Many of the changes address concerns raised about the power plant siting process by those advocating against Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development Corp.’s proposed 1000-megawatt, natural gas-burning power plant off Wallum Lake Road – in particular, the pitfalls of the three-member EFSB. The
panel is currently operating with just two members after Division of Planning Associate Director Parag Agrawal left his position last month and has yet to be replaced – even as Invenergy’s application enters final hearings.
“The people of Burrillville have been told time and again to trust the process that will decide the fate of the power plant,” said Keable. “We and many of the other stakeholders believe that process can be improved. Rhode Island’s
Energy Facilities Siting Board consists of just three members, all of whom are appointed by the executive (branch). Our neighbors in Massachusetts and Connecticut have larger siting boards that represent the divergent interests involved in siting power plant projects. Power plants have a tremendous impact on their host community and the environment as well as our energy resources, so they should be vetted in a very thorough, careful process that warrants the public’s trust.”
The bill would add four members to the EFSB whenever it meets to discuss a proposed major power plant or a major expansion of an existing one: the director of the Department of Health, the state fire marshal, and two members of the public. The elected chief executive or town council president of the host community would appoint the members of the public, one of whom must be a resident of the host community and the other of whom
would represent the community’s businesses.
The bill would require any application placed on the docket to have been deemed complete before the panel could commence a hearing that could lead to the issuance of a permit. It would also allow for the suspension of the process for 60 days if the applicant fails to provide state agencies with the information they need to issue necessary advisory opinions, and mandate the denial of the application if the information is still not provided at the end of those 60 days. Failure or refusal to provide any information requested by the EFSB would also be grounds for denial. Several state and municipal agencies have been unable to provide complete advisory opinions for the Invenergy proposal due to a lack of information from the company.
Additionally, the bill would provide citizens with a legal counsel empowered to represent the general public in seeking to protect the quality of the environment, including advocating for “environmental justice” throughout the process. The public counsel would be appointed by the attorney general, with the cost of his or her fees to be paid by the applicant through the board’s assessment process.
The bill would significantly strengthen protections for host communities, in part, by providing them with automatic “intervenor status” in hearings on energy construction proposals within their borders. As part of the process, applicants would be required to include in the application a detailed description of the proposal’s access to all utilities, including water, sewer, electric and gas. Host communities would submit a report detailing the proposal’s consistency with all local ordinances, regulations and standards, and the siting board would seek advisory opinions from its zoning, planning, and building departments.
The bill would make the applicant responsible for paying the cost of the host communities’ participation in the process.
The EFSB would also be required to consider any town or city council resolution regarding the application. The overwhelming majority of the legislative panels in the state passed resolutions opposing the Clear River Energy Center, but the EFSB deemed them moot from an evidentiary standpoint.
In the case of a host community that already is host to another fossil fuel power plant of 250 megawatts or more (as Burrillville is, since it already hosts the 560 megawatt Ocean State Power plant), the legislation requires the board to abide by that town or city council’s wishes, unless the board is presented with “clear and convincing evidence” thatm the existing facility fails to meet the standard.
The legislation also adds a requirement that the applicant include “a detailed and specific statement as to the effects the proposed facility would have on them ability of the state to meet its carbon-emissions reduction goals, and prohibits the siting board from approving the project unless it has shown it won’t prevent thet state from reaching that goal.p
Cosponsors of the bill include Rep. Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville), House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Rep. Justin K. Price (R-Dist. 39, Richmond, Hopkinton, Exeter) and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).