BURRILLVILLE — The state Energy Facility Siting Board’s final series of public hearings on Invenergy’s $1-billion natural gas-burning power plant in Pascoag may be over, but Burrillville town officials say they aren’t letting their guard down during the next phase of the proceedings, which will be several public meetings before the board votes to grant or deny a permit for the plant sometime later this summer.
“We shouldn’t let the foot off the gas now,” Burrillville Town Manager Michael C. Wood told the Town Council Wednesday. “When the EFSB has those meetings we should get as many people to attend as we can. There’s also a lot of work between myself and the town’s attorneys and consultants that’s still going on.”
Wood lauded the “strong, engaged and vocal group of citizens” who attended the hearings and spent several years highlighting what is at stake should the plant be built, He urged those same citizens to attend the upcoming meetings in June.
More than 55 witnesses testified at more than a dozen hearings, which were heavily focused on the issue of whether the plant – which was first proposed three years ago – is needed. The hearings, which ended two weeks ago, included, among other things, witness testimony on biodiversity impacts and forest connectivity issues. The final three days of witness testimony, saw cross examination of Invenergy’s director of development, John Niland.
Now that all of the witnesses have been heard, the lawyers representing the various parties in the hearings have about six weeks to submit post-hearing memoranda – which must be limited to 50 pages – by May 17. These will summarize the evidence and make legal arguments about why the permit for the power plant should be approved or denied.
After that, the EFSB will hold several “open meetings” beginning in June to discuss the issues in the case. During the open meetings, the EFSB members will discuss the case, but neither the lawyers for the parties nor the public will be able to speak. At the last open meeting, the EFSB will take a vote on whether or not to grant the permit to Invenergy.
The open meetings begin the actual decision-making process and will be the first time members of the EFSB – Margaret Curran, Janet Coit and Meredith Brady – actually talk and voice their opinions on the testimony and evidence.
Invenergy started working on the proposed plant in 2014, and the EFSB docket has been going since 2015.
Wood says the central issues before the board are water supply, need and the environmental harm, but believes there are significant problems and deficiencies with Invenergy’s project application and business plan.
“The members of the EFSB have conducted a painstaking and detailed hearing into this proposal,” she said. “We have presented testimony from experts that have shown that the plant will cause unacceptable harm to the environment and in addition it is not needed to meet the electricity needs for Rhode Island or the New England region.”
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