Energy

Burrillville Reps. Oppose Proposed Power Plant

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BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — After two meetings with residents and attending a jam-packed public hearing, two of the town’s members of the General Assembly recently delivered blunt opposition to the proposed Invenergy power plant.

“While the proposed site may be the most economically advantageous location for the developer, the placement of this mega-facility ensures an immeasurable adverse impact on the quality of the state’s environment,” wrote Burrillville Democrats Rep. Cale Keable and Sen. Paul Fogarty in a letter to the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board, the committee deliberating over the company’s application.

Keable and Fogarty emphasized the health and ecological threats posed by the $700 million project, which they referred to as a “fracked gas power plant.”

Meanwhile, Gov. Gina Raimondo, a staunch supporter of the project, seems to be taking a more open view. A day before the recent letter was released, a spokesperson for Raimondo told ecoRI News the governor’s stance was unchanged. A day later, the tone has shifted.

“The Governor and her team are closely monitoring the plans and listening to community feedback and concerns. We will be learning more about the health and environmental impacts of the plans as the Energy Facility Siting Board continues its review of the proposal, and reviewing those impacts carefully,” Raimondo spokeswoman Marie Aberger wrote in an email.

Aberger went on to note that long-term energy needs must still be addressed and that renewables, such as wind and solar energy, are a part of the solution.

The letter from Keable and Fohgarty underscored that a new fossil-fuel power plant in their districts won’t be a part of that energy solution. The Clear River Energy Center would be built next to a large natural gas compressor station and within 5 miles of the Ocean State Power natural gas facility, which was completed in 1991 and is the largest power plant in the state.

“Siting a second power plant in the same town does not comport with any rational sense of fairness,” Keable and Fogarty wrote.

Residents, they explained, have suffered enough from the noise emitted from the existing natural gas facilities, and a new energy facility would decrease nearby property values.

Keable and Fogarty also highlighted an issue not previously argued by opponents of the project: the impact on Eleanor Slater/Zambarano Hospital, a medical facility down the road from the proposed power plant site that treats 120 psychiatric, behavioral and geriatric patients. The letter stated that the hospital residents “are the very people that government exists to protect — government should not now put them in harm’s way.” An evacuation would be a humanitarian crisis, according to the letter.

Zambarano Hospital also gets its water from Wallum Lake, one of the many water sources that opponents say would be threatened by the large water usage needed to cool the proposed power plant. Other at-risk water sources, according to opponents, include Wilson’s Reservoir, Wakefield Pond, Round Lake, Pascoag Reservoir/Echo Lake, Pulaski Pond, Bowdish Reservoir and Lake Washington.

The letter also referred to heavy traffic in the village of Pascoag and other parts of Burrillville that would be impacted during construction of the proposed 1-gigawatt plant.

The developers of the power plant, Chicago-based Invenergy, responded to Keable and Fogarty, saying they “appear to be misinformed about a number of aspects of the project.” An email quoting project manager John Niland, notes that water for the power plant would only draw from a single well in Pascoag.

“We’ll be the only user of that well, and won’t impact the rest of the town’s water supply in any way,” Niland wrote.

Renewable energy, he noted, won’t fill the void being created by the retirement of several power plants in the region. As a high-efficiency power facility, the Clear River Energy Center would emit fewer carbon emissions than the power plants it will be replacing, he wrote, while its capability to quickly ramp-up or dial-down electric output means it would ease the transition to renewable energy across the New England power grid.

“The plant’s efficiency will also produce ratepayer savings and help lower energy costs,” Niland wrote.

The two-member Energy Facility Siting Board — the third seat remains vacant — is expected to issue a ruling on the project this fall. Permits and advisory opinions are also required from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management and Department of Health.

A second public hearing is scheduled for May 10 at Burrillville Middle School. A third hearing is planned for May 23 at Burrillville High School.

