Commission appeals to federal agency to intercede in power plant proposal

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BURRILLVILLE – With the final hearings regarding the proposed 1,000 megawatt Clean River Energy Center well underway, the Burrillville Conservation Commission is calling on federal authorities to intercede in the proceedings, and demand an environmental impact statement on the project.

A letter to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service penned by BCC Vice Chairman Richard Dionne asserts that state agencies have failed to conduct a professional review of the project, in which Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal, LLC hopes to build a fossil-fuel burning power plant off of Wallum Lake Road.

Town officials, meanwhile, are calling on members of the General Assembly to take action on a law that would change how such plants gain approval through the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board.

“The town of Burrillville has been forced to watch almost powerless as Invenergy is utilizing its plentiful resources, political muscle and almost limitless finances to try to persuade the EFSB,” said Town Council President John Pacheco. “This is not a fate I would wish on any community.”

Dionne notes in his communication that the proposed plant would be sited “in the midst of Rhode Island’s largest tract of forest, which is also connected to other large, in-tact protected forests in the neighboring states of Connecticut and Massachusetts.”

“Construction of this power plant will require cutting of more than 180 acres of mature forest habitat, and once in operation the plants’ noise and light pollution will affect hundreds of additional acres in the adjoining perimeter,” wrote Dionne, in a communication to USFWS Regional Director Wendi Weber.

The USFWS is the principal federal agency dedicated to fish and wildlife conservation.

On behalf of the BCC, Dionne states that “a project of this magnitude would be vetted with an environmental impact statement,” and that the idea of building a plant on the proposed Buck Hill site was deemed “inconsistent and incompatible” with surrounding uses when authorities were evaluating potential locations for the smaller Ocean State Power Plant in 1988.

“Their decision will be made without soliciting any review or opinion from the USFWS,” wrote Dionne. “US Forest Service, and National Park Service, must depend on State agencies to fulfill their obligations by professionally reviewing projects and insuring that Federal interests are fully vetted. However, in the case of the CREC project, the review by several of Rhode Island’s agencies has been incomplete and unprofessional.”

Dionne details the inadequacies in the process, noting that presence of endangered species has not been acknowledged. A similar case was made by former coordinator of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Natural Heritage Program Rick Enser during a talk last month.

“Based on the issues addressed above, we believe it is incumbent on the USFWS to conduct their own assessment of the Clear River Energy Center situation and conclude that an Environmental Impact Statement is needed to address all of the deficiencies described above,” Dionne states.

The letter can be read in its entirety here.

Town Council members, meanwhile, have focused their energy on trying to ensure that the process for vetting future power plant proposals is improved. Pacheco helped to craft legislation that would increase the number of ESFB members from three to seven, with at least two tied to the host community, among other reforms.

The bill was passed by the House of Representatives but tabled by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The legislation will not affect the outcome of Invenergy’s proposal in Burrillville, but several town residents testified in favor of statewide reforms.

“The current 30-year-old EFSB Act effectively eliminates all municipal decision making authority regarding power plant siting,” a release on the issue notes. “Cities and towns are left with minimum flexibility in deciding the viability of a project, even on an advisory basis.”

The final hearings on the proposed plant are scheduled to resume July 19 at the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission, 89 Jefferson Blvd. in Warwick and will continue through Oct. 31 with a decision on the application is expected by January.