Hearings on Burrillville power plant conclude

A sign at one home on Round Top Road expresses opposition to the proposed power plant.

WARWICK – A regulatory process that began in 2015 entered its final stage this week, as the state Energy Facility Siting Board wrapped up the final hearings on a proposal by Invenergy Thermal to build a 1,000-megawatt gas-burning power plant on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville.

The town of Burrillville, along with hundreds of representatives, environmentalists and elected officials, have been engaged in scrutiny and opposition to the plant since it was proposed over three years ago.

Plant representatives and opponents now have 45 days – until May 17 – to submit final briefs of 50 pages or less before EFSB holds open meetings to deliberate and render a decision on the fate of the facility. The board’s decision is expected within 90 days, although appeals are likely.

Burrillville Town Manager Michael Wood says the central issues before the boards are water supply, need and the environmental harm, but believes there are significant problems and deficiencies with Invenergy’s project application and business plan.

“The members of the EFSB have conducted a painstaking and detailed hearing into this proposal,” said Wood. “We have presented testimony from experts that have shown that the plant will cause unacceptable harm to the environment and in addition it is not needed to meet the electricity needs for Rhode Island or the New England region.”

Wood thanked the strong, engaged and vocal group of citizens who attended the hearings and worked over several years to highlight what is at stake should the plant be built in the irreplaceable and pristine forests of Northern Rhode Island.

“When this first was proposed- a lot of people claimed the opposition was just about residents of Burrillville not wanting this plant in their back yard,” said Cranston resident and opponent to the plant, Rhode-Ann Northrup “But the opposition and concern about the environmental impact led to resolutions of opposition from 32 Rhode Island municipalities. This is clearly not something that will benefit our state.”

“What I felt at the beginning of the process that this was inappropriate and dangerous,” said opponent and Burrillville resident Denise Potvin. “Now after hearing witness after witness and expert after expert testify- I not only feel this is wrong- I absolutely know it.”

The hearings concluded with a cross-examination of Invenergy’s Director of Development John Niland by Conservation Law Foundation Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer. The environmental advocacy organization has stood with the town in legal opposition to the plant since the start of the proceedings. The public was excluded from a portion of the cross-examination, as the company maintained that Niland’s testimony would reveal proprietary information.

As the hearings wrapped up on Tuesday, April 2, another organization that has stood in opposition to the project, Keep Rhode Island Beautiful, recognized the role that citizen activist groups have played throughout the process.

“So many people from numerous amazing groups and organizations have worked tirelessly over the last four years, to oppose this massive fracked gas power plant proposed for the beautiful woods of Northern Rhode Island and to educate the masses on the environmental harm and lack of need,” the organization noted. “Let us hope and pray that after reviewing the final briefs, the Energy Facility Siting Board will conclude what we and so many others have said all along: Clear River Energy Center would cause unacceptable harm to the environment, and that harm is not outweighed by need or cost savings as those have not been proven to exist.”

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