As power plant hearings begin, Brown makes Burrillville first stop on campaign trail

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BURRILLVILLE – Just hours after declaring he will run as a Democrat in a gubernatorial campaign against Gina Raimondo, former Secretary of State Matt Brown declared his allegiance to residents gathered in opposition to the proposed Clean River Energy Center.

“I’m going to do everything I can to help you, and support you, and make sure this plant is never built,” Brown told a crowd of several dozen residents gathered at First Universalist Church of Burrillville Wednesday night.

Brown’s visit, and accompanying declarations against fossil fuels, came as the state Energy Facility Siting Board prepares for another hearing on the nearly 1,000 megawatt plant, set for Thursday, April 26. Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development, LLC filed an application to build the facility in October of 2015, and has sought to clear regulatory hurdles over the past two and a half years amid growing opposition from groups of local residents, who cite the plant’s potential effects on the local environment.

The plant would be built by the north west property line of George Washington State Forest, a protected area by the Connecticut border that offers space for camping, hiking and swimming.

Brown and others noted that Invenergy would level 200 acres of woodland to clear space for the plant, a facility proponents say is needed to meet the state’s growing energy needs, and to fill the demand that will be left by the closing of several of Rhode Island’s older power plants.

With resolutions from 32 of the state’s 39 municipalities now on file, along with public comment from hundreds of activists and conservation groups. the ESFB will hear opening statements in the final hearings, beginning at 9:30 a.m. at the Public Utilities Commission office in Warwick. More than 20 such hearings will be held in the upcoming months and are expected to continue through fall, with a decision expected some time near the end of the year. 

Local activist Donna Woods said Brown’s visit is the start of an effort to bring more would be political leaders to the region.

“We will no longer sit on the sidelines while our leaders tout saving our oceans while neglecting our forests,” Woods said. “Prove to us you are listening, or step aside.”

Opponents of the plant have been critical of Raimondo for initially supporting the facility. The governor has since said she is neutral on the matter.

“I think it speaks to a larger problem, which is the extreme power of corporations in the political system,” said Brown of Invenergy’s headway with the project to date. “The purpose of the governor’s office ought to be fighting this power plant, not opening the door to it.”

Brown had initially said he would run as an independent, and resident Alicia Kelley asked how he intends to work with members of the General Assembly who might not agree with him politically.

“We’ve got to elect more people who understand these issues and who are on the right side of these issues,” he said.

Asked how important he thinks the power plant issue will be in his campaign against Raimondo, Brown said, “It’s going to be as much of an issue as I can make it.”

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