Final round of hearings for Burrillville 
power plant will resume this week

Final round of hearings for Burrillville 
power plant will resume this week

Burrillville Conservation Commission Chair Kevin Cleary points out an area above the treeline behind him during a nature walk organized by opponents of the proposed Invenergy power plant last week. Should the Clear River Energy Center be built, he said, the top of the building could be seen over the tree-tops, with the orange glow of light pollution seen at night. (Breeze photo by Jacquelyn Moorehead)

BURRILLVILLE – The final round of hearings on the proposed Clear River Energy Center power plant resumes this Thursday, July 19, before the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board in Warwick.

The EFSB hearings, which began in April, are expected to continue through the end of October, at which point the board will make a decision to approve or deny an application by Chicago-based Invenergy to develop a $1 billion gas and oil-burning power plant off Wallum Lake Road in Pascoag.

The final hearings follow almost three years of advocacy and research by town officials and regional environmental organizations that have expressed staunch opposition to the project since Invenergy first announced its intention to build the plant in 2015. The 1,000-megawatt plant would be located on approximately 67 acres of forest owned by Spectra Energy, a natural gas transmission company, and requires EFSB approval to move forward.

“The town intends to challenge Invenergy on all aspects of its application before the EFSB,” Burrillville Town Manager Michael Wood told The Breeze Monday. “We will make Invenergy prove their case and will argue that their application is deficient and many of the solutions to the problems/issues the town has raised to date are not acceptable. We will endeavor to prove to the EFSB that there is no need for this power plant and the project itself does not benefit Rhode Island in any meaningful way.”

Throughout the approval process, representatives for Invenergy have said the plant will meet a growing market demand for electricity and replace older, riskier coal and nuclear power plants, while those opposed to the project say the plant will only increase Rhode Island’s dependency on fossil fuels and cause lasting environmental damage to one of the largest continuous tracts of forest in the region.

Last week, environmental advocates hosted a nature walk to illustrate the impact at the Pulaski Memorial State Forest in Chepachet, a forested area only a few miles south of the proposed plant location. The forest is home to 47 species of animals, including 17 listed as “species of greatest conservation need,” and all of them would be impacted by a disruption to their forest home, according to advocates.

“This is a forest in jeopardy,” said Kevin Cleary, chairman of the Burrillville Conservation Commission.

The plant’s builders, meanwhile, are moving forward with pre-engineering work to survey the route of the electric transmission line that will connect the power plant site with an existing National Grid switching station on Sherman Road. According to a statement from Invenergy, the work will take place in August and assess the soil and rock along the planned 6.8-mile route.

In addition to the environmental impact, town officials have expressed concern with the approval process, which leaves the final decision on major energy projects to state officials rather than locally elected officials. Wood called the process “prejudiced,” expressing concerns the legal process did not take into great enough account the views of the town and its residents.

“We are also concerned that the process itself as set forth in the 30-year-old Energy Facility Siting Act is prejudiced for the applicant and does not adequately protect the interests of the host community, abutting communities nor the state of Rhode Island as a whole,” he said.

In the spring, Rep. Cale Keable, a Democrat serving Burrillville and Glocester, submitted legislation co-sponsored by Rep. Brian Newberry, a Republican in North Smithfield, and other state representatives that would have changed the makeup of the EFSB by increasing its membership from three to seven members and adding representation from the community where a project is to be located. While it was too late for the legislation to apply to the Invenergy project, local representatives hoped it would allow other towns to have greater say in future energy projects. An amended version of the bill passed the House but failed to reach a vote in the Senate, where it was introduced by Sen. Paul Fogarty, a Democrat serving Burrillville, Glocester, and North Smithfield.

The final round of hearings will include statements and findings by the town of Burrillville, Invenergy and the Conservation Law Foundation. The public is welcome to attend the hearings, but public comment will not be taken. This week’s hearing will take place this Thursday, July 19, at 9:30 a.m. in Hearing Room A of the Public Utilities Commission office building at 89 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. The hearing will be live-streamed at www.ustream.tv/channel/WqQyXw296dg .

A tentative schedule of upcoming hearings is as follows:
• July 19, 24 and 25
• Aug. 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23
• Sept. 4, 5, 6, 12, 18, 20, 26 and 27
• Oct. 10, 16, 17, 30 and 31

- Staff writer Jacquelyn Moorehead contributed to this story.