May 16, 2018
Rep. Cale P. Keable (401) 222-2258
House OKs Keable bill overhauling Energy Facility Siting Board,
making power plant review process more stringent
Legislation also adds protections for host communities, environment
STATE HOUSE – The House of Representatives today approved Rep. Cale P. Keable’s legislation to overhaul the Energy Facilities Siting Board and to provide a more comprehensive process for reviewing power plant proposals. Representative Keable was happy to work directly with Burrillville Town Council President John Pacheco on the legislation.
The bill (2018-H 8120 A) would expand the EFSB from three members to seven and would provide greater protections and rights to the communities where proposed power plants are located. It would also demand that applicants provide all the required information before their application can begin moving forward.
Many of the changes address concerns raised about the power plant siting process by those advocating against Invenergy LLC’s proposal to build a 1000-megawatt, fracked gas- and oil-burning power plant in Burrillville, particularly that the plant’s fate is to be determined by a panel that is typically just three members. The board is currently down to two after Division of Planning Associate Director Parag Agrawal left his position last month and has yet to be replaced, even as Invenergy’s application enters final hearings.
“The people of Burrillville have been told time and again to trust the process that will decide the fate of the power plant. We and many of the other stakeholders believe that process can be improved. Rhode Island’s Energy Facilities Siting Board consists of just three members, all of whom are appointed by the Executive. Our neighbors in Massachusetts and Connecticut have larger siting boards that represent the divergent interests involved in siting power plant projects. Power plants have a tremendous impact on their host community and the environment as well as our energy resources, so they should be vetted in a very thorough, careful process that warrants the public’s trust,” said Representative Keable (D-Dist. 47, Burrillville, Glocester).
The bill would add four members to the EFSB whenever it meets to discuss a proposed major power plant or a major expansion of an existing one: the director of the Department of Health, the state fire marshal, and two members of the public. The elected chief executive or town council president of the host community would appoint the members of the public, one of whom must be a resident of the host community and the other of whom would represent the community’s businesses.
The bill would require any application placed on the docket to have been deemed complete. It would suspend the process for 60 days if the applicant fails to provide state agencies with the information they need to issue necessary advisory opinions, and mandate the denial of the application if the information is still not provided at the end of those 60 days. Failure or refusal to provide any information requested by the Siting Board would also be grounds for denial. Several state and municipal agencies have been unable to provide complete advisory opinions for the Invenergy proposal due to a lack of information from the company.
Additionally, the bill would provide a counsel for the public who would legally represent the public in seeking to protect the quality of the environment, including advocating for environmental justice matters throughout the process. The public counsel would be appointed by the attorney general, and the cost of his or her fees would be paid by the applicant through the board’s assessment process.
The bill would significantly strengthen protections for host communities, including automatic intervenor status. As part of the process, applicants would be required to include in the application a detailed description of the proposal’s access to all utilities including water, sewer, electric and gas. Host communities would submit a report detailing the proposal’s consistency with all local ordinances, regulations and standards, and the Siting Board would seek advisory opinions from its zoning, planning, and building departments. The bill would make the applicant responsible for paying the cost of the host communities’ participation in the process.
The EFSB would also be required to consider any town or city council resolution regarding the application. In the case of a host community that already is host to another fossil fuel power plant of 250 megawatts or more (as Burrillville is, since it already hosts the 560-MW Ocean State Power plant), the legislation requires the board to abide by that town or city council’s wishes, unless the board is presented with clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.
The legislation also adds a requirement that the applicant include “a detailed and specific statement as to the effects the proposed facility would have on the ability of the state to meet [its] carbon-emissions-reduction goal,” and prohibits the Siting Board from approving the project unless it has shown it won’t prevent the state from reaching that goal.
Cosponsors of the bill include Rep. Brian C. Newberry (R-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville), House Environment and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Arthur Handy (D-Dist. 18, Cranston), Rep. Justin K. Price (R-Dist. 39, Richmond, Hopkinton, Exeter) and Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown).
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