's data request took too long to be made.

"DEM is finally asking questions about forest fragmentation and the impact the project will have on forest habitat," the South Kingstown resident said. "At least they're asking these questions now."

DEM also wants Invenergy to answer questions about the impacts of water withdrawal, light and noise pollution, and air emissions. The letter scolds Invenergy for failing to compare the power plant to renewable-energy facilities. Instead, it compares the energy facility to retiring coal and oil power plants. DEM seeks a cost-and-benefit analysis of the CREC in Rhode Island, not just its impact in the region as the application states. DEM wants a justification for “a large investment in a ‘bridge fuel’ with its attendant environmental consequences.”

The DEM letter takes issue with Invenergy for arguing that the CREC is needed to justify intermittency issues caused by wind and solar power. Renewable energy accounts for less than 3 percent of future energy generation, so the letter asks, “Why was this cited as the primary reason for dismissing alternative energy sources for the project when they are currently such a small fraction of the power supply?”

DEM also wants to know why solar was given scant consideration as an alternative power supply, considering solar systems can be scattered around the state in developed areas and thus avoid destruction of the state’s dwindling forestland.

Invenergy’s 400-plus page application lacks containment and clean-up policies for fires, leaks, spills and explosions and their impacts on the environment, according to DEM. The application was filed last October.

Kevin Cleary, chairman of the Burrillville Conservation Commission, is pleased that DEM is tackling issues his committee has been raising since January.

“I’m thrilled to see the detail they are asking for,” Cleary said.

Cleary said the data request may complicate approval for CREC, but he doesn’t share Roselli’s view that it may scuttle the project. Invenergy, he believes, will likely give vague answers to the questions, if they answer them at all.

“These guys have money and power. They are not going to walk away with their tails between their legs,” he said. “They will try to wriggle their way out of it.”

A spokeswoman for Invenergy told ecoRI News that the company is reviewing DEM's data request and will provide responses and additional information where required.

DEM has yet to announce a date for a hearing to take public comment on its role in writing an advisory opinion on the project. DEM’s advisory opinion is due by Sept. 9 to the state Energy Facility Siting Board. The EFSB is expected to rule on the power plant’s application by the end of this year.

ecoRI News staffer Frank Carini contributed to this report.