Getting Harder for Proposed Power Plant to Find Water

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — A power plant needs water, but the proposed Clear River Energy Center is having trouble getting it.

In the latest defeat, the Pascoag Utility District (PUD), the public water utility for 1,200 Burrillville residents, voted Aug. 19 to officially deny Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC access to polluted municipal wells for cooling water.

Wells 3 and 3A were closed in 2001 after the fuel additive methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) leaked into the water supply from underground gas tanks at a nearby Mobil station. The contaminated water was linked to numerous cases of cancer in residents who lived near or used the wells for their homes and businesses.

Since plans for the nearly 1,000-megawatt power plant were announced last August opponents have raised concerns about Invenergy’s proposal to build 2.6 miles of pipeline to draw water from those wells in Pascoag. Several residents who suffered from the harmful chemical or knew people who did feared they would relive the suffering if the plant used that water. Others worried that MTBE would be released from steam emissions or through water discharged in the municipal sewer system.

“It was a very emotional, exciting day for the residents of Burrillville who can all sleep a little easier knowing that at least if the plant is approved it looks like they won’t be opening the MTBE contaminated well 3A putting our health at risk,” said Jason Olkowski, one of some 50 opponents at the recent PUD meeting who celebrated the vote.

The decision came after the Harrisville Fire District denied access to well water in its district on Aug. 9.

In a statement, John Niland, an attorney for Invenergy, said, "Based on feedback regarding our water proposal for the Clear River Energy Center, we have been aware of the possibility that the Pascoag Utility District may be changing course. The PUD’s vote was not unexpected, and we have been actively seeking alternative water solutions. We will have a revised proposal in the near future.”

PUD also issued a draft report stating that a request for water from the public utility would handicap the watershed’s ability to meet future water needs. Water use of more than 1 million gallons daily by the power plant would draw from a polluted stretch of the Clear River and possibly pull water from the polluted wells toward active municipal wells.

“The contaminant plume will change in shape, size and concentration, possibly impacting areas in the well field and town that presently are not impacted,” according to the report.

Pumping water from wells 3 and 3A may also dislodge the MTBE and other pollutants in fractured bedrock and within the unconsolidated deep aquifer. The contaminated water may then “mobilize and migrate horizontally” and pollute the air in nearby homes and other buildings, according to the report.

 A public hearing on the PUD’s advisory opinion is scheduled for Aug. 29 in Burrillville.