Op-Ed : Much remains missing in the latest bill for Energy Siting reform

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The hearing on changes to the Energy Facility Siting Act has been postponed, and opposition to the legislation as submitted abounds. Again!

Over a year ago, on March 12, 2020, the Rhode Island House of Representatives – House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources heard testimony on House bill 7930 calling for systemic changes to the RI Public Utilities Commission Energy Facility Siting Act (EFSA) and the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB). The legislation, at the time, was a result of meetings with industry, political leaders, non-profits, state agencies, town administrators, planners, attorneys and more. I as president of the Burrillville Land Trust, was a member of that stakeholders group and attended meetings starting in September, 2019. It was these meetings that led to House Bill 7930. During the proceedings before the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources on March 12, 2020, it was clear that the proposed legislation was flawed. All of the environmental organizations and the RI Chapter of the Conservation Law Foundation opposed the legislation saying that the changes favored the fossil fuel industry, gave a sitting governor appointment power over additional board members to the EFSB, and the legislation did not include greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014. I, as president of the Burrillville Land Trust, opposed the legislation echoing the findings of the other opposing organizations. The bill failed to get out of committee and died that legislative session.

There (are) a host of proposed changes to the Energy Facility Siting Act (Public Law 42-98) in Senate bill S0194 Sub A that will not satisfy any of those who spent five plus years working against the Invenergy power plant. For those who testified on March 12, 2020 expecting changes in a new bill, Senate bill S0194 SubA is a total rebuttal to their recommendations. I too felt disappointed and bewildered by what I found in this current iteration. After all these years, the sponsors have reverted back to items not supported in the March, 2020 House Bill 7930, not supported by the Rhode Island Chapter of the Conservation Law Foundation, not supported by any environmental group including the Burrillville Land Trust and not supported in previous bills constructed years earlier. Senate bill S0194SubA fails to be transformational, fails to include science based findings as part of the EFSB toolbox, and fails to include the recent amendments to the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014. Let me try to put some of these proposed changes in perspective and context:

  • the bill may give too much authority to the host community. A town by town approach to in accepting or rejecting fossil fuel power plants is no way to run a state desperately trying to control its greenhouse emission rate. For example, under this proposed legislation, a city or town may have the power to advocate against and for any and all major energy producing facilities coming into their town regardless of what the state mandates and may be able to win in court based on if this legislation passes;
  • the bill mentions “Facilities for the extraction, production, conversion, and processing of coal.” And, ”Facilities associated with the transfer of oil, gas, and coal via pipeline.” Have we not totally eliminated coal from our energy mix? Why is coal still mentioned in this legislation?;
  • there is no mention of the newly enacted amendments to the Resilient RI Act emission reduction regulations known as the Act on Climate. I, along with many others, asked that reference to the Resilient RI Act be included. To date, sponsors have thought differently;
  • the bill adds designees to the list of those who can sit on the EFSB during a docketed case. We need the agency heads, not a designee, at the hearings and need the agency heads to stay with the docket from beginning to the end of the proceedings. If anyone should be required to feel the heat of dissent, it is the agency heads;
  • there is no renewable energy offset clause to the existing public law, no renewable standards or guide plan mentioned. And this after nearly three years of lobbying with the sponsors to include this and other science based findings and guide plans into the EFSA language;
  • S0194SubA expands the EFSB from three members to five members. One of those new members is the RI Secretary of Commerce – another appointee of a sitting RI Governor. This is just bad medicine for legislation that is already on life support. This was a deal breaker a year ago and again a deal breaker today. The second new appointee is a member of the public. In S0194SubA, there is no mention of how this person is selected and/or who appoints this individual;
  • there is no carbon-emission reduction goals considered in plant siting proceedings. Senate bill S0194SubA never mentions the recent amendments to the 2014 Resilient Rhode Island Act; and,
  • there is no requirement that agency heads or EFSB board members answer questions during a public hearing. For anyone who attended 5 plus years of agency public hearings, not receiving an answer to a question is tantamount to ignoring the public that these folks serve.

I was hoping that after the March 12, 2020 hearing that the sponsors would come back with new legislation that corrected these omissions. But they did not. 

Another omission is science. Where is the science in the bill? There is none mentioned.

The bill should include the EC4 – the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council and findings from both the Science Technical Advisory Board (STAB) of the EC4 under the Resilient Rhode Island Act and the EC4 – Advisory Board to review and advise for any major generating facility. There are no such references. STAB and the Advisory Board are not mentioned. Not including these as well as the Brown University Deeper Decarbonization in the Ocean State report and DEM’s 2016 Rhode Island Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Emissions Inventory is flat out ignoring the brilliant minds that live here, the work that they do and the science necessary to make informed decisions.

Nearly six years ago, on August 1, 2015, then Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo stated at a press conference with Invenergy CEO Michael Polsky that “I’m pleased you’ve chosen Rhode Island [for the power plant], and you should know we are going to make sure you are successful here.” A lot has changed over these last six years. But a lot has not changed. Senate 0194A fails the smell test for change. Rejecting outright any and all fossil fuel power plants for the production of electricity in Rhode Island would have been a transformational change. That is what I and many others would like to see. Adding a watershed approach to siting requirements would have been transformational. Increasing the size of the EFSB with independent representatives. Reducing the threshold for ESFB involvement from 40MW to 10MW would place large scale solar forest-clearcutting projects under the watchful eyes of the EFSB and the entire state. That would have been transformational. We need legislation that is transformational in approach and design. This bill does not do that.

So once again, as I did on March 12, 2020, the Burrillville Land Trust opposes the legislation that offers changes to the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Act in Senate bill S0194 Sub A. Let’s hope next time, the sponsors of the bill get the message.

Sincerely, 

Paul A. Roselli

Paul Roselli is president of the Burrillville Land Trust a private non-profit, all volunteer 501(c)(3) land trust with a mission to preserve and protect the rural character of the town of Burrillville through education, advocacy and acquisition. The land trust has been around since 2000 and currently owns about 229 acres in the town of Burrillville.

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