Energy

Need, Cost Dominate Burrillville Power Plant Hearing

WARWICK, R.I. — The debate over the proposed Burrillville power plant marched on at a recent public hearing that focused on the need and cost for building one more natural gas power plant in Rhode Island.

Need and cost, of course, have varied interpretations that shift depending on one’s stance regarding the project. The developer, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, and builders unions say the need for electricity will increase as coal and nuclear plants shut down in New England. The three people who spoke in favor of the project at the June 30 Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) hearing also argued that the power plant is necessary to keep the lights on, and the $700 million project will reduce electric bills.

The 36 people who spoke against the project, most of whom were Burrillville residents and/or environmentalists, argued that energy efficiency and renewable energy are already picking up any slack in electric supply and will continue do so, while avoiding the public health and environmental harm that would be caused by the proposed 900-plus-megawatt fossil fuel power plant.

These two issues were the focus of the one-person PUC hearing recently held at the Community College of Rhode Island.

Only one PUC member was present, because newly appointed commissioner Marion Gold recused herself from the hearing for having previously stated support for a power plant while serving as director of the state Office of Energy Resources. The third commissioner, chair Margaret Curran, also serves on the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) and wasn’t present at the June 30 hearing.

The lone PUC commissioner, Herbert DeSimone Jr., explained that the PUC is examining need and cost at the behest of the EFSB. After getting a report from the PUC and several state entities, the EFSB will render a decision about issuing a license to build the power plant by the end of this year or early 2017.

The four-hour listening session began with testimony from Rep. Cale Keable and Sen. Paul Fogarty. The Burrillville Democrats lambasted the developers as out-of-touch corporate lobbyists.

“The company wouldn’t know Burrillville from Buffalo,” said Fogarty, noting that a thorough economic impact study is missing to determine the true costs of the natural gas/diesel power plant.

Fogarty also raised a point that has been repeated by project opponents: the site on Wallum Lake Road was rejected in 1988 as one of 80 sites considered for the town’s existing Ocean State Power electricity plant because of environmental and economic impacts.

“Invenergy has looked at zero alternative sites,” Fogarty said. “That’s outrageous and unacceptable.”

The projected savings for consumers of up to $280 million hasn’t added the expenses for power line and infrastructure upgrades needed to deliver the power. He suggested relocating the project closer to an urban area, such as the oil terminal on Dexter Road in East Providence.

Fogarty noted that Burrillville has already done its part for the state by hosting the 560-megawatt Ocean State Power plant and the massive Algonquin pipeline compressor station.

“We’ve done more than our part for the energy needs of Rhode Island,” he said.

Keable said the project is being sited in between two conservation areas that total 7,000 acres of protected state land. Recent studies show that southern New England has an ample electricity supply for the years ahead, with no need for building a polluting fossil-fuel power plant, he said.

“If the market can’t bear this project, than we shouldn’t be asked to host it,” Keable said.

Douglas Gablinske of The Energy Council of Rhode Island (TEC-RI), which advocates for low-energy costs for companies such as Toray Plastics, Taco Inc., and Providence College, argued that long-term demand is there. An analyst from ISO New England, he claimed, explained at a recent conference that the electricity auction conducted in February is being misinterpreted.

“‘His answer is that the forward-capacity market is depending on that happening to replace the closing plants.’ And he added, ‘You need to do everything you can on the political and regulatory front to blunt that argument.’”

The meeting was unique from recent hearings in that four speakers drove from Thompson, Conn., to argue against building a power plant a few miles from their town.

Tiffany Campbell, 13, said her family would move if the power plant is approved, to avoid the pollution and seeing the harm done to wildlife and the forest. Her mother, Christine, said other towns, including Killingly and Uxbridge, Mass., are also rejecting proposed natural gas power plants.

“I can tell you no one in Connecticut wants this power plant,” Christine Campbell said.

In all, about 100 people attended the hearing. About 75 percent of the audience was against the project. Of the 39 speakers, 36 spoke against it.

Public hearings on the advisory opinions are scheduled for July 25, 26 and 27 at the PUC office, 89 Jefferson Blvd., all at 9:30 a.m. The EFSB will then consider the advisory opinions and conduct additional hearings.

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  1. Wow. From watching the videos and reading the rest of the story, I presumed it was an all male event.

  2. Thank you for including parts of my testimony, as well as my daughter’s, in your article. May I ask you to please make a correction? As I stated that evening, Uxbridge is in MA, and they recently protested against a proposed power plant in their town and were successful. In CT, we are currently fighting a proposed, second, power plant in Killingly. I feel very strongly that we have already done our part, with the power plants that we already have, and the combined pollutants of additional power plants would be too much to bare. Nevermind the fact that they would be opening a sealed, MTBE-contaminated well to cool this proposed power plant. That is mind-boggling in and of itself. Thank you so much! By the way, does anyone have any video footage of my daughter’s testimony?

  3. Yes, Sally, other women testified. One of them speaking with maybe the biggest voice in Rhode Island environmental advocacy for the past 30 years, Eugenia Marks, recently retired director of policy and advocacy at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

    She testified against the need for the plant.

    A huge moment for the opposition.

    If you are a current top leader in Audubon, The Nature Conservancy or Save the Bay, and Eugenia Marks tells you face to face that your organization should be taking an unequivocal stance against the plant because it it the right thing to do, you either nod "yes" or you look down at your shoes in shame.

    And, you know, your question does hits a big nerve: The "Big Three" in environmental politics in Rhode Island—those with the biggest membership, the deepest pockets, and the most potent political relationships—the aforementioned Audubon, TNC and STB, all are headed by men, while women appear to be the subordinate leaders and foot soldiers.

    Go to their fb pages, for example, and view the photographs of each organization "in action;"—beach clean up, water monitoring, etc; what do you see? Women outnumbering men.

    Perhaps, as news of Eugenia’s stance spreads, these women will start looking into the issue, speaking up, and forcing their male leaders to forget their precious inside dance with the political movers and shakers, and do the right thing.

    I would like to see ecori news interview Eugenia Marks, not about the power plant per se, but about the power structure of Rhode Island environmental politics in an era where our once lean and scrappy advocates, such as the "Big Three," once were, have moved on into an age of management, and feel that they can ignore, without too much cost, environmental travesties when they take place in such déclassé locations as Burrillville.

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