The Special Legislative Committee to Study the Energy Facilities Siting Act held its second meeting on Thursday, December 7 in the Rhode Island State House. The meeting consisted of two presentations, the first from Michael McElroy, who has been representing the Town of Burrillville before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) against Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests on northwest Rhode Island.
With McElroy was his law partner Leah Donaldson, who researched and wrote a comprehensive review and overhaul of the Energy Facilities Siting Act (EFSA), comparing the way Rhode Island licenses power plants and how our neighbors in New England and across the country do so. Donaldson’s research culminated in a bill put forward by Representative Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester) during the last session of the General Assembly. The bill did not get to the Governor’s desk.
You can read Keable’s bill and the list of proposed changes here.
You can see all the slides from Donaldson’s Power Point presentation here, and the full presentation, including all the questions and answers, can be seen in the first video below.
The video gets interesting around the 39 minute mark. McElroy explains that the EFSB was created to prevent local communities form being able to veto power plants aimed at their communities, giving that power to the EFSB to determine statewide needs and priorities over the objections of local communities.
Can we please ask a favor?
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This led commission member Michael Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, to question McElroy as to whether his and Donaldson’s work on proposed changes to the EFSA came from a view that was “pro or con” building power plants in general.
These proposed changes don’t come from a pro or con position, maintained McElroy, they come from a position of wanting to make the EFSB better. In McElroy and Donaldson’s proposed changes, “We retain the principle that the decision is the board’s decision. A state wide board needs to determine state wide needs and render a state wide decision. We’re not trying to take any local veto power and insert it into the act.”
The EFSB was established as “one-stop shopping” for companies interested in building power plants in Rhode Island, but Peter Lacouture, a law partner from Robinson & Cole LLP, who represents National Grid before the EFSB, maintains that, “From the utility point of view, it is not a one-stop process.”
The EFSB, said Lacouture, was established before energy industry deregulation, and has struggled with determining whether or not a given power plant will produce power at a reasonable cost. This is because electrical rates are determined via the ISO process.
“Deregulation means no clear line, no straight arrow between production of [electricity] and then the distribution and transmission of electricity to the ratepayers,” suggested commission member Paul Roselli of the Burrillville Land Trust. Lacouture quibbled with Roselli’s characterization, but didn’t upend it.
Lacouture has argued mostly transmission line cases before the EFSB for decades. He sees public opposition to projects as healthy. “When there’s serious opposition,” said Lacouture, “the project gets aired out.”
“I think National Grid has put a real premium on outreach,” said Lacouture, “both initially and during the permitting process… Having said that, I don’t know how you mandate that.”
You can watch Lacouture below:
The next meeting of the Special Legislative Committee to Study the Energy Facilities Siting Act will hear public testimony and is taking place in room 101 of the Rhode Island State House on December 18 at 3pm.
Douglas Gablinske, executive director of The Energy Council of Rhode Island (TEC-RI) was absent.
Nicole Verdi, an associate at Adler Pollock and Sheehan, and Gregory Mancini, an associate at Sinapi Law Associates, were on hand to observe the commission meeting.
Note that the videos above are from Capitol TV, but the audio sync is off there. I’ve corrected that for the videos here.
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