EFSB reform bill goes before Senate Judiciary Committee

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BURRILLVILLE – Legislation devised by an attorney working for the town calling for an overhaul the 30-year-old Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Act will be heard today, Thursday, June 6, by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

According to proponents, the existing EFSA, which puts the power to approve new power plants in the hands of an Energy Facility Siting Board, circumvents municipal regulations, taking away any local decision-making authority.

Burrillville has been particularly impacted by the existing law.

“The town is powerless to protect its residents from a proposed massive new Invenergy gas-fired powerplant which would be located in Burrillville’s pristine forest,” said spokesperson Dyana Koelsch.

In written testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Town of Burrillville notes, “The EFSB enabling legislation is outdated and inadequate. Public participation is limited. City and town resolutions supporting or opposing a facility can be ignored. State environmental goals are not prioritized. Incomplete applications create unnecessary expense and delays while stakeholders and agencies pursue essential information from an applicant. Host cities and towns can be excluded due to budgetary constraints. Regulatory enforcement options for existing energy facilities are limited.”

A similar bill was held for further study by the committee last year.

“What Attorney Donaldson did was take the 2018 legislation that passed the House and update to try and address issues that may have caused it to fail,” noted Town Clerk Louise Phaneuf of special counsel hired by the town to address the issue.

The latest proposed reforms would change the permitting process, making it faster and more transparent by ensuring essential information is submitted by the applicant from the outset, according to Koelsch.

Senate Bill 591 aims to strengthen environmental protections and operational compliance by ensuring that state environmental policies are respected, that cumulative environmental impacts of related applications are considered, and by improving options to guarantee operational compliance.

It also works to increase public participation by creating more opportunities for input in the permitting process, and designating an attorney to serve as counsel for the public to participate in a formal capacity to protect the public interest.

The bill supports participation of cities and towns by requiring the EFSB to consider cities and towns supporting or opposing an application, evaluating whether a proposed facility fits within a host community’s comprehensive plan, and ensuring a host community has a meaningful role in the permitting process.

The EFSB retains sole authority to grant or deny a permit.

The bill would additionally create dual tracks for small versus large energy projects by keeping the current process for small projects, such as transmission lines, and expanding the process for large projects, such as power plants. For small energy projects, the EFSB would remain three members, and for large energy projects, the EFSB would expand to seven members to gain additional viewpoints and expertise.

Changes to the EFSA have widespread support from Rhode Island municipalities; 31 joined with Burrillville in opposing the proposed Invenergy power plant.

A bill similar to 2019 S- 591, passed the House last year. Prior to that, the House formed a special legislative commission to study the EFSA. The proposed legisaltion contains language that aims to address concerns that were raised as part of the special legislative commission.

The bill would not affect any docket currently pending before the EFSB, including the proposal for the $1 billion project proposed by Chicago-based Invenergy, 1,000-megawatt, gas-burning power plant off of Wallum Lake Road.

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