Power Plant Is a Polluting Monster

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What you read from the RI Governor’s press office is not true. The fracked gas/oil-fired power plant proposed for the middle of the woods in northwestern Rhode Island will do nothing to improve the lives of citizens in Rhode Island and those in nearby communities. But before heading into a discourse that will irk those in support of jobs at any cost and those who are determined to sell the state’s natural resources to the highest bidder, let’s go back nearly two years to the start of the Invenergy project.

On August 4, 2015, a hastily arranged news conference took place at the offices of the Providence Chamber of Commerce featuring Governor Raimondo and Michael Polsky, the chief executive of a Chicago-based energy company called Invenergy. The one-gigawatt methane gas power plant was announced and hailed as a game changer for the Rhode Island economy and the price of electricity, and a savior for the environment. Raimondo and Polsky stood in front of a computer-generated illustration that showed an industrial-sized power plant that would occupy about 64 forested acres in northwestern Rhode Island. The proposed power plant would be located next to conservation and recreation land purchased and paid for from Open Space Bond Referendums by RI voters who favor this statewide referendum with approval ratings of 66% and more. Buck Hill Management Area, George Washington/Durfee Hill Management Area, Pulaski Park and a few Burrillville Land Trust properties envelop the proposed site owned by Algonquin Gas Transmission Company. The power plant site is also within shouting distance of the much heralded state purchase of the former 189 acre Boy Scouts of Rhode Island camp.

“Because this parcel sits within one of the largest undisturbed areas in all of Rhode Island, it is particularly valuable for wildlife,” said Janet Coit, director of the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, during the press conference announcing the land purchase.

The power plant, in the middle of all this preserved land investment, would generate electricity by burning fracked methane gas from western Pennsylvania and using water turned to steam to power the steam turbines. The image of a fossil fuel power plant near Raimondo and Polsky on that August 2015 morning was one devoid of the usual ills of an industrial sized gas/oil burning power plant: a forest cut, trees hauled away, topsoil removed, oil spills, rusting oil and water tanks, and smokestacks spewing out over 3 million tons of toxic smoke. Nor did it show tanker trucks making their way along two-lane rural roads every 30 days to fill up the 2,250,000-gallon water tank and the 2,000,000-gallon oil tank, and haul away toxic cooling water waste used to keep the plant running. The power plant will set Rhode Island back 40 years in greenhouse gas emissions.

It would be hard to imagine that a project encouraged by political leaders would have any chance of being defeated even before examining campaign contributions. Seven months before the press announcement at the Providence Chamber, Polsky donated $1,000 to Raimondo’s campaign — the legal limit any individual can donate directly to any political candidate. Providence-based attorneys working for Invenergy also chipped in to Raimondo’s campaign.

Over the course of 18 months since that first announcement, the tide has turned for Invenergy: Every RI environmental group opposes the power plant or questions its value; watershed groups, a few conservation commissions and one RI land trust has come out in opposition to the power plant; and, if that weren’t enough, in early February 2017, Invenergy failed in their attempt to “sell” 435 megawatts of their electricity to the New England grid. Thirty-one municipalities — 29 in Rhode Island, one in Connecticut and one in Massachusetts — have written resolutions against the power plant. They include Cranston, Central Falls, Providence, Narragansett, Glocester, Portsmouth, Exeter, New Shoreham, Lincoln and Westerly. The social and economic disparity between The Town of New Shoreham and City of Central Falls could not be more stark. Their commonality is their reverence for the land around them. With each national election cycle since 2004, Central Falls and New Shoreham vie for being first in voter approval percentage close to 85% for open space referendums. While one is attempting to protect their special places, the other is desperate for a place in the woods, by the shore or in a park to hold family gatherings, hikes and walks.

The likelihood of this “polluting monster” being defeated is greater now than it has ever been. Over the course of the next few months, three Governor-appointed RI Energy Facility Siting Board members will hold hearings questioning the validity of the information given about the plant. Activism in opposition to the power plant continues at the state, municipal and street levels.

The Invenergy fracked gas/oil power plant is a throw-back to the early 1900s when methane and oil ruled. Momentum toward renewables continues to flourish. Opposing the Invenergy project is an opportunity to keep that momentum going. The power plant illustration near Raimondo and Polsky in 2015 is fading with a story line that no one is buying.

Paul A. Roselli is president of the Burrillville Land Trust and volunteers to the Blackstone River Watershed Council and the Rhode Island Association of Conservation Commissions. 

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