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  1. With due respect, I must criticize ecori news and the rest of the state and regional environmental media for the shallow reporting we have so far gotten on this story—a lot of strum und drang and little substance. In a nutshell, the media’s failure can be summed as two headlines: "What is the elephant not in the room?" or perhaps, "A tale of two Burrillville power plants, unreported."
    Burrillville already hosts Rhode Island’s largest power plant, the 560 megawatt Ocean State Power facility on Sherman Farm road, kissing the Massachusetts border about five miles east the way the crow flies from the proposed Invenergy plant on Rt. 100 adjacent to the Buck Hill, George Washington, and Pulaski Park wildlife management areas, and in the very northwest corner of the state, about a mile distant from both Connecticut and Massachusetts.
    When Ocean State was proposed, all the appropriate state, regional, and federal scrutiny you would expect to be brought to bear on such a regional, interstate project was indeed brought to bear. You can go online and read all about it. You can read the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Draft and Final Environmental Impact Statements; you can read all the comment, criticism and correspondence focused upon those documents by the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Soil Conservation Service, the US Dept. of Health and Human Services, the Massachusetts Dept. of the Environmental Management, the Rhode Dept. of Environmental Management, and the comments of other organizations and individuals involved.
    That was the oversight brought to bear on the Ocean State Power plant project in the ’80’s.
    Yet today, to this date, Invenergy’s project to build the largest power plant in New England’s history is being overseen by… by…
    By whom?
    Do you begin to see it? "The elephant missing from the room?"
    Or rather, "The herd of Elephants missing from the room?"
    To date there has been no oversight by anyone but the tw- member RI Energy Facilities Siting Board. You might expect RI DEM to weigh in—but that is only a presumption. There hasn’t been a single report to that effect. They might be issuing an environmental impact statement on the back of a napkin for all we’ve learned so far. So far, all that’s been reported is angry crowds and the testimony of individuals with opinions that—while they may be astute—have no standing in the permitting process, or on the urgent fact that formal interstate and federal scrutiny of THIS Burrillville Power Plant is totally missing.
    Where are you all? Why are you not reporting this? What are you thinking—from ecori news to The Boston Globe?
    ‘BIGGEST POWER PROJECT EVER, NO FEDERAL, NO INTERSTATE SCRUTINY: WHAT GIVES?"
    That would be The Daily News headline, if we had the NY Daily News in Burrillville.
    Only one small, obscure voluntary public organization in the whole region is doing what the Governor of Rhode Island and certainly RI DEM Director Janet Coit should be doing. That organization is the Burrillville Land Trust. The Burrillville Land Trust, on March 7th, petitioned the regional office of the US EPA, headed by former Save the Bay director, Curt Spaulding, to intervene and conduct an Environmental Impact Statement. On March 21st the BLT filed an addendum to their petition calling Spaulding’s attention to what it appears to be the energy companies collusion in "segmenting" the permitting process for pipeline, power line, and power plant "segments" of the overall project. (Both petition and addendum can be found on line as pdfs. But they are not yet available on the Land Trust’s website. I assume you know "segmenting." If not, the document contains a tutorial.)
    But again, no reporting on this crucial story… Anywhere! (And you people even know the Burrillville Land Trust!)
    This permitting process is scheduled to run like crap through a goose, and no amount of wishful thinking and banging the tin drum in the environmental activist community, invoking a revolutionary uprising of the people, is going to stop Invenergy from breaking ground next winter and permanently damaging that corner of the last existing great forest in the coastal Northeast. The only thing that’s going to jam the brakes on is EPA intervention. But how can you rely on the tiny Burrillville Land Trust’s petition to effect this? The two people who should be held accountable for that intervention, who should be vigorously petitioned, (in Rhode Island, at least,) are Governor Raimondo and DEM Director Janet Coit, (Janet Coit who succeeded Curt Spaulding as director of Save the Bay!)
    And yet…
    Without reporting these stories, what can we expect? Knowledge SHOULD be more powerful than natural gas, but…
    What smells continues to be ascendant.

    Bill Eccleston,
    North Providence,
    formerly of Burrillville, and co-chairman of Burrillville’s first Comprehensive Town Plan, which identified the Clear River Valley from Wallum Lake to Wilson’s Reservoir—adjacent to the power plant site and to be heavily impacted if built—as an area of special environmental concern for rare species preservation—a designation, subsequently adopted by RI DEM’s Natural Heritage Program and found on both Burrillville and DEM environmental asset inventory maps.

  2. Folks need to be aware of the ongoing impact of heavy truck traffic to the local infrastructure if this plant is built. The constant replenishment of filtering medium needed to clean the contaminated water intended for use as coolant will create traffic that the roads just can’t handle. Noise and pollution will increase and an overall decrease in quality of life will occur. This plant is a bad idea in multiple ways.

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