Representative Cale Keable (Democrat, District 47, Burrillville, Glocester)’s legislation to overhaul the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) passed the House today on a vote of 69 to 0.
The bill (H8120A) 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.
The bill was written in response to Invenergy‘s proposed $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the pristine forests of Burrillville, Rhode Island though the legislation is crafted and timed to have no effect on the outcome of the EFSB’s final ruling on the siting of that plant.
“The people of Burrillville have been told time and again to trust the process that will decide the fate of the power plant,” said Keable. “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.”
Though the bill has passed the House, it still needs to be approved by the Senate. The last time Keable tried to do something about the way power plants are approved, the idea was shut down hard by the Senate. Two Senators, Stephen Archambault (Democrat, District 22, Smithfield, Johnston, North Providence) and William Conley Jr (Democrat, District 18, East Providence), lost their Sierra Club endorsements for their votes against Keable’s plan. Conley is the Johnston, Rhode Island City Solicitor and is representing the city in a lawsuit over the water Mayor Joe Polisena agreed to sell Invenergy.
This bill will not affect the outcome of the Invenergy plant siting however, and the the 30-year old Energy Facilities Siting Act is in dire need of an upgrade, so there is every possibility that the Senate will look more favorably on this bill.
According to the press release:
“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.”
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