Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — As President Trump issues orders to keep struggling coal and nuclear power plants open, Rhode Island is making it clear it prefers renewable energy, at least on one level.
In a document circulating Washington, D.C., Trump says he intends to invoke federal powers to keep coal and nuclear energy facilities operating. The action is necessary, he said, for protecting the electric grid and therefore a matter of national security. Coal and nuclear power plants, especially in the Northeast, have closed or plan to close because of cheaper electricity from sources such as natural gas, wind, and solar. Trump’s plan keeps these power plants profitable by ordering grid operators like ISO New England to buy electricity from them and deliver it through power cables to ratepayers across the region.
Critics of the move say Trump is rewarding his corporate donors and stoking a favorable and divisive political issue by appeasing coal miners.
“The losses for everybody else — in higher emissions of carbon, additional premature deaths, and higher outlays on electricity — would be far greater. Dirty energy at higher cost: That’s some deal,” according to the Bloomberg editorial board.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said Rhode Island’s big investment in offshore wind is “a strong and important rebuke to President Trump.”
During the May 30 press event announcing the new Revolution Wind project, Cicilline was the only speaker to make climate change the primary reason for such projects.
He criticized Trump for undoing key climate-change achievements such as the Paris Agreement and instead promoting ideas that harm the environment and exacerbate climate change, like offshore oil and gas drilling.
“Today the [Environmental Protection Agency] regularly pushes propaganda for anti-science forces who seek to deny the realities of climate change in order to protect the profits of powerful corporations,” Cicilline said.
Trump’s actions don't define Rhode Island, he said, because the state took action to address the looming threats of climate change by building the Block Island Wind Farm. The rewards for that risk is a new local industry and the promise of thousands of jobs, according to Cicilline.
“We were the ones who took the first bold step into this new field and now we are seeing serious returns on our investments,” Cicilline said.
The 400-megawatt, 50-turbine Revolution Wind project received the blessing of the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). Its local affiliate is the Environment Council of Rhode Island. NWF praised Deepwater Wind for its work to protect sea life, including threatened fish and whales, during construction of the five-turbine Block Island project.
“We will make sure all stakeholders are engaged during the process including fishermen,” said Curtis Fisher, regional director of the NWS office in Vermont.
The recent press event was held on the city’s industrial waterfront, on the same lot that served as the staging area for the assembly of the Block Island turbines.
The area between Fields Point and the hurricane barrier has endured decades of controversy, and the media were told by security during the recent event not to video or photograph businesses and operations on nearby properties.
Persistent air and water pollution are among the many issues to plague the businesses along Allens Avenue, which include scrap metal collectors, fossil-fuel mixing and storage businesses, concrete and asphalt producers, and a coal depot.
As mayor of Providence, Cicilline tried unsuccessfully to convert the waterfront into a mixed-use zone made up of existing industrial businesses, designated open space, condominiums, public access, retail, and maritime activities.
Cicilline opposed the KeySpan liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipping terminal that was defeated in 2004. He hasn't taken a public stance on the LNG facility now proposed for the same location.
Opponents of the National Grid project say the facility will worsen pollution in an environmental justice zone, which is already one of the highest pollution areas in the state. The low-lying port is also at risk from storm surge and sea-level rise.
The advocacy group No LNG in PVD held signs in opposition of the LNG project during the May 30 press event. The organization represents neighborhoods near the waterfront. They expressed support for wind energy and the Revolution Wind proposal.
"However, allowing the building of this LNG facility will lock us in to 30-plus more years of fossil fuel use and undo whatever good the wind turbines will do," said Monica Huertas, spokesperson for No LNG in PVD.