The Art of the Deal: Power-Plant Water Agreement Nothing But a Rhode Island Con

By FRANK CARINI

Take a bow. The con was executed brilliantly. With so many moving parts and people involved, the production couldn’t have been easy to choreograph.

The performance of the Woonsocket City Council and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt was Oscar worthy. They made the necessary distraction look so real, like they actually were seriously considering supplying water to the proposed Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville. A framework for the water deal was released. A press release issued. A fact sheet produced. Hearings were held to distract and wear down opponents of the proposed fossil-fuel power plant. People who had to sacrifice downtime and take time off from work to attend. The possibility of trucking the water to Burrillville instead of building 14 miles of pipeline was floated as an added distraction.

Invenergy Thermal Development LLC and its hired public-relations firm continued playing their part: the spewing of lies and misinformation. At a staged Jan. 6 Woonsocket City Council meeting, John Niland, Invenergy’s director of business development, lied that the natural-gas/diesel power plant would save ratepayers $210 million during the first four years of operation. That claim is bullshit — proved as such during and after a hearing before the state Energy Facilities Siting Board last year. It's been a con job since the beginning.

On the morning of Jan. 10, the Chicago-based company’s locally hired PR firm sent ecoRI News electronic bullshit. Invenergy spokeswoman Meaghan Wims wrote in an e-mail that, "Invenergy has been asked by the EFSB to identify a backup water source, and we are working with the Town of Johnston to potentially serve that function.” About 10 hours later, the Johnston Town Council would vote unanimously to sell Providence water to the fossil-fuel power plant proposed for a parcel of forest in Burrillville.

Both the Woonsocket City Council and the Johnston Town Council held special meetings on the evening of Jan. 10 to address the selling of local water to an out-of-state company. Invenergy had until Jan. 11 to name its water supplier. Since the Woonsocket City Council rejected the water deal, as the con required, the project still hasn’t identified a backup water source, as if that really ever mattered.

The stars of this con, though, were Johnston Mayor Joe Polisena and his council puppets. Their Jan. 10 meeting lasted less than 5 minutes, included no discussion, featured no framework, press release or fact sheet, and the small room was prepacked with supporters of building a 20th-century facility in the 21st century. The mayor and his five punchinellos borrowed a Trump blueprint: no discussion, no questions, no opponents and screw somebody else over. Polisena has the best ideas.

Both Polisena and council president Anthony Verado sounded like Trump cabinet picks when they spoke with RI Future after the show. The mayor said