Nearly 800 people showed up for the first public hearing of a proposed power plant in Burrillville. The 900-megawatt facility would be the state’s largest power plant, if approved.
The four-hour long public hearing began with a presentation by John Niland, the development director for Invenergy, the company proposing to build the $700 million natural-gas fired power plant.
Niland said the project would maintain the region’s energy grid reliable as it integrates more renewable sources of energy that provide power intermittently, such as solar and wind.
It would also help meet state and regional goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“When we do the analysis of the project and we look at the regional impact that it has – and this region not only includes New England, but it also includes New York – we see reductions in the amounts that are thousands of tons per year,” said Niland.
The project promises to bring 300 construction jobs, about two dozen permanent jobs and tax revenues. A major selling point for some local town officials has also been the company’s commitment to remediate a town well contaminated with a gasoline additive known as MBTE. The company would use that well water for its power plant after filtering it.
First, it would build a dedicated water pipe from the well to the power plant, so that it doesn’t co-mingle with the town’s drinking water. Niland told RIPR in a previous interview that water experts don’t know exactly how long it will take to remediate the well, but they project it could take 20 to 30 years.
The single largest organized group at the public hearing seemed to be labor union workers. Several Burrillville residents complained to state regulators that the consistent presence of union workers in large numbers at other meetings about the power plant has been intimidating.
Burrillville resident Lee Gilbert took issue with that when he pledged his support for the project. He said he's built his career on temporary jobs, such as the ones that would be created by constructing the power plant.
“To attack unions and to say that we are thugs and you’re afraid to come here because of the unions quite frankly is BS,” said Gilbert. “I think this is a good project. I think the tax dollars into the town will be great. I think cleaning up the contaminated well would be great.”
Overwhelmingly, the board heard from residents who expressed appreciation for jobs and labor unions, but don’t want the power plant.
Irene Watson, a nurse, was one of at least 30 people who shared concerns about the project’s impacts to public health, the environment and the local economy. Watson and others expressed disappointment with elected officials who either support the project or have taken a neutral stand.
“So who looks out for us, the people who have no other agenda than trying to live in a quiet rural community?” Watson asked the board. “Invenergy writes in their brochure, ‘Burrillville will be a leader in energy production for New England.’ Who cares?! We didn’t ask for it!”
An unspecified number of people didn't get their chance to record their public comments by the end of the four hours. The energy facility siting board promised to put their names first on the list for the next public hearing, which is scheduled for May 23.