Monday, February 13, 2017

Power up? Save The Bay weighs the effects of Burrillville power plant on Narragansett Bay

***Originally printed in the Fall 2016 issue of Tides Magazine***

By Topher Hamblett, director of advocacy

A proposed gas-fired power plant in the Narragansett Bay watershed has generated great public interest, with opinions ranging from strongly supportive to vehemently opposed. If approved by state and federal regulatory bodies, the plant would be built in the Clear River watershed, which is part of the Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay watersheds.

For Save The Bay, two key issues are at stake:

First, what will be the ecological impacts of the facility on the Clear River, Blackstone River and Narragansett Bay watersheds? We’re talking about such ecological issues as groundwater and wetlands systems, wildlife habitats and the water quality of the Clear River. In keeping with our mission, Save The Bay will give these issues very close scrutiny when, and if, Invenergy, the company proposing the plant, submits specific site plans and required permit applications to the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM).

Our second concern is about climate change and the potential levels of greenhouse gas emissions generated by the plant — an extremely complicated issue on local, regional and global levels. Save The Bay is mindful of two important facts: 1) global climate change is having profoundly harmful effects on Narragansett Bay, and, 2) under the Resilient R.I. Act of 2014, the Executive Climate Change Coordinating Council (EC4) is required to submit to the Governor and General Assembly a strategy for achieving greenhouse gas reduction targets set forth in the Act. The deadline for this report is December 31, 2016.


Hikers explore the Burrillville woodlands at the site 

of the proposed power plant. 
We are urging the EC4 to consider a number of important questions in order to chart the state’s energy course carefully and thoughtfully. Is the proposed facility even needed to meet state and/ or regional energy needs? What are the benefits of investments in renewable energy generation and energy conservation on energy system supply and distribution? How do they quantify the impact of these investments — past and future — on energy system reliability, supply, and costs of transmission and power generation? What is the potential for Canadian hydroelectric power in replacing nuclear power as part of the region’s energy mix?

“These are important considerations that must be part of the EC4’s work in guiding our state toward our greenhouse gas emission goals. A decision by the Energy Facilities Siting Board on this proposed power plant before the EC4 develops its greenhouse gas reduction strategy is like the tail wagging the dog,” said Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save The Bay.

Ultimately, and only after that strategy has been developed and adopted, the burden of proof that this proposed power plant meets the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the Resilient R.I. Act lies with Invenergy and the Governor. Save The Bay has concluded that until the EC4 submits its greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy and this burden of proof met, it is premature for the R.I. Energy Facilities Siting Board to make any decision on the construction of Invenergy’s proposed natural gas-fired power plant in Rhode Island.

As we go to press, the R.I. Energy Facilities Siting Board has conducted public hearings and continues to evaluate economic, community and environmental factors as it prepares a recommendation to Governor Gina Raimondo. Stay tuned