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Editorial & Opinion

Paul Roselli: ProJo’s power plant editorial based on ‘misinformation and distortions’



It would be easy to dismiss the Providence Journal October 2nd editorial titled “Loss of plant would hurt.” Easy to dismiss an editorial board that no longer exists. Easy to dismiss a newspaper that is running out of readers, can’t get out of its own way in failing to delve deep into facts about the economy, health and safety, environmental racism and instead writes an editorial that owns to a different time and place. They forget the very essence of what community means and how those who live in that community can shape the future and protect a sense of place. We must also take notice of the continued layoff of skilled journalists. With those dismissals the ProJo can’t seem to discover truth if they tripped over it. It would be easy to dismiss those who look to the past for answers. It would be easy to dismiss this editorial.

What can’t be dismissed is a looming November election, where political alliances and fortunes may move the power plant process along. The misinformation and distortions have to be addressed. “I believe things cannot make themselves impossible,” says noted physicists Stephen Hawking. The ProJo article waxes much on the impossibility of a robust economy without ultra big industrial sized power plants, skyscrapers, ball teams and stadiums that are used less than 120 days a year or a mega port at Quonset Point/Davisville. They point to the past as an indication of future outcomes.

Let’s put this power plant in perspective in what is and what wasn’t mentioned in their editorial. In the three years since Invenergy came to Rhode Island, solar and wind materials, and installation costs have plummeted. Hundreds of jobs have been created and sustained. Millions of investment dollars have flowed into Rhode Island and a sea change against the use of fossil fuels for the production of electricity has started. For those who have taken advantage of the energy saving incentives, the amount of energy to power your home has gone down. All of this has taken place each and every year since Invenergy came knocking in August, 2015. In these three years promises have been made to the state and the Town of Burrillville. The promise of tax revenue is one of them. $9 million per year for 16,000 residents amounts to about $1.54 per person per day for those who live in the Town of Burrillville. A cup of coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts costs $2.09.

The power plant according to the ProJo editorial is “…state-of-the-art facility that operates with maximum efficiency.” Even General Electric, the makers of the H- Class series of methane gas fired turbines, the same turbines that may power the Invenergy project, will tell you that the efficiency rating on a good day is around 63 percent. In Invenergy’s application to the Rhode Island Public Utility Commission Energy Facility Siting Board filed on October 29, 2015, page 45 Table 6.1-1 lists the emissions coming from these turbines. What is significant in these emissions from General Electric H-class series turbines is the annual release of 3.6 million tons of carbon dioxide, 285.15 tons of nitrogen oxides and 50.84 tons of sulfur dioxide – in combination, these are the acid rain chemicals that play havoc with our forests and our clean drinking water. Emissions that will destroy any chance of Rhode Island meeting its own reductions in greenhouse gases. Equally telling is the 800°F temperature coming out of each of the two smoke stacks connected to the power generating system. 800 degrees F every minute of every hour of every day 360 days each year. It is no wonder that the planet is heating up, coastlines are shrinking and hurricanes are intensifying. The ProJo editorial didn’t include that either.

What the ProJo editorial fails to recognize is that many of the world’s issues are a direct result of climate change and a warmer world. Warring factions are fighting over dwindling water resources and land that no longer produces crops. Population migration takes place when an area can no longer support the people in that region. The editorial makes no mention of the larger issues connected with the permitting and siting of a power plant in the northwestern RI woods. They are pronouncing their own disclaimer on the world stage saying that they don’t care about anything else than the four corners of Rhode Island.

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The ProJo editorial should mention these issues.

The fossil fuel industry is on their way out. The opposition to the industry is evident in growing emission legislation in the New England states, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts procurement acts, policy shifts in the RI state House and Senate, in Connecticut offshore wind and in political leaders who recognize that it is time to think anew. Grassroots organizations through bake sales and car show fundraisers purchase bill boards and back of the bus ads announcing their condemnation of the business as usual model for polluting and destroying our natural resources while growing an economy. The ProJo editorial categorizes and dismisses them in derogatory terms as “zealots.” But in truth, in these three years, a community has reached beyond the borders of a town, across political spectrums in getting statewide, regional and national support for an end to fossil fuels and in saying no to editorials such as this that harken back to the early 20th century. The opposition is stronger, more organized, more persistent and demanding, taking to the streets and the ballot box. And they are smarter than they were three years ago. Smarter about the playbook used to thwart opposition. Smarter about how editorial commentary and politicians are funded. Something else the ProJo editorial doesn’t mention.

The ProJo editorial fails to acknowledge that the legal system recognizes protest as a legal mechanism when government, political leaders and law makers refuse to listen and act. Our political leaders over these last three years have failed to act for the land, water and air. In sharp contrast, voters vote overwhelmingly for bonds that support open space, recreation and agriculture in our state. Since 2004, Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Block Island vie for first place in voter approval percentage of these bond referendums. One-hundred thousand plus people have visited and used the parks that surround the proposed site of the power plant. The disconnect runs rampant in board rooms, editorial boards, city and town councils handcuffed to methane gas generators tolling company fed misinformation and feeding off of fossil fuel paid marketing drivel.

Old time thinkers on the ProJo who write such nonsense are hopelessly clinging to a time that is long gone. Wishing on a prayer to bring back asbestos for insulation, lead pipes to transport drinking water, lead paint to coat our walls, cigarette smoking to prove ones virility, smoke stacks in every town and city to show progress, and the dumping of industrial waste into ponds and streams to push it downstream. It’s not going to happen. Jules Verne’s time machine racing backwards to the beginning of the 20th century is thankfully broken. The consequences of burning fracked gas goes well beyond a 200 acre clear cut forest for a power plant. Extracting methane gas from fracking is an insult to the ground water below, a sucker punch to humanity’s future and a greedy vile shameful example of the industries collective ignorance. A fact that the editorial purposefully ignores.

The ProJo editorial also writes, “The state has not lifted a finger to help clear any of the hurdles the plant has confronted dealing with local governments and opponents.” Rightfully so as politicians who jump onto the fossil fuel bandwagon are almost sure to get the ax relegated to sitting at home wondering what went wrong. Active participation in the opposition has always been a precursor to change. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” A culture shift is never easy or pretty. But it is happening. Those who wish for the past will be relegated to being stuck there.

Paul Roselli

Paul A. Roselli is an environmental activist, someone who pokes around the RI State House, a father of two, BS in Agriculture, MA in Education and a Master of Science graduate student at Bryant University.