Opponents Say Not Enough Water for Two Power Plants

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

A 35-million-gallon retention pond along Route 102 on the border of Burrillville and North Smithfield stores Ocean State Power’s cooling water. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

A 35-million-gallon retention pond along Route 102 on the border of Burrillville and North Smithfield stores Ocean State Power’s cooling water. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Kevin Cleary admits he’s a “power pig.” He can’t help it; the 21st-century lifestyle is dependent on cheap, plentiful energy. That dependence, however, shouldn’t force bad decisions, he said.

The chairman of the town’s Conservation Commission is referring to the Clear River Energy Center, proposed for 200 forested acres some 5 miles from Burrillville’s first fossil-fuel power plant.

Ocean State Power (OSP), a 560-megawatt natural-gas/fuel-oil power plant that went on-line in 1990, uses up to 4 million gallons of water daily. Much of the water used to cool the Sherman Farm Road facility is taken from the Blackstone River.

A 35-million-gallon retention pond across Route 102 from the Slatersville Fishing Area, on the border of Burrillville and North Smithfield, stores the facility’s cooling water. Roughly 10 miles of pipeline deliver the water to OSP. Another 7 or so miles of pipe delivers No. 2 fuel oil to the fossil-fuel power plant from a Mobil oil line in Woonsocket, for use when natural gas isn’t available.

Since southern New England is in the throes of another drought — as bad or worse than the region experienced last year — Cleary said it’s critical that water use be managed efficiently and sustainably. He and other opponents of the Clear River Energy Center say the northwest corner of Rhode Island can’t afford to sacrifice more water to cool another power plant.

During drought conditions now, OSP is forced to truck in water, to make up for the difference in the supply that can be provided by the Blackstone River. In late July, according to Cleary, OSP began trucking in 8,000-gallon truckloads of water, between 12 and 14 tanker trucks an hour, 10 hours a day, for about three weeks, delivering up to 2.5 million gallons of water daily.

After a short break, the “parade of water trucks” began again in early September. On Sept. 9, Cleary, a civil engineer by trade, shot a 2-plus-minute video that showed eight tanker trucks pulling in and out of the access gate to the OSP retention pond.

Cleary said the point of the video was to show that the area’s existing power station is struggling to meet its water demands. The thirsty facility needs to buy water from high-yield private wells, and from municipalities and utilities, when drought conditions take hold.

“Where is Invenergy going to get its water?” Cleary asked. “I’m concerned there isn’t enough water to cool two power plants.”

Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, the developer of the nearly 1,000-megawatt Clear River Energy Center, has said the natural-gas/diesel power plant will use an average of 110,000 gallons of water a day to cool the facility. During peak summer demand, the facility could use up to 250,000 gallons daily, and upwards of 1.6 million gallons of water a day when the plant is running on diesel.

Opponents don’t believe there is enough water to cool two fossil-fuel power plants that are within a 2.5-mile radius of each other. In fact, the Clear River Energy Center is having a hard time finding water, drought or not.

Last month, two public utilities voted against allowing Invenergy access to their water supplies. The Pascoag Utility District, the public water utility for 1,200 Burrillville residents, denied Invenergy access to polluted municipal wells for cooling water. Earlier in August, the Harrisville Fire District water board denied the Chicago-based company access to its municipal water supply.

Terri Lacey, a longtime Burriville resident with well water, can’t believe there’s enough water in Rhode Island to even keep the OSP retention pond filled.

“If this power plant is built, there’s no way we have enough water for both. No way,” she said. “They can’t dig a well, because that would drain our aquifer.”

Opponents also say many of the roads in Pascoag, Chepachet and other surrounding communities weren’t designed to handle tanker-truck traffic delivering water and fuel oil.

“This ill-conceived idea of entertaining another power station in the same watershed will place an even greater hardship on available water resources,” Cleary said. “It’s all about hurry up and get it done. We need energy, I’m not against the need for it, but this isn’t the right site. We have other options, but those options aren't being explored.”