EFSB hears opening statements on proposed Invenergy power plant

Today the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) heard opening statements as the final hearings to determine whether or not Invenergy will build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in the middle of the pristine forests of north-west Rhode Island, essentially tying our region to fossil fuels for the next forty years or more. Invenergy, which
Photo for EFSB hears opening statements on proposed Invenergy power plant

Published on April 27, 2018
By Steve Ahlquist

Today the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) heard opening statements as the final hearings to determine whether or not Invenergy will build a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in the middle of the pristine forests of north-west Rhode Island, essentially tying our region to fossil fuels for the next forty years or more.

Invenergy, which has the burden of proof, went first.

High powered corporate attorney Michael Blazer was flown in from Chicago to deliver the opening, perhaps because no Rhode Island lawyers were up to the task. Blazer’s opening statement was dry, and pretty uncontroversial, but his status as a Chicago lawyer, representing a billion dollar fossil fuel energy company that wants to build a polluting nightmare in a town which by Blazer’s own admission is “adamantly opposed to this project” gave his entire opening a patronizing feel, as if he can’t believe he actually has go through these motions.

Things got weird when Blazer quoted Inherit the Wind, a play and movie based on the Scopes Monkey Trial. In the play, the character Henry Drummond, based on real-life lawyer Clarence Darrow says:

“Can’t you understand? That if you take a law like evolution and you make it a crime to teach it in the public schools, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private schools? And tomorrow you may make it a crime to read about it. And soon you may ban books and newspapers. And then you may turn Catholic against Protestant, and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the mind of man. If you can do one, you can do the other. Because fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy, and needs feeding. And soon, your Honor, with banners flying and with drums beating we’ll be marching backward, BACKWARD, through the glorious ages of that Sixteenth Century when bigots burned the man who dared bring enlightenment and intelligence to the human mind…”

Blazer was essentially casting environmentalists and groups like Conservation Law Foundation as anti-technology Luddites, opposed to gas, wind and hydro. “What are we left with?” asked Blazer, “Marching backwards to burn whale oil?”

Metaphors are flexible things. Blazer wants to cast himself as Clarence Darrow, a big city lawyer heroically arriving in some backwater town to deliver the truth to local knuckleheads, but he’s really more like William Jennings Bryan, clinging desperately to an anti-science religious ideology (fossil fuels) that is not only outdated, but dangerous. One big difference between Jennings Bryan and Blazer, however, is that Jennings Bryan was anti-materialist and motivated by faith, while Blazer’s point of view seems more than tinged with corporate greed and base materialism.

Blazer ended his opening by commiserating with the two members of the EFSB tasked with the decision to approve or deny Invenergy’s permits. “I think this process will be made unnecessarily difficult by efforts to confuse, to distort and to deny plain facts.”

The facts, according to Blazer, are:

  • This is the single largest infrastructure project in the history of Rhode Island,
  • That the project is needed
  • That the project will not hurt the ratepayers
  • That the project will be safe
  • That it will help Rhode Island and all of New England, meet their energy needs

Alan Shoer

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer went next, outlining the four main arguments he will develop over the course of the hearings against building the power plant.

  1. The plant is not needed;
  2. If the plant is built, it will be impossible for Rhode Island to meet its short, medium, and long-term carbon-emission-reduction goals under the Resilient Rhode Island Act;
  3. The plant would pose non-climate environmental problems for biodiversity and forest connectivity;
  4. Invenergy’s demonstrated history of lying to the EFSB, to the ISO New England, and to the public. (ISO New England, “is the federally regulated, independent organization which dispatches power plants over six states, administers wholesale energy markets, and works to ensure grid reliability.”)

CLF used arguments presented to the EFSB at the Preliminary Hearing (January 12, 2016) by Invenergy’s expert witness Ryan Hardy and Invenergy’s project director John Niland to demonstrate why the plant is not needed. As can be seen in the attachments below, contrary to the testimony of Hardy and Niland, energy prices are falling and Invenergy’s proposed power plant is needed less every year.

For arguments against the power plant-based on Invenergy’s carbon emissions and climate impacts, CLF will rely on the expert testimony of Brown University professor Timmons Roberts.

For the non-carbon impacts of the proposed power plant, CLF will rely on the expert testimony of Scott Comings, Associate Director of the Rhode Island office of The Nature Conservancy. The map below, taken from Comings’s pre-filed testimony, shows that the proposed Invenergy plant would be sited at a uniquely sensitive “pinch point” for forest connectivity:

As for the question of Invenergy’s honesty, CLF’s Opening Statement will consider:

  • John Niland presenting information to the EFSB on March 31, 2016 at Burrillville High School, in front of 700 people, which information Niland knew to be false at the time he presented it;
  • Invenergy’s clandestine lawsuit at Federal Energy Regulatory Agency (FERC) seeking to have $168 million in interconnection costs transferred to ratepayers – which lawsuit Invenergy failed to disclose to the EFSB, but which was revealed to the EFSB by CLF;
  • lies on monthly Forward Capacity Tracking System (FCTS) forms filed by Invenergy with ISO-NE, the operator of the New England electricity grid.

According to Attorney Elmer, CLF’s Opening Statement is the first time there has been any public reference to material misstatements by Invenergy on its (FCTS) forms.  Here, CLF will separate information that is publicly known from confidential information protected by the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in the case:

What is public:

  • Invenergy is on Critical Path Milestone (CPS) monitoring by the ISO.
  • The reason Invenergy is on CPS monitoring is that it is behind schedule.
  • Because Invenergy is on CPS monitoring, it is required to filed monthly progress reports with ISO; these are called FCTS forms.

What is not public:

  • The actual contents of these monthly FCTS forms are subject to the Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) in the lawsuit and, therefore, are not public.

Discussing the FCTS forms required clearing the room during part of Elmer’s opening statement.

The next opening statement was made by Michael McElroy for the Town of Burrillville. McElroy expertly laid out his case, including the public testimony of hundreds of Rhode Islanders opposed to the plant. McElroy said that during the final hearing the Town’s experts “would demonstrate that the power plant is not needed, is not cost-justified and would cause unacceptable harm to the environment, not only in the Town of Burrillville but throughout Rhode Island and significant parts of the northeast region…

“… the evidence in this matter will demonstrate that this Board should not, indeed by law it cannot, license this plant.”

Michael Mancini, attorney for the Building Trades, laid out the impact the project would have on jobs in the state.

The final hearing stage continues throughout the late summer and fall of 2018. The EFSB has tentatively scheduled the final hearing to continue to the following dates:

July 19, 24 and 25

August 15, 16, 21, 22 and 23

September 4, 5, 6, 12, 18, 20, 26 and 27

October 10, 16, 17, 30 and 31

Special thanks to Joshua Keller for stepping in and running the camera for me!

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