WARWICK – State regulators on Thursday unanimously voted to suspend an application to build a gas-fired power plant in Burrillville, allowing the applicant 60 days to provide details on how it plans to cool the proposed facility.
The R.I. Energy Facility Siting Board, during a show-cause hearing in Warwick, voted 3-0 to suspend the application, proposed by Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, to build a 1,000-megawatt, gas-fired power plant in Burrillville. The suspension will last 90 days, while Invenergy is being asked to submit in writing a plan for how it will cool the proposed facility within 60 days. The proposed $700 million project has been the subject of much debate for more than a year, and about seven weeks ago, the Pascoag Utility District voted against allowing Invenergy to use a water well in its district to cool the facilities generators – an imperative component of the electricity-producing process. The Chicago-based company hasn’t yet come up with an alternative plan.
The EFSB vote, albeit a warning shot, isn’t viewed by power plant opponents as a win, as the suspension merely elongates the process.
“Invenergy’s proposal to build a costly plant that will burn dangerous fossil fuels continues to hit one road block after another, and for good reason: the facts are stacked against them,” said CLF senior attorney Jerry Elmer in a prepared statement. “The legal deadline for Invenergy to submit a complete application has long passed, yet crucial elements concerning the plant’s ecological and environmental impacts remain missing. Merely suspending the docket at this point falls one step short – it’s time for the board to close the docket once and for all.”
The CLF has been fighting against the power plant since last year, and earlier this year filed a motion to dismiss.
It’s unclear exactly how long the suspension will lengthen the process, as final hearings were originally scheduled to begin on Thursday. Todd Bianco, an EFSB spokesman, said he doesn’t envision those hearings now to start again – at the very earliest – until two months from now. The board would then need at least two more months to decide, and there’s any number of different regulatory injunctions that could fit into the mix.
Although, Bianco added, the EFSB could consider motions to dismiss at an earlier date.
Prior to the board’s decision on Thursday, Burrillville town attorney Michael McElroy urged the board members to dismiss the power plant instead of suspending it, saying he’s concerned outside influences may be guiding the board in its process.
“The residents of the town and my clients have become concerned throughout this process that the board’s vote on this process may be dictated by [Gov. Gina M. Raimondo], who has repeatedly and publicly expressed her support for the project, despite the town’s overwhelming opposition,” he said. “The town should not be subjected to extensive, expensive litigation over this deal … it’s time for this board to dismiss.”
An Invenergy representative spoke in support of suspending the process, saying it’s appropriate because the Pascoag Utility District decision against working with Invenergy came late in the process, making it impossible for Invenergy to come up with an alternative option within the previously provided timeline.