Government Opposition to Power Plant Increasing

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Efforts to stop the proposed Clear River Energy Center are coming from nearly every level of Rhode Island government, with the exception of Gov. Gina Raimondo's office.

Last week, two more municipalities, Barrington and West Warwick, passed resolutions opposing the building of what would become the state’s largest power plant, in the woods of Burrillville. Currently, 31 of Rhode Island's 39 cities and towns have passed such a resolution. A community in each of Massachusetts and Connecticut also have passed resolutions against the building of a fossil-fuel facility in northwest Rhode Island.

The declarations send a number of messages, according to Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust. Each raises awareness about the health impacts the power plant would have on air, land and water across the state and region. The climate emissions generated by the state’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide would also threaten to derail greenhouse-gas-reduction goals.

“The intention is to hit home themes that are common to all of us and to tell the Energy Facilities Siting Board and the Public Utilities Commission and the governor that the Invenergy project is not a good idea with all the people of the state of Rhode Island,” Roselli said.

To date, Raimondo hasn't taken a firm stance on the proposed power plant. She has said she will support the Energy Facility Siting Board's decision.

Roselli has been a relentless one-person show, making 41 presentations outlining the perils of the $1 billion project. Town and city council members and the public, he said, have identified with several themes in their opposition to the power plant. The first is the desire to protect open space. The power plant would impact about 200 acres of wetlands and woodland habitat and would disrupt one of the largest tracts of forest in the state — a massive wildlife and forest corridor that runs from southern Rhode Island to New Hampshire.

Roselli also noted that residents want to protect the millions in public and private money that has been spent to protect this unique corridor.

“While one is attempting to protect their special places, the other is desperate for a place in the woods, by the shore or in a park to hold family gatherings, hikes and walks,” Roselli said.

Burrillville residents have no direct vote in the approval process of the power plant. The entire application is instead being reviewed by the three state-appointed Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) members.

At the Statehouse, Rep. Cale Keable, D-Burrillville, introduced bill H5897 in an attempt to slow or stop a decision on the power plant. The bill instructs the EFSB to wait until reports from state agencies and town departments are in before holding a final hearing or making a decision on the natural-gas/diesel power plant.

The bill was filed at the behest of the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF). The organization is addressing the developer’s failure to submit all of the information about the project to six of the 12 agencies writing advisory opinions for the EFSB.

“The trouble was that Invenergy illegally refused to provide required information to many of these agencies,” Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for CLF, recently wrote on his blog.

The bill seeks to change the 1986 Energy Facility Siting Act. But Elmer insists that the legislation isn't being made retroactively, which can exempt new laws from altering a current application, because the bill clarifies rather than changes the statute.

“If applicants (like Invenergy) know that they can get away with stonewalling — just refusing to provide required information about their proposals — the entire permitting process becomes meaningless,” Elmer said.

The bill was referred to the House Corporations Committee. A hearing date hasn't yet been scheduled.

On the legal front, CLF and the town of Burrillville have filed similar lawsuits against Invenergy and the town of Johnston on the grounds that the town doesn't have the legal right to sell water to the Clear River Energy Center. The March 7 complaint alleges that a 1915 law only allows cities and towns to use water from Providence Water for fire and everyday municipal services.

Johnston has no legal right to buy water from Providence Water for resale to Invenergy, according to the lawsuit.

In an unexpected and controversial move, the Johnston Town Council agreed to sell water it receives from Providence to Invenergy to cool the nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant. Johnston grabbed the $18 million deal after Woonsocket and two water districts in Burrillville rejected water agreements, mostly due to public opposition to the facility.

“The people of Providence have a right to determine where our water goes,” CLF attorney Max Greene said. “Coercing us into selling off this public resource to power a fossil-fuel plant we don’t support is not only irresponsible — it’s illegal. Invenergy’s last hope for this project rests on strong-arming our capital city, and we won’t let them get away with it.”

The lawsuits were filed in Providence Superior Court. Attorneys meet this week to set hearing dates.