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Hearings on Invenergy officially over, decision on power plant may be made by mid-summer



“I know you have choices about where you could be and I’m pleased you’ve chosen Rhode Island, and you should know we are going to make sure that you are successful here.”

– Governor Gina Raimondo to Invenergy CEO Michael Polsky, 2015

Over four and a half years after Governor Gina Raimondo promised to “make sure” Invenergy was successful in building a $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant in the middle of the pristine and irreplaceable forests of northwest Rhode island, the hearings before the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) have come to an end with the cross-examination of Invenergy’s Director of Development, John Niland.

Unfortunately, because Invenergy maintained that the nature of some of Niland’s testimony would reveal proprietary information, the public was excluded from hearing around six hours of that testimony. Six hours of testimony that, for all we know, may be the deciding factor in the case.

Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer, and the Attorney for the Town of Burrillville Michael McElroy, have asked the EFSB to release the transcripts of Niland’s non-public testimony, arguing that, contrary to Invenergy’s claims, no proprietary information was actually revealed. Invenergy objected, and the decision will be made after both sides have filed briefs on the matter.

Elmer’s cross-examination of Niland concentrated on Niland and Invenergy’s inaccurate and misleading claims about the power plant. These inaccurate and misleading claims and statements include:

  • John Niland presenting information to the EFSB on March 31, 2016 at Burrillville High School, in front of 700 people; 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 (CLF’s words) on monthly Forward Capacity Tracking System (FCTS) forms filed by Invenergy with ISO-NE, the operator of the New England electricity grid.

It was the last point, concerning the FCTS forms, that fell under the non-disclosure agreement and required clearing the room of everyone but EFSB staff and the attorneys on both sides. This part of Niland’s cross-examination took over six hours.

Can we please ask a favor?

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Final Briefs in this case are due to be presented to the EFSB in 45 days, on May 17 at 4pm. Briefs will be limited to 50 pages. The scheduling of the open meetings, where the three members of the EFSB will publicly discuss the case and vote on the licensing, will be made after the briefs are received.

After all the testimony was over, Chicago-based Invenergy Attorney Michael Blazer, who lead a team of at least six or seven lawyers against the two lawyers from Burrillville and the CLF, made a statement.

“I understand that this has been the longest permitting process in Rhode Island history. It is certainly the longest, by far, in Mike Blazer’s history,” said Blazer. “This has been, from a trial lawyer’s perspective, odd as it may seem, a lot of fun.”

“I have to echo that,” said EFSB Chair Margaret Curran. “There has been some excellent lawyering, which in and of itself is enjoyable, or course.”

As great as this experience may have been for Blazer and Curran, for the people of Burrillville facing the nightmare of a polluting monster destroying the last patch of pristine woodlands in New England, and for the people across the world facing the existential threat of global warming and climate change, this process has been anything other than fun and enjoyable.

Here’s all of Niland’s public testimony:

John Niland 2019-03-21 01

John Niland 2019-03-21 02

John Niland 2019-03-26

John Niland 2019-04-02 01

John Niland 2019-04-02 02

John Niland 2019-04-02 03

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.