Environment Council of Rhode Island

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Rep. Keable Seeks Improvements for Power Plant Siting Process

STATE HOUSE – Rep. Cale P. Keable testified to the House Finance Committee yesterday that Rhode Island’s energy facility siting process needs changes that would better give a voice to communities where power plants are proposed.

Representative Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester) testified on bills he is sponsoring to expand the membership of the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) and bar the board from approving any application if any state or municipal agencies that have been asked to provide advisory opinions were unable to do so as a result of the applicant’s failure to provide necessary information. He was joined by numerous Burrillville citizens and other concerned community members who testified in support of the legislation.

The bills are aimed at addressing concerns with the process that have been raised during the application process for Invenergy LLC’s proposal to build a 1000-megawatt, fracked gas- and oil-burning power plant in Burrillville.

One of the bills (2017-H 5897) would prevent the EFSB from proceeding to a final hearing or issuing a final decision if one or more of the designated agencies can’t form an advisory opinion due to the conduct of the applicant. Representative Keable worked with Jerry Elmer, senior attorney at the Conservation Law Foundation, in drafting the legislation. 

Six of the 12 state or municipal agencies that have been asked to provide advisory opinions about Invenergy’s application have been unable to provide them as a result of Invenergy’s failure to provide them information about its proposal.

“Invenergy has stonewalled several of the agencies,” Representative Keable told the committee. The bill “would mean the applicant, in this case, Invenergy, would have to play fair and give them the information they have requested and deserve to form an opinion,” he said.

His legislation (2017-H 6051) to expand the EFSB from three to five members is designed to provide a direct voice for the potential host community on the board, he told the committee. The bill would add two members of to the board whenever it convenes for the purpose of reviewing a proposal concerning a new facility or the expansion of an existing one. The two new members would be appointed by the community where the proposal is located. The legislation was introduced on behalf of the Burrillville Town Council and was drafted by its legal counsel.

Currently, the board consists of the directors of the Department of Environmental Management, the Public Utilities Commission chairperson and the associate director of Administration for planning, all of whom are appointed by and report to the governor.

“That has raised a lot of questions in in the minds of my fellow citizens of Burrillville as to how fair the process is. We’ve been told over and over again to trust the process and to let the process work out,” Representative Keable said.

But the citizens have a hard time trusting that the process will be fair when all three members of the board that will decide the proposal’s fate report to the same leader, he said. Other states, like neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut, have much larger siting boards whose members represent diverse interests in energy siting matters.

The legislation also includes a clause that would give extra weight to an advisory opinion issued by a host community whenever there is a proposal to site a power facility in a community that already has one. Burrillville is already home to the 560-megawatt Ocean State Power plant that began operating in 1990, as well as the Spectra Algonquin natural gas pipeline and a related compressor station.

He added that Connecticut’s larger and more diverse energy facility siting board this week unanimously rejected a proposed facility in nearby Killingly that would have been half the size of Invenergy’s proposal, on grounds that it is not needed to serve the region’s power demands.

“If it’s not needed in Connecticut, it’s not needed in Burrillville. What is needed in Rhode Island is a better siting board and this bill goes a long way to accomplish that,” he said.

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