I’m the president of the Burrillville Land Trust and president of the Rhode Island Association of Conservation Commissions, and I’m writing on their behalf today. The land trust and Conservation Commission is in support of House Bill 6051, House Bill 5897, and House Bill 5197, which would redefine the scope of the Energy Facilities Siting Board.
The 1986 public law 42-98-5 is out of date and can’t compete in the ever changing demands of energy, the end of fossil fuels, the proliferation of solar, wind and hydro, continued state and regional carbon reduction regulations and a greater reliance on a smarter grid.
In brief, the Energy Facility Siting Board – the EFSB – needs to be updated. Updated in the following ways:
- In any and all EFSB applications, there must be strict adherence to all 715 and more elements of the Rhode Island state guide plans. Not 7 that has been previously reported, but over 715 elements within those guide plans. Each of you in your own municipality are called on to adhere to these 715 elements through your Comprehensive Plan. A major energy facility must adhere to them as well. House bill 5897 would begin to do that. Its important to remember that today, the EFSB does not have the authority to find fault at the application stage or declare the application incomplete if narrative on these guide plan elements is incomplete, inaccurate or missing. Because of that, I would ask that the bill revision in Sup. A language include all the state guide plans and reference the over 715 elements within those guide plans so that every major energy project must provide evidence of adherence in their application and that the EFSB can reject an application if those elements are not adequately discussed. But they do this at the application phase of the process.
- House Bill 5197 calls for an environmental impact statement for all major energy facilities. As a land trust president, I cannot agree more. Under the current EFSB authority, the applicant merely provides, as in the case of the October 29, 2015 Invenergy application to the RI EFSB, a rudimentary “check-box list” of items. In our state where forests are fragmented or destroyed for an office park in Johnston, or a proposed rail line change in Charlestown, new gas and electric infrastructure, we must pay close attention to applicants that further erode our environment including our forests. The Invenergy application is a good case in point. Having been accepted as “complete” Invenergy will argue, and rightfully so, that there is no need for an environmental impact statement because they have complied with the specific requirements of the law. But anyone who reads the section in their application on environmental impacts will agree the data presented to be a hastily produced and inadequate, drawing faulty conclusions about the environmental impact of such a facility. House bill 5197 would begin to fix this. I would ask this committee to include language in the Sub A that is used in federal court rulings and federal law on the issue of “insubmissible segmentation” or “cumulative” impacted areas and impacts on the environment and region. We have to remember, that this power plant is not an isolated project. There are no less than six other projects associated with the construction of this power plant: the 6.8 mile Burrillville Interconnection Project, the Enbridge Access Northeast pipeline Project, upgrades to the nearby existing compressor station, upgrades to two switching stations and pipeline connections, access roads, parking and more. All of these six separate projects – and other projects – should be looked at by the EFSB as a whole – as one project. House bill 5197 should give authority to the EFSB to construct an environmental impact statement that would look at the cumulative impacts of all the projects associated with this one project. And, I would strongly implore that this committee with this bill, finally give teeth to an otherwise toothless Resilient Rhode Island Act. The carbon reductions as specified in Resilient Rhode Island Act are reachable only if all energy segments subscribe under law to these reductions. Give teeth to the toothless. Provide authority under the Resilient Rhode Island Act to demand carbon reductions.
- And finally, House Bill 6051. This bill, like the others is a good step in the right direction towards bringing the EFSB up to modern times. But I would ask that this committee go a few steps further:
- Rewrite the 1986 law authorizing the EFSB to increase the number of EFSB board members that would include independent advocates for land, water and air resources. And I do mean advocates not governmental appointees, not anyone connected to any political party – but advocates who would speak on behalf of the need for clean water, the science of fossil fuel emissions and the value of land preservation. A lottery for candidates could be the solution. The participants would be drawn from that lottery from land trusts, watershed groups, citizens health rights organizations and more. They would have voting power to decide on the fate of permitting a power plant, for example. And they would not be subject to the not-in-my-backyard vagaries of EFSB members appointed by municipalities bent on restricting or denying a power plant in their own backyard.
- And, we need a “sunset provision” for the ESFB. There is no room in our state for committees or boards that ascends to any rule or regulation whether it is local, state or regional in-order to permit a project. We need to do away with the EFSB and not a 2 year review as written in this legislation. Since October 2016, the organizations I represent have gone statewide making this issue a statewide issue. We have been successful. Along with Burrillvile Against Spectra Energy, Fighting Against Natural Gas, Keep Burrillville Beautiful, Keep Rhode Island Beautiful, United Against Clear River Energy Center, Fossil Free Rhode Island and others we have taken what many at first saw as a not in my backyard issue and made it a statewide issue. That is where the final decision needs to take place. In your Sub A. we can make this decision making process a 2 year process where each side tries to win voters towards their side. That process has already taken place. Two years ago, this project was a done deal. We changed that. Perhaps if there is an election cycle in that time period, perhaps this process could be more transparent than the current one.
I would also suggest that these three bills be combined and brought before a legislative panel. Back in 1986, a similar legislative panel was constructed and the EFSB came out of those stakeholder and policy maker meetings. Given all that is going on today – right now – in solar, offshore and on-shore wind, carbon reduction legislation, carbon pricing regulations, energy efficiency even ISO-NE looking at downward trends in energy use, it is time to stop business as usual and think anew.
I implore you to think anew.