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Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Win for Charlestown in water/power plant fight

Coverage of Charlestown’s success at winning a place at the table documented by several sources
By Will Collette

My thanks to Tim Faulkner at ecoRI and Steve Ahlquist of Rhode Island’s Future for the great coverage of last night’s hearing.

Last night, the Energy Facilities Siting Board ruled on a number of motions, including Charlestown’s motion for formal intervenor status in the case involving the proposed Invenergy fossil fuel power plant in Burrillville.

Charlestown has a direct stake in the power plant at the far end of the state because a single official of the Narragansett Tribe apparently signed a contract with Invenergy to provide cooling water pumped from the aquifer that serves all of us.

The water would then be trucked from Charlestown by Ashaway’s Benn & Son Water to the Invenergy plant in Burrillville, presuming that plant gets built.

The Narragansett contract has been vigorously protested by many Narragansetts who say the deal is illegitimate because it was never presented for tribal approval. They vow to prevent any such water removal. Read more here and here.

There’s a lot of detail to the story of last night’s hearing. If you only have a Twitter-sized memory, you probably won’t read in all (in fact, you’ve probably moved on already).

But for those who still read things, I present two firsthand reports from our friends at ecoRI and RI Future where you can get the full story about what happened and what it means.

You should also read Catherine Hewitt’s report in the Westerly Sun or the ProJo’s coverage.

EFSB grants Charlestown intervenor status, power plant hearings delayed
By Steve Ahlquist in Rhode Island’s Future

The Energy Facilities Siting Board granted a motion from Charlestown that allows the town limited intervenor status in the application process concerning Invenergy‘s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at Burrillville

Having decided, despite the arguments of Invenergy lawyers, that Charlestown is an “affected community” as defined under the Energy Facilities Siting Act, the town was allowed intervenor status as it pertains to the water supply only.

Charlestown asked to intervene after Invenergy announced that they had struck a deal to buy water from the Narragansett Indian Tribe

The aquifer that the tribe will be drawing from is the same as the one that supplies the town’s water. Narragansett Tribe members have been vocal in their opposition to the water sale, which they say was made with tribal leadership without their consent.

Anywhere from 15,000 to 750,000 gallons will be needed to cool the power plant turbines, every day.
Charlestown Attorney Peter Ruggiero said that there is an industrial waste landfill in the area that could be affected if the aquifer is drawn down, risking the contamination of the entire aquifer. 

Ruggiero also said that the Narragansett Tribal lands are not sovereign territory, and subject to the laws of Rhode Island.

As a result of this ruling, the EFSB must hold a public hearing in Charlestown with 30 days’ advance notice. 

Only after that hearing can the final hearings begin, meaning that hearings can begin no earlier than the week of December 11. The final hearing was suppose to begin on October 31. 

As a date and location for the hearing Charlestown has yet to be determined, though the week of December 4 is the target and the Charlestown elementary or middle school is under consideration.

“The decision to postpone the commencement of the Final Hearing by at least 6 weeks will, overall, help opponents of Invenergy,” wrote Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) attorney Jerry Elmer

“This is because all of the recent information coming out of the ISO wholesale markets tends to show why Invenergy is not needed.”

Other motions were also decided Tuesday morning. Invenergy’s motion to exclude Burrillville exhibits 20, 21, and 22 and relegate them to the status of public comment, was approved. The exhibits consisted of the resolutions ratified by the councils of 35 cities and towns in opposition to Invenergy’s power plant.

In arguing against including the exhibits, Invenergy’s lawyer Elizabeth Noonan cited the law that said exhibits can be excluded if they are deemed prejudicial, confusing or a waste of time. She also called into question the authenticity of the resolutions.

The EFSB agreed with Noonan’s characterization of the 35 city and town resolutions. Attorney Jerry Elmer noted that the resolutions are from the “legally constituted legal entities” that are tasked with protecting the “public health, safety, and welfare” of their inhabitants.

The Building Trades won with their motion to have the rebuttal testimony of Dr Marc Vatter admitted. The Building Trades were granted intervenor status as to the jobs created by the building of the power plant. Vatter’s rebuttal testimony speaks to the supposed need of a fracked gas power plant and is a best only tangentially related, but the EFSB ruled in favor of the Building Trades.

Another motion, to un-redact some of the testimony of Burrillville’s witness, Glenn Walker was deferred until the hearings. CLF believes that “strongly supports CLF’s argument that the Invenergy plant is not needed.”

Steve Ahlquist is an award-winning journalist, writer, artist and founding member of the Humanists of Rhode Island, a non-profit group dedicated to reason, compassion, optimism, courage and action. The views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of any organization of which he is a member. and Twitter: @SteveAhlquist

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

There’s officially a new player in the Burrillville power-plant saga.

The town of Charlestown was recently given approval to weigh in on the proposed Clear River Energy Center, after the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) voted 3-0 at its Oct. 17 meeting to let the coastal town join as an intervener in the case.

The decision means Charlestown will host a public hearing and have a limited say in the remaining months of the approval process. It also delays by about six weeks the start of the final stage of the power-plant vetting process, which was set to start Oct. 31 and run through January.

The hearing requires a 30-day public notice and will likely be held the week after Thanksgiving at Charlestown Elementary School, 363 Carolina Back Road. The final evidentiary hearings will now begin Dec. 11 or later.

Charlestown sought intervenor status after the Narragansett Indian Tribe announced plans to sell water to Inventory Thermal Development LLC, the Chicago-based developer of the nearly 1-gigawatt fossil-fuel power plant.

The delay is considered a victory for opponents of the power plant, who believe that a prolonged application process may force Invenergy to abandon the project. Due to the latest postponement, a decision on the project isn't expected until March 2018 or later.

“The decision to postpone the commencement of the final hearing by at least six weeks will, overall, help opponents of Invenergy. This is because all of the recent information coming out of the ISO (New England) wholesale markets tends to show why Invenergy is not needed,” wrote Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), one of the intervenors in the power-plant docket.

Demand for power from the $1 billion project is one the key issues the three-member EFSB will consider in its deliberation, and will be debated by CLF, the town of Burrillville, and Invenergy. 

The Illinois developer says the natural-gas/diesel facility will replace retiring power plants and aid the transition to renewable energy. 

CLF and the town of Burrillville argue that ISO New England has yet to agree to buy all of the electricity from the power plant and that the rapid addition of renewable energy and improvements in energy efficiency make the proposed power plant obsolete.

As an intervenor, Charlestown is limited to arguing the issue of water taken from its town to cool the power plant. 

Last month, Invenergy announced that it will pay the Narragansett Indian Tribe to serve as a backup water source to its primary water source, the town of Johnston

CLF and the town of Burrillvillle are suing Invenergy over its agreement with Johnston. The outcome of the court case was considered a critical issue in the fate of the power project until Invenergy announced its backup water sources, which also includes Benn Water of Hopkinton.

On Oct. 10, the Charleston Town Council voted to investigate the effects of drawing water from the tribe’s reservation, which is within the lower Wood River aquifer. Charlestown then asked the EFSB to host a public hearing and to grant intervenor status as an “affected community."

Invenergy argued against granting Charlestown intervenor status because it said the town wouldn't be directly impacted by the proposed power plant.

The EFSB made four other decisions at its Oct. 17 hearing in favor of Invenergy.

All but one of the resolutions opposing the Clear River Energy Center passed by 35 cities and towns in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts was allowed to be submitted as evidence in the final hearing phase. 

Only Burrillville’s resolution was accepted. The remaining will be classified as public comment. Invenergy had questioned the lack of an expert witness to answer questions about the resolutions.

After the recent hearing, Burrillville town manager Michael Wood told ecoRI News that he was displeased with the decision.

“This (power plant) is a statewide issue. Everyone should have a voice and a say. So it doesn’t make sense to me,” Wood said.

The EFSB approved late-filed testimony on behalf of Invenergy from energy economist Marc Vatter. The testimony is a rebuttal to testimony by CLF’s expert witness Robert Fagan, who argued that the electricity from the Clear River Energy Center would exceed demand from the power grid.

The EFSB also delayed a motion by CLF to expose redacted testimony from Burrillville’s expert witness Glenn Walker, a New Hampshire-based energy consultant. 

Walker argued that there will be no demand for the electricity from the power plant in Rhode Island and New England. Invenergy claims releasing the data would hurt its business. The EFSB will decide on the motion once the final evidentiary hearings begin in December.

EFSB hearings scheduled for Oct. 18 and 19 have been canceled, since all of the motions and objections were addressed at the Oct. 17 meeting.

The delay means that the EFSB will continue to accept public comments.