Amid audience shouts of “Shame on you!” and “Merry Christmas, Invenergy!” the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) voted unanimously to grant Invenergy a 90 day suspension on their application to build a $700 million fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in Burrillville, effectively quadrupling Invenergy’s previous 30 day extension.
Once Pascoag voted to terminate their letter of intent with Invenergy to provide water to cool Invenergy’s proposed power plant, and Harrisville also declined to provide water, the company asked for 30 days to find an alternative source. They were granted a 30 day extension 30 days ago and despite negotiating with Woonsocket for the water needed to oil the power plant, nothing concrete was presented at today’s hearing.
Instead we heard Invenergy lawyer Alan Shoer claim that Pascog’s termination of their letter of intent came “very late in the process, after almost a year of working with Invenergy.” This made it impossible for Invenergy to come up with an alternative plan, complained Shoer. Attorney Jerry Elmer with the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) later countered that “Invenergy made a careful, conscious, deliberate decision to file an application with the EFSB that had very tight, strict, statutory deadlines for things happening, before they had a secure water source… That was Invenergy’s sole election.”
In other words, continued Elmer, Invenergy knew that their non-binding letter of intent “may not result in a water source.”
The 90 day suspension comes with the minor caveat that Invenergy provide a status update in 60 days. The update must show concrete progress in securing a water source, though it is unclear what penalty Invenergy may face if they do not deliver an update that is satisfactory to the board. Criteria for the update seemed sketchy.
In 90 days, Invenergy must be able to present a water source to the board, along with a plan to transport the water to the location of the power plant. Burrillville recently provided a list of criteria that board member Janet Coit suggested would need to be satisfied for the suspension to be lifted. The criteria includes the source of the water, the means of transmission of the water, and the disposal of waste water, among other concerns.
In the event that Invenergy is unable to come up with a water supply, Coit suggested that the EFSB might be open to further suspensions at that time, effectively suggesting unlimited time for Invenergy to get their application in order, unless the board decides to dismiss the application per the motions from the Conservation Law Foundation and the Town of Burrillville.
Lawyer Michael McElroy gave a stellar speech to the board in support of dismissing Invenergy’s application, even going so far as to quote Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee. McElroy also directly confronted Chair Margaret Curran and board members Parag Agrawal and Janet Coit about concerns that the EFSB’s process “may be dictated by” Governor Gina Raimondo.
“The Town of Burrillville does not want this plant,” said McElroy, “I think that’s been made clear to this board. This plant would be a polluting monster that violates the town’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances and would negatively impact impact the quality of life for all Burrillville residents.
The EFSB, continued McElroy, “has been given extraordinary legal powers to grant permits that would otherwise be granted by my client, the Town of Burrillville. You have in essence become, among other things, the town’s planning board, its zoning board and its building inspector. But with such great power comes great responsibility. Your most important power and responsibility is to fully, fairly and impartially evaluate all of the issues that come before you after hearing from all of the parties on those issues.”
“The residents of the town and my clients have become concerned that throughout this process that the board’s votes on this process may be dictated by the governor, who has repeatedly and publicly expressed her support for this project despite the town’s overwhelming opposition. This board’s ill-advised and illegal previous attempts to silence the town and prevent it from being heard today only reinforces that concern.
McElroy urged the board to dismiss the docket, not suspend it. “Suspending the docket instead of dismissing it would give Invenergy what amounts to a gift of an indefinite suspension,” said McElroy. “The town has been fighting this battle now for almost a year at great monetary and emotional expense.”
McElroy’s fiery comments stand in sharp contrast to those of Jerry Elmer, who added that though the lack of water was a major issue that precipitated the motion to suspend, there was also the issue of a lack of information from Invenergy that caused six of the twelve advisory opinions to the board to be submitted incomplete.
After the board rendered its decision those watching the proceedings left the room singing “We shall overcome.”
Those from Burrillville I talked to were angry and disappointed by the ruling. They feel the process is corrupt and stacked against them. They feel that they are being forced to attend yet more town and city council meetings throughout the state in an effort to garner support and prevent the sale of water to Invenergy. Their holidays will now be filled with research, activism, environmental reports and endless meetings in towns and cities throughout the state and beyond to garner support for their cause and to prevent Invenergy from securing a source of water.
Yet though the process seems corrupt and Invenergy seems intent on grinding away their resolve, the people I talked to were adamant that they would not give up or stop fighting.