Energy

Gov. Raimondo Urges Power Plant Process to ‘Play Out’

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Gov. Gina Raimondo walked a fine line between saying she cared about the health and well-being of local residents and her support for natural gas infrastructure and a new fossil fuel power plant.

During the more than two-hour hearing July 18 in front of a packed and mostly well-mannered crowd in the Burrillville High School auditorium, Raimondo steered clear of her previously stated hardline support for the nearly 1,000-megawatt Clear River Energy Center, saying only that she recognizes the need for natural-gas power and that the fossil fuel is a “piece of the puzzle” needed to meet energy demand.

The governor also stated her support for moving “as fast as possible” to renewable energy, but that she lacked authority to approve or deny what would be the state’s largest power plant and the second in Burrillville. The application should follow the yearlong process established by the state Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB), she said.

“I don’t have a vote on that board. However, I am serious about giving you the opportunity tonight to air your concerns and I’m very serious about listening to those concerns,” Raimondo said, adding that she urged residents to speak out at upcoming public hearings.

Despite scant evidence that the power plant would lower energy costs for Rhode Island businesses and residents, Raimondo repeated that point in justifying the project.

“I need in my job to look out for all the people of Rhode Island and all the businesses of Rhode Island and make sure that energy is kept as relatively low as we can have it be,” she said.

Raimondo was greeted with loud applause and thanked repeatedly by speakers for taking the time to meet publicly with residents, several of whom presented her with gifts.

Some, however, sharply criticized the governor for not being more forthcoming about her involvement in bringing the project to the state and for not putting health and environmental concerns ahead of the fossil fuel industry.

Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust, asked Raimondo to explain an apparent conflict of interest with investment bank Goldman Sachs, which has given money to state economic initiatives and, Roselli claimed, is a likely investor in the proposed power plant. He also accused the governor of issuing a gag order for state employees, including scientists, on speaking publicly about the proposed power plant.

“Let me be very clear with you,” Raimondo replied. “I have no affiliation with the company you referenced. And this has nothing to do with that. And, by the way, that company has nothing to do with this project.”

She then again stated the project is about affordable energy for the people and businesses of Rhode Island, renewable energy, and the health and safety of residents. “And who do I answer to? You, the people in this room and the people of Rhode Island.”

Local resident Erin Olkowski reminded the governor of the state’s commitment to cut its carbon emissions. “If we site this one plant in Rhode Island it’s going to make it impossible to meet the Resilient Rhode Island Act,” she said. “Once that plant is sited we are locked into that fossil-fuel infrastructure for 40 years.”

Other opponents offered personal accounts about the noise and pollution from the existing natural-gas pipeline compressor station on Wallum Lake Road. Others mentioned relatives and friends who suffered from the polluted well that the power plant plans to use as cooling water. Well 3A in the village of Pascoag has been linked to a cluster of cancer cases in the late 1990s.

“You don’t know what we went through in the town when that [contaminated well] happened,” Terry Lacey said.

Raimondo said those stories are why she agreed to the public forum. “When you see the faces of people who live across the street and how it’s impacting their family, that’s a whole different way to look at the issue,” she said.

The controversial proposal to use the well, she said, would get a proper vetting from the EFSB. She added later that the project is “not a done deal and there’s months in front of us around the process. But the reality is there is a process and we have to respect the process.”

Only two of the nearly 50 speakers spoke in favor of the project. Both were leaders of local building and trade unions. About 50 members of the audience appeared to be union employees.

“Let the process play out,” said Roy Coulumbe, business manager for the International Association of Iron Workers Local 37. “This is just another company coming to Rhode Island, looking to do business here.”

After the forum, local resident Tracey Keegan said Raimondo “seemed genuinely concerned and genuinely engaged.” But Keegan is still against the project.

“It doesn’t have to be here,” she said.

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  1. The Governor, for all her supposed business acumen, refuses to really look at the economics of such a plant. The plant will be a big burden to RI as rising sea levels will make it imperative to shut down all fossil fuel plants before their "useful" life is over. This will become a stranded asset at the same time that Providence and other coastal communities are drowning. How about we do not build this stuff so we can avoid the drowning our communities. When we shut down fracking due to water pollution and methane emissions, gas becomes the bridge to bankruptcy.

    All of the governor’s plans are based on phony assumptions about where the economy is going. They pump and pump for economic growth, but what they get is the rich stealing more and pretending all is good, as the growth rate in RI stays at about 1.8%. A realistic understanding of where that 1.8% comes from would change dramatically how we do economic development in RI. Giving money to the rich is stupid, unproductive, and designed to destroy neighborhoods. The most important thing RI can do for its economy is speedily phase out the use of any fossil fuels and transition to clean power And definitely do not build any new facilities. NO more fossil fuel infrastructure. No LNG in PVD no powerplants, no pipelines. None of it is useful.

    Come hear Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein talk about all the things the governor would have said if she had a clue on Wednesday July 20 at 4 PM at the corner of Allens and Ernest in Providence

  2. Great event last night. The people of Burrillville did themselves proud. She was welcomed graciously, she spoke well and was heard, and she was spoken to, firmly but politely. She knows now the human dimensions of this issue, the faces connected to the disputed facts.

    Yet still, in the major press statewide, the NIMBY smear sticks. The people of Rhode Island, the average Joes and Janes and Joses and Juanitas, do not see their connection to the controversy. The power plant opposition needs to make that connection—and it is staring them in the face.

    This is a tiny state, and the greatest thing about it is that everyone who doesn’t actually know everybody else, knows somebody that does. We really do have a strong, proud, shared culture in this state. We love a lot of things in common about it, especially our public lands. And it is time for the power plant opposition to make that plain, and destroy, by simply repeating the facts of the matter, the NIMBY accusation that the unions, the chamber of commerce, and the Providence Journal have laid on them.

    The opposition, to gain statewide support, must point out everywhere and always that this plant, this massive industrial project, will be built on the border of one of OUR State Forests, George Washington/Pulaski—right-on-the property-line-take-a-look-at-a-map-for-friggin-sakes!

    We ALL PAID for these lands; we ALL PAY for their maintenance; we have ALL ENJOYED THEM THROUGHOUT OUR LIVES and seek to PASS THEM ON TO OUR CHILDREN.

    In every corner of the State there is a State Forest, a State Park, a State Wildlife Management Area, a State Recreation Area, or State Beach. Would you, FELLOW RHODE ISLANDERS, approve a MAJOR INDUSTRIAL PROJECT next door to YOUR State land in YOUR CORNER OF THE STATE?

    And add—once again—where on earth are the so-called advocates of conserving our natural heritage? The Nature Conservancy, Audubon, Save the Bay, etc.?

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