EFSB weighs employment impacts of proposed Invenergy power plant

“And you’d have no problem with your children breathing it?” asked Burrillville attorney Michael McElroy, referring to the pollution that would be generated by Invenergy‘s proposed power plant.

“No,” said Invenergy witness Mark Wiitanen, Senior Project Manager at HDR Engineering.

For context, here’s a minute or two of Wiitanen before that exchange, where McElroy and Wiitanen talk about the pollution the power plant would produce.

The Rhode Island Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) is in the midst of hearings to decide the fate of Invenergy’s $1 billion fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant aimed at the forests off northwest Rhode Island. Testimony in these hearings is pre-filed, meaning that all the testimony from all the witnesses from both sides has already been submitted and presumably read by the three member board. The purpose of these hearings is cross-examination only.

The theme of Thursday’s hearing was employment: How many workers would be employed for how long building the power plant, and what would be the economic effects of that many jobs. Also considered is the impact the construction will have on community where the power plant will be built, as a steady stream of materials and workers would be driving through the back roads of rural Burrillville to construct the plant.

Wiitanen’s testimony, which can been accessed here, was immediately challenged by Attorney McElroy as redundant, since most of what Wiitanen was testifying to is available in the testimony of other, more expert witnesses. McElroy’s objection was overruled, and the cross examination went on for almost 80 minutes.

You can see Wiitanen’s full cross-examination here:

The next witness cross examined was Building Trades President Michael Sabitoni. His testimony can be accessed here. When asked why he submitted testimony, Sabitoni said simply, “Jobs.”

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Sabitoni’s testimony concerned the issue of completing the power plant within the time frame demanded by Invenergy. Under questioning from McElroy, Sabitoni said that once permitted, workers could build the plant faster by doubling up on work crews, working overtime, and working second and third shifts.

What makes this interesting is that there are already advisory opinions about the impacts on the community for the construction of a power plant under what I’ll call “normal” conditions. If the building of the power plant is accelerated, those traffic and impact statements may be low. Noise and light from the construction site may potentially be round the clock, as will potentially be the truck traffic. I’m not sure the advisory opinions considered this possibility of an accelerated construction schedule.

The last witnesses of the day were Mason Smith and Ryan Hardy. Ryan Hardy is a member of PA Consulting Group’s Management Group and testified regarding his analysis of the regional wholesale energy market, the economic impact of the proposed power plant. Mason Smith is also with PA Consulting and testified that the plant is still financially viable. The scope of the testimony of both witnesses was limited to the topic of employment, for the most part.

Other points of interest:

  • This was the first day on the EFSB for Meredith Brady, who is replacing Parag Agrawal as the Administrator for Planning at the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT). With that position comes a position on the EFSB. Brady has two and a half years of power plant information to catch up on.
  • The area where reporters set up so that they can take photos and videos of the proceedings was filled with metal shelving. Reporters were pushed out of the hearing space, and sent to a place where it was possible only to take pictures of the backs and sides of the lawyers head. It’s too bad that some participants in these hearings can’t bear the scrutiny of the public.

Lorraine Savard
Meredith Brady
Mark Wiitanen

Mary Pendergast, Sister of Mercy
Chicago’s Michael Blazer, attorney for Invenergy
Mason Smith and Ryan Hardy
Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF)

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About Steve Ahlquist 599 Articles
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. atomicsteve@gmail.com

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