Before Energy Siting Board Makes Final Decision, Protesters Rally Against Burrillville Power Plant

Thirty-nine communities in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut oppose the proposed Burrillville power plant. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Thirty-nine communities in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut oppose the proposed Burrillville power plant. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

PROVIDENCE — Opponents of the fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville expect a decision from the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) by the end of June.

If the power plant, developed by Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, is approved, court appeals are planned, as are fights against any remaining permits.

“If the (state) agencies don’t stop it, we can stop it with people power,” said Nick Katkevich of The FANG Collective during a May 30 anti-power plant rally at the Statehouse. “If they don’t reject it, (it means) there’s corruption. We all know that. There’s no reason to accept this plant.”

While there have been accusations of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s favoritism for the proposed natural-gas/diesel-fuel facility — she and Invenergy’s CEO jointly announced the project during a press event in summer 2015; she even thanked the out-of-state developer for investing in Rhode Island — she has since publicly stated that she wants the application process to follow its course.

That process may come to an end soon, as the three-member EFSB will discuss the evidence and arguments during open hearings scheduled for June 20, 21, and 25. The June 20 and June 25 hearings begin at 10 a.m.. The June 21 meeting starts at 1 p.m..

The public may attend, but no public comment will be allowed. EFSB chairwoman Meg Curran, Janet Coit, and Meredith Brady will only discuss the arguments for and against the project among themselves and EFSB staff. The trio must ultimately decide how the evidence addresses three points: economic benefit, cost to ratepayers, and acceptable environmental harm.

Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, believes there is a 50-50 chance that the discussion will indicate whether they approve or deny the application before they vote.

The recent Statehouse protest was intended to mobilize opponents ahead of the decisive stage in the four-year application process.

“We are here today in frustration and outrage at our senators and Gov. Gina Raimondo for not coming out against Invenergy’s proposed power plant in Burrillville,” said Kathy Martley, one of the original Burrillville residents to organize the opposition movement against the 1,000-megawatt fossil-fuel facility.

The 75 or so protesters chanted “we object” and held signs from the 39 cities and towns in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut that formally oppose the power plant.

Remarks from about 10 speakers covered the litany of objections to the project raised since it was announced in 2015.

Ponagansett High School science teacher and former independent candidate for governor Ross McCurdy noted that the power plant would contribute to the already-record levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide by increasing state emissions by 38 percent.

“Science and common sense tell us we need to move away from fossil fuels,” McCurdy said. “This proposed power plant is taking the exact opposite approach we need to go in.”

He also noted that project would disrupt 200 acres of woodlands needed for carbon storage, and emissions would be made worse by water delivered to the power plant by tanker truc

Michael Fine, former director of the Rhode Island Department of Health, said fossil-fuel energy is antiquated.

“We now know so much about climate change that there is no excuse in the world to be building another fossil-fuel power plant,” he said.

Freshman Rep. David Price, R-Burrillville, served on the Burrillville Town Council when the power plant was first proposed. “As this whole process has gone forward, every argument they made in terms of building this thing now and in that spot has proven to be false,” he said.

Erica Scott-Pecheco, a candidate for mayor of Fall River, Mass., promised to tear up the controversial agreement the city made with shipping company Benn Water to provide cooling water to the proposed Clear River Energy Center.

Burrillville resident Irene Watson recounted the many protests, meetings, fundraisers, and other events she and other opponents organized and attended to share their message that the plant isn’t wanted or needed.

Burrillville Conservation Commission member Richard Dionne noted the disruption to the forest corridor that runs between Canada and Washington, D.C.

Brown University student Matthew Mellea, a member of the Sunrise Movement, talked about growing up in the era of climate change.

“I don’t know if I’d want to bring kids into a world that’s ravaged by climate disaster, unhealthy air, power plants continuing to be built,” he said.