Taking a Stand on Burrillville – Timmons Roberts

On a windy weekday this spring I took my bike out to the very northwesternmost corner of Rhode Island, a place of long rural roads through rolling rocky and piney hills. I went with copies of the maps from the 426 page application by the Invenergy corporation to build a 700 million dollar natural gas power plant.

Biking along the country lanes was striking. Before giving up counting, I tallied over 75 homes with signs opposing the plant. This is no elite movement: signs were in front of many modest vinyl-sided homes, one with an American flag painted on the rock at the end of the driveway and another with “Faith, Family, Friends” emblazoned on it.

My decision to oppose the Invenergy “Clear River” Energy Facility was based on several problems with using “fracked” natural gas. 1. highly toxic and secret mixes of chemicals are injected underground at extremely high pressures, risking groundwater contamination and earthquake activity. 2. Artificially cheap fracked gas delays Americans from investing in a real solution: renewable power like wind and solar power. 3. Third, natural gas when burned causes global warming. Switching from coal and oil to gas is only a half-measure—creating short-term reductions in emissions but locking us into long-term stagnation at dangerous levels. And the stuff leaks. A lot.

Leaked methane (natural gas, CH4) is far worse than carbon dioxide in creating climate change. How much worse? By different metrics it is 20, 80 or even 100 times worse than CO2 if one looks over shorter time periods. All the claims of gas being better than coal are based on low estimates of leakage and low multipliers in the warming it creates.

My bike trip to Burrillville showed me that Americans can stop the expansion of fracking and other fossil fuel infrastructure, and finally help America meet its potential to make the switch to renewable energy and confront the climate crisis.

Natural gas was a bridge fuel that helped break the death grip of coal and fuel oil over our politicians. However the average electricity in New England’s grid is now lower in “carbon intensity” (CO2 per Kilowatt Hour) than the juice that a new Burrillville plant would put on the wires.

That is, because we already have renewables and nuclear fuel powering our lights, we’ve already crossed a bridge that this plant would take us back over, in the wrong direction. For this reason, the Burrillville facility will make it impossible for Rhode Island to meet its targets for greenhouse gas emissions for 2020 and 2035. It is also not needed, as the grid operator has more than enough suppliers in 2019 and beyond.

Governor Raimondo has to fight for jobs for Rhode Islanders. But this plant is a very short-term fix with 150 construction jobs and just 20-30 permanent ones. Meanwhile, the RI Clean Energy Jobs Report showed that 4,000 new clean energy jobs were created in 2015 alone. In our shift to a low carbon future, we need to assure that many of these are good, union jobs.

Massive amounts of scientific findings show that to stay below dangerous levels of climate change, we cannot get locked into another generation of fossil fuel infrastructure. This is why stopping the Burrillville plant is not merely a NIMBY (“Not in My Backyard”) issue. This is a NIABY or NOPE issue: Not in Anybody’s Backyard. Not on Planet Earth.

Timmons Roberts is Ittleson Professor at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. He is on Twitter @timmonsroberts. These views are his own.

Keep Rhode Island Beautiful


  1. Thank you professor for putting it in simple and clear terms. Unfortunately, well, we know, powerful economic interests will resist the healthy common sense proposals offered here. And it’s our job, as citizens, to protest against greed and the established status quo. The planet depends upon it.

  2. Timothy, thank you so much for taking the time to visit our beautiful little town. Biking was a fantastic way to see how beautiful it is and to understand the negative impact this plant will have on all of us for many years to come.

  3. Thank you Professor for supporting us in the movement to move from fossil fuels to a more environmentally friendly way of offering electricity. Initially Ms. Raimondo expressed interest in moving forward to this way of energy butt it appears now that either she is getting pressure from someone or somewhere else, money may be the issue, pressure from the labor unions or who knows why she wants this now? We have to stop this from happening for sure. Thank-you for your support.

  4. Very well said, Professor Timmons. We are fighting so hard to keep this fossil fuel plant out of Burrillville. I’m so glad that you took the time to come to Burrillville to see what a beautiful town we have. This plant will pollute everything we hold dear. I’m hoping the EFSB makes the right decision.

  5. Thank you for bringing the No Power Plant movement to the rest of RI. If more folks join in our fight, we might have a chance to beat this thing.

  6. It’s all about money. Follow the money, and you will find the source(s) of the pressures on the Governor and other state officials for this harebrained “solution”.

  7. I don’t understand why this would even be a consideration…

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