Update on the Invenergy Power Plant | Conservation Law Foundation

Update on the Invenergy Power Plant

Jerry Elmer

The Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB), which is considering a proposal to permit a new 900 MW fossil fuel power plant in Burrillville, Rhode Island, held two meetings this month.

January 12 Preliminary Hearing

On January 12, the EFSB held a Preliminary Hearing in the Docket. At the Preliminary Hearing, Invenergy presented a broad overview of its proposal (though many more details and much additional information remains to be fleshed out before this case is over).

At the Preliminary Hearing, CLF’s Motion to Intervene in the docket was granted; this makes CLF a full participant in the litigation.  More specifically, CLF will present opposition to the Invenergy proposal based on three major issues:  (1) carbon emissions and climate impacts; (2) the fact that the plant is not needed for grid reliability; and (3) ratepayer impacts.  Similar motions to intervene were granted for National Grid (which would handle the plant’s interconnection to the electricity grid), Office of Energy Resources (responsible for state energy policy) and the Town of Burrillville.  Nearly a dozen additional motions to intervene – all from individuals or entities that are opposed to the plant – were also heard on Jan. 12, but were not ruled on.

Also at the Jan. 12 Preliminary Hearing, the EFSB considered and denied CLF’s Motion to Close the Docket.  CLF had argued that Invenergy’s application was fatally incomplete, but members of the EFSB said that the missing portions of the application could be filled in as the docket moved along.

January 29 Open Meeting

On January 29, the EFSB held a so-called “Open Meeting.” These Open Meetings are an unusual artifact of Rhode Island law.  At an Open Meeting, members of the Board can (and do) discuss issues before the Board and rule on those issues (often by voting).  Although, as the name suggests, the meetings are open to the public, neither the public nor lawyers for the parties participate, argue, or speak.  At an Open Meeting, the EFSB discusses issues in the case, makes decisions, and rules on motions; the public gets to watch and listen, but not argue or comment.

At the January 29 Open Meeting, the EFSB ruled on the many motions to intervene that had been argued on Jan . 12, but not yet ruled on.  Two pairs of neighbors who are abutters to the Invenergy property had their motions to intervene granted. All the other pending motions to intervene were denied.  These included the motions of Fossil Free Rhode Island, Occupy Providence, Progressive Democrats of Rhode Island, Fighting Against Natural Gas (FANG), Sr. Mary Pendergast, R.S.M., and others.  Even the Burrillville Land Trust was not allowed intervene as a party.  When the Motion to Intervene of Fossil Free Rhode Island was denied, a FFRI member, Dr. Peter Nightingale, spoke up about the importance of climate change issues; he was escorted out of the hearing room by a police officer.

Unfortunately, the result of these EFSB decisions is that CLF will probably be the only full participant in the litigation that will oppose the Invenergy plant based on carbon emissions and climate impacts, grid reliability, or ratepayer impacts.

At the January 29 Open Meeting the EFSB did agree that the all three of these issues that CLF wants to present will be included in the proceeding. The EFSB is soliciting an advisory opinion about carbon and climate from the Office of Energy Resources, and on grid reliability and ratepayer impacts from the Public Utilities Commission (and CLF will, of course, participate fully in those aspects of the case as well).  (The EFSB also asked a number of other state or town offices to render advisory opinions on different matters that present no environmental issues that CLF is addressing – for example, various questions were referred to the Burrillville Zoning Board, Burrillville Building Inspector, and Burrillville Tax Assessor.)

One other important matter was decided at the Jan. 29 Open Meeting. CLF had previously filed a Petition for Rulemaking, asking the EFSB to amend its procedural rules to “consider, decide, and describe how the EFSB intends to address the [carbon-emission-reduction goals in] the Resilient Rhode Island Act.” CLF argued that amending the EFSB rules to account for Rhode Island’s most important new law on carbon-emission reductions would allow not only Invenergy, but all future power plant applicants, to know what they need to do to comply with the new law.

On Jan. 29, the EFSB voted to deny CLF’s Petition for Rulemaking. The members of the board opined that climate issues in general, and the provisions of the Resilient Rhode Island Act specifically, would be adequately addressed in this docket without the necessity of formally amending the EFSB rules now.

CLF is disappointed in the Board’s ruling. Our request was aimed at addressing all future proceedings at the EFSB, not just this specific proceeding.  The carbon-emission-reduction provisions of the Resilient Rhode Island Act are now the law in Rhode Island, and the best (and most consistent) way to put those provisions into effect is by writing them into the EFSB rules.  CLF regrets that its request was denied.

Of course, the EFSB hearings this month were just the beginning of a much longer process. Stay tuned for further developments.

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