It’s Over: Clear River Energy Center Officially Dead
November 17, 2019
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.”