Energy

It’s Over: Clear River Energy Center Officially Dead

Opponents of the proposed Clear River Energy Center celebrate at an impromptu gathering outside the Licht Judicial Complex on Nov. 15, as the appeal deadline expired. From left, Sally Mendzela, Rhoda-Ann Northrup, Paul Roselli, Diane Richman, and Wade Richman. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — The fossil fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville went out with a whimper.

The $1 billion project debuted Aug. 4, 2015 with a high-profile press event at the downtown office of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. Inside Gov. Gina Raimondo, Invenergy CEO Michael Polsky, union leaders, and other business dignitaries lauded the potential job and climate crisis benefits of the nearly 1,000-megawatt natural gas/diesel energy facility.

Outside on the sidewalk, members of the Rhode Island Building & Construction Trades Council and protesters shouted at each other. Several tradesmen bull-rushed activists from the environmental-justice group FANG (Fight Against Natural Gas), pushing them to the side. Raimondo left the event through a side door without addressing the media or crowd gathered outside.

The tension between union groups and opponents persisted during public hearings at Burrillville High School, protests at the Statehouse, and at Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) meetings. But there was no more physical contact, and during the next three years the union presence fizzled out. No building and trades representatives were present at the June 20 hearing when the EFSB voted, 3-0, to deny the project.

A handful of project opponents gathered Nov. 15 outside the Licht Judicial Complex on Benefit Street for an impromptu celebration of the official end of the Clear River Energy Center. Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, exited the clerk’s office shortly after 4 p.m. when the office closed and the deadline passed for Chicago-based Invenergy to file an appeal.

“This is a victory for the climate, a victory for the people of Burrillville, and a victory for us all,” Elmer said in an email to supporters.

The 10-day window for Invenergy to contest the project’s rejection opened Nov. 5 when the EFSB released its written report detailing why it turned down the energy project.

“Here we are 10 days later to the minute and it’s dead. Invenergy is gone,” said Paul Roselli, president of the Burrillville Land Trust and one of the key organizers of the opposition movement.

Roselli praised the coalition of opponents that mobilized against the fracked-gas project, much of which he assembled by delivering PowerPoint presentations to city and town councils and other organizations. In all, 32 cities and towns in Rhode Island, along with Douglas, Fall River, and Webster, Mass., and Thompson, Conn., formally opposed the project, as did all major environmental groups in Rhode Island.

Roselli said the single factor, however, that defeated the project was the EFSB’s recognition that having a massive natural-gas power plant operate for more than 40 years didn’t fit into state goals to diversify and modernize the power sector.

“[T]he fossil fuel power plant did not fit in to that transformation,” he said. “That is the most important part of the whole equation.”

Roselli acknowledged that the nearly 800-acre parcel on Wallum Lake Road is a desirable location for a fossil fuel facility. The forested area has a major natural gas pipeline with a compressor station. The land, owned by the pipeline conglomerate Enbridge, is inexpensive and removed from population centers.

But for now, Invenergy won’t be there.

“The word for Invenergy is ‘you tried, you failed, now go away,’” Roselli said.

In a statement, Invenergy said it will not appeal or try to advance the Clear River Energy Center.

“The need for low-cost reliable power continues to grow around the nation and in Rhode Island,” said Invenegry spokesperson Beth Conley. “Invenergy will continue to develop projects in markets where our efforts will deliver better outcomes for energy consumers.”

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  1. I remember the ecori podcast three years ago with Scott Duhamel, a top RI trades union official, who outlined the political difficulties unions faced on their side of the fence. And when the interviewer brought up a question of state economic planning and its putative happy effect upon union members, Duhamel was derisive. He had participated in many state economic planning exercises. And as many of those who have shared that experience agree, he noted that the cabinetry of our state government is full of such plans—to the effect that if the antiquarians among us should be so curious as to go rifling through them, he or she had best consult with the laborer’s union first to find out which level of HEPA-filtered facemark is needed to protect one’s lungs from the particulate matter adhering to them.

    However, on extremely rare occasions, an economic plan does return from the mausoleum. Life is breathed into it by political or legal action. This is exactly Paul Roselli’s great point. It is the Energy Facility Siting Board’s ringing rejection of Invenergy’s final argument that has embodied the State’s 2035 Energy Guide Plan. The Plan is no longer a ghostly "vision." It now walks and talks. It is alive now by precedent. And at last it is leading us down the only visible path to human survival.

    As Roselli says, in the long view, the victory over Invenergy is hardly of consequence to the Town of Burrillville and its forests alone.

  2. Let the joyous news be spread – THE POWER PLANT AT LAST IS DEAD!! I told Invenergy "Go solar or go home" – I guess they never got the memo.

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