Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
WARWICK, R.I. — The Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) seemed intent on quickly dispatching the most recent motions to dismiss and delay the application for the Clear River Energy Center. The three-member board didn't entirely reject the calls to stop or stall the proposed fossil-fuel power plant. Rather, it felt the motions should be addressed during a full public hearing.
“I think the motion is moot and should be dismissed,” Margaret Curran, chairwoman of the EFSB, said of the request by the town of Burrillville to pause the application for 45 days.
The board voted 3-0 on Feb. 6 to reject the delay and was about to do the same on a motion to dismiss before Burrillville’s attorney Michael McElroy interrupted and argued that the public meeting notice stated that oral arguments would be permitted.
“It’s a strange way to conduct a hearing,” McElroy said to Curran.
Curran replied that the meeting was a procedural hearing and didn't necessitate debate. She nonetheless allowed arguments to proceed.
McElroy began by calling the proposed natural-gas/diesel power plant a “polluting monster” that would not only emit 50 harmful pollutants but would also release carbon dioxide at a rate equal to 750,000 cars, twice the number already on the road in Rhode Island. The power plant would also derail the state’s climate-emission-reduction targets, he said.
McElroy also noted that the power plant would be the largest in the state and the second in Burrillville. The town is already enduring the impacts of a large pipeline compressor station. A new water system proposed for the power plant, he added, would worsen road conditions and cause traffic problems.
“Burrillville has already had enough,” McElroy said.
In addition, he said the town and state agencies require more time to evaluate Invenergy’s switch to a wastewater treatment and demineralized water system. McElroy argued that time should also be granted while Providence decides if it will block the sale of water for the power plant. The agreement allowing the town of Johnston to sell water to Invenergy is also under scrutiny by the state attorney general for open meeting rule violations, he said.
Max Greene, attorney with the Conservation Law Foundation, argued that dismissal was warranted as six of 12 agencies and departments said their analysis of the application were incomplete due to lack of a detailed water plan. The incomplete analysis meant that deadlines hadn't been met and the power plant should be rejected, Greene said.
The comment prompted Andrew Marcaccio of the Office of Energy Resources to say, “We had no issues with gathering the necessary information to form our advisory opinion.”
Alan Shore, the attorney representing Invenergy, argued that the Chicago-based company had met its deadline obligations and noted that the rules of the EFSB grant them flexibility in extending deadlines for the applicant.
Ultimately, the EFSB agreed to rule on the motions to dismiss at a hearing scheduled for Feb. 16 at 2 p.m.
Perhaps the most drama of the nearly two-hour meeting occurred at the beginning, when protesters calling themselves the “Raging Grannies” sang several environmental songs and were escorted out of the gallery by security.
One intriguing fact raised during the meeting: the cost of the power plant has increased from $700 million to $1 billion. The increase is likely attributed to Invenergy switching from a traditional cooling system to a more expensive, low-water cooling and recycling system. McElroy said he heard the higher number during a recent interview with Invenergy's project manager, John Niland.
Invenergy didn't respond to a request for comment.