In 2015, energy giant Invenergy announced its plan to pave over a pristine forest in Burrillville, Rhode Island, to build a 900-megawatt tracked gas power plant. The plant size and scope immediately set off alarm bells at CLF's Providence office.
With coal plants across New England, shutting down, thanks in large part to CLF's campaign to make the region coal-free by 2020, tracked gas was being touted as a cheap and clean substitute. But gas is still a climate-damaging fossil fuel, one that New England (and the world! needs to stop using to avoid catastrophic climate change impacts.
With an expected life of 30 years, the Invenergy plant would lock Rhode Island into climate-damaging fossil fuels well beyond 2050, the date by which the state had committed to cut its carbon emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels. In November of 2015, the day after Invenergy applied to the state's Energy Facility Siting Board for a permit, Senior Attorney Jerry Elmer filed a motion for CLF to intervene in the proceedings.
Elmer admits that, at the time, he wasn't sure CLF could stop the plant. The proposal already had the support of many town and state leaders, who eagerly repeated Invenergy's talking points about the supposedly dire need for the 900 megawatts of electricity the plant would produce.
What Elmer didn't know then was just how powerful an ally CLF would have in the people of Burrillville. Invenergy, too, would soon learn that it had seriously underestimated the power of community.
"If it wasn't for the hundreds of volunteers and a broad coalition of amazing groups all around the state, that plant would be sited right now," says Jason Olkowski, who lives in Burrillville with his wife Erin and their children. Instead, community members, alongside CLF and other allies, blocked the plant at every opportunity, drawing out the approval process for nearly four years, which strengthened their argument that the plant is not needed in the first place.
The Olkowskis had heard about the power plant proposal when it first was announced but hadn't given it much thought at the time. When they went to a town meeting to learn more, they found it packed with Invenergy supporters. Most weren't from Burrillville, yet they dominated the microphone when it came time for the public to comment. Frustrated by what they had seen, they went home and read Invenergy's 473-page application for state approval.
"We started scanning through the tables of hazardous pollutants...