Chicago Developer Helps Fund Pro-Power Plant Group

Group's executive director notes there are no vertical walls around Rhode Island that hold in carbon dioxide and other climate-warming gases

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

To counter the well-organized opposition movement against the proposed Burrillville, R.I., fossil-fuel power plant, a new pro-power plant group has emerged, with backing from the project's developer. Rhode Islanders for Affordable Energy was launched by an alliance of building and trades unions and business advocacy groups such as the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.

To see the complete list of members, click here.

Douglas Gablinske, executive director of the new endeavor, said the group will promote its desire for the new natural-gas power plant through radio advertisements and newspaper op-eds. The group will also lobby state regulators and the General Assembly for more natural gas, which it describes as a less-expensive and reliable energy.

Gablinske said Rhode Island has the second-highest energy costs in the contiguous United States. Opponents of the proposed Burrillville power plant, he claimed, are a vocal minority, while the majority of Rhode Island businesses and residents are underrepresented and pay too much for electricity.

“We need to get the story out,” Gablinske said.

Although the proposed Clear River Energy Center would be the state's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, Gablinske said Rhode Island's contribution to greenhouse gases is minuscule compared to other states and countries like China. He said there are no vertical walls around Rhode Island that hold in carbon dioxide and other climate-warming gases.

“You can try to make (climate change) a Rhode Island issue. It is not. It is a regional issue,” Gablinske said.

New natural-gas power plants, Gablinske argued, emit less carbon emissions and can ramp up power quickly to fill the intermittent power from renewable-energy sources. Natural-gas power should be the main energy source for the next 20 years, he said, until renewable energy gains scale and energy storage becomes viable.

Gablinske said many of the environmental impacts of the proposed Burrillville power plant are inconclusive.

“I don’t think any of that has been proven,” he said. “Many (opponents) are trying to throw as much against the wall as they can.”

Burrillville resident Jason Olkowski, a member for the power plant opposition group Keep Rhode Island Beautiful, said the new group is simply a website funded by Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, the Chicago-based developer of the proposed natural-gas/diesel facility.

“Sadly, it is the usual scare tactics and false talking points propagated by those who stand to directly or indirectly make a profit from this plant," he said. "We know based on expert testimony that the proposed plant is not currently needed to keep the lights on in Rhode Island and will do little if anything to reduce our electric rates. In fact, a similar plant just over the border in Connecticut was just rejected by the Connecticut Siting Council based on lack of need and public benefit."

A spokesman for Invenergy said the company is providing funding for advertising, which it has fully disclosed.

Rhode Islanders for Affordable Energy shares the mission of The Energy Council of Rhode Island (TEC-RI), where Gablinske also serves as executive director. TEC-RI often opposes state renewable-energy incentives and grid upgrades because of anticipated cost increases for ratepayers.

Rhode Islanders for Affordable Energy claims the proposed 1-gigawatt Clear River Energy Center will save ratepayers millions of dollars and fill the energy gap of retiring power plants, such as the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Mass., which ceased operation May 31.

This reasoning follows the thinking of ISO New England, the operator of the regional power grid, which forecasts that 6,000 megawatts from 11 New England power plants are “at risk” of going off-line after 2019.

Power-plant opponents, however, note that ISO New England has only committed to buy less than half of the electric output of electricity from the Clear River Energy Center, while a proposed power plant in nearby Killingly, Conn., was denied a permit by the Connecticut Siting Council for failing to show a need for the electricity. That project didn't receive any commitment from ISO New England to buy electricity. Forward-capacity purchase agreements are essential for proposed power plants to receive funding.

Opponents have also pointed to studies showing that renewable energy, energy efficiency and existing gas-storage facilities will replace energy lost from retiring power plant and will meet near and long-term energy needs.

Gablinske said the decision by the Connecticut Siting Council was risky. “These power plants are shutting down and they are going to be shut down for economic reasons. The day of reckoning is going to come and they are not going to have power and heat.”

On its website, Rhode Islanders for Affordable Energy posts endorsements for the $1 billion Clear River Energy Center from the Providence Journal and the The Valley Breeze. Many are editorials from business owners and business groups.

Olkowski noted that 32 cities and towns and 90 businesses in Rhode Island oppose the power plant.

"What the plant will do is destroy hundreds of acres of forest in a vital area, put the local community, state, and region at risk, increase our over-reliance on natural gas for energy, and make it impossible for our state to achieve our emissions reduction goals set forth in the resilient Rhode Island Act," he said.

Plans for the Clear River Energy Center were announced in August 2015. Its application is before the state Energy Facilities Siting Board. A final phase of proceeding begin in July. Public hearings are expected in mid-to-late October. A decision isn't likely until January.