Local Environmental Groups Unite Against Power Plant

Prominent environmental groups are urging Gov. Gina Raimondo to oppose the proposed Burrillville power plant. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Prominent environmental groups are urging Gov. Gina Raimondo to oppose the proposed Burrillville power plant. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island’s most-established environmental organizations joined together recently with lesser-known groups to oppose construction of a new fossil-fuel power plant that threatens to pollute the state for decades.

At a March 8 Statehouse press conference, The Nature Conservancy, Save The Bay, the Audubon Society and other organizations made their case for opposing the Clear River Energy Center on grounds that it will degrade the natural habitat and climate. The power plant proposal, submitted by Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, seeks to build the state's largest power plant, in the woods of Burrillville.

If built, the nearly 1,000-meagwatt natural-gas/diesel facility would be the largest emitter of carbon emissions in the state. The application is before the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), and a decision isn't likely until late this year.

Jerry Elmer of the Conservation Law Foundation explained that as part of its deliberation the EFSB can consider danger and damage to the environment as one of the conditions to deny the permit.

Audubon Society of Rhode Island policy director Meg Kerr described how the proposed power plant would harm one the state's largest wildlife corridors. She said the fossil-fuel power plant fails to conform with state conservation plans. Emissions from the facility also would prevent the state from achieving its climate-reduction goals set by the state Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014.

“The Invenergy facility is not the right decision for the state or the region if we urgently need to move to a near-zero energy grid,” Kerr said.

Rhode Island chapter of The Nature Conservancy associate director Scott Cummings said the land-conservation group doesn't typically make public denouncements of controversial public projects.

“However, Invenergy's proposed Clear River Energy Center would do such harm to Rhode Island's ecology and our wildlife and the resilience of climate change that we are compelled to be here today to oppose this new power plant,” he said.

Cummings referred to map a showing a wildlife corridor that runs from the southern coast of Rhode Island to northern New England. The site of the proposed power plant in the northwest corner of the state represented a small red line that appeared as a wall across a narrow choke point in the corridor.

“When you cut off this connectivity, species can’t migrate and they won’t adapt and they won’t survive,” he said.

Save The Bay executive director Jonathan Stone described the damage climate change is having on the ecological health of Narragansett Bay. The Clear River, a tributary of the Blackstone River, feeds into the bay. Stone didn't expressly oppose the power plant, but said he is concerned about potential impacts on water quality, natural habitat, wetlands and water temperature.

“We have serious concerns with respect to the power plant’s impact on the Blackstone River watershed and Narraganset Bay itself,” Stone said.

Polly Barey of the American Nurses Association Rhode Island focused on the health effects of climate change.

“Increased heat waves, sea-level rise, and increased drought around the globe will aggravate already-existing health problems, increase the onset of new health problems, and in some cases cause premature death. Climate change in Rhode Island and the world is the world’s most urgent problem,” she said.

Rhode Island Student Climate Coalition college student Ben Gross focused on social and environmental justice and the need to transition to renewable energy.

“As students and young people, we are especially concerned about keeping Rhode Island livable for our generation and those to come,” he said.

Mercy Ecology activist Sister Mary Pendergast said it's critical to keep fossil fuels in the ground to protect public and environmental health.

“We will not avoid disaster by destroying our forests, our rivers and tugging on the strands holding the natural world intact,” she said.