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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Picketers demand Raimondo appoint person with environmental and economic justice cred to the PUC

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

Activists from the Providence Democratic Socialists of America and the George Wiley Center protested Nov. 2 in front of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s house. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)
Activists from the Providence Democratic Socialists of America and the George Wiley Center protested Nov. 2 in front of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s house. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

The struggle over Rhode Island’s energy future was underscored by a recent protest outside of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s East Side home.

Activists from the Providence Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and the Pawtucket-based George Wiley Center, a social and economic justice group, sounded off at a Nov. 2 demonstration on Raimondo’s lack of response to a request for a socially progressive candidate to lead the state’s energy regulatory board, the Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

The PUC job was given added significance when a report on January’s natural-gas outage on Aquidneck Island called for expanding natural-gas infrastructure, something environmental and social justice groups oppose.


“This is a vital position in the fight against the climate crisis and we need to appoint someone who is not going to be a rubber stamp for fossil-fuel companies like National Grid,” said Corey Krajewski, a protest organizer and co-chair of Providence DSA.

The activists offered a list of qualifications for the next chair of the PUC: 

  • she or he should be free of any political or professional conflict of interest; 
  • show a commitment to public transparency; 
  • grasp the severity of the climate crisis and act to address it; 
  • make energy affordable by adopting a percentage of income payment plan; 
  • stop utility shutoffs; 
  • support a full transition to renewable energy by 2030; 
  • oppose new fossil-fuel infrastructure; oppose utility privation; 
  • and reverse environmental racism.
“The Public Utilities Commission is a political body that makes political decisions. It is not just a bureaucracy,” DSA organizer Will Speck said. “It makes real decisions that affects real people’s lives.”

Raimondo was seen outside her home during the protest but she didn’t address the activists.

In an Oct. 30 report, the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities & Carriers (DPUC) faulted National Grid and pipeline company Enbridge, based in Calgary, for the weeklong gas outage that impacted 7,455 customers on Aquidneck Island.

Multiple problems triggered a so-called “low-pressure condition” within Enbridge’s Algonquin natural-gas pipeline. 

The shutdown was caused by increased demand for gas, the loss of power at the Providence Fields Point liquified natural gas facility (LNG), and a faulty pipeline valve in Weymouth, Mass.

The report also noted National Grid’s failure to address the growth in demand and the company’s “erroneous” decision not to deploy temporary LNG vaporization facilities on Aquidneck Island.

The DPUC recommended that National Grid and Enbridge pay $25 million for repairs, rather than charge ratepayers. Public hearings will held before the PUC if National Grid seeks to recover the money from ratepayers.

National Grid was also fined $39,000 for waiting 39 days to report the shutdown of vaporizers at its Fields Point LNG facility.

The DPUC suggested building new fossil-fuel infrastructure such as a larger natural-gas line serving Aquidneck Island. National Grid previously agreed to deploying temporary LNG facilities to meet winter gas demand. The report suggested installing other LNG equipment to better accommodate natural-gas use.

In a prepared statement, Raimondo said the DPUC findings are “troubling.”

“It’s clear that much needs to be done to ensure the reliability of the system,” she said. “I am directing the (DPUC) to immediately advance the report’s recommendations.”

Outgoing PUC chairwoman Margaret Curran wasn’t renewed for a second, six-year term by Raimondo. The governor’s initial nominee, Laura Olton, withdrew her nomination in late July after questions about her residency.

Environmental and grassroots groups opposed Olton’s nomination because of her previous job as an attorney for National Grid. The experience, they argued, showed a bias toward the large utility and other multinationals.

Raimondo’s next candidate for PUC chair must be approved by the Senate. The General Assembly reconvenes in January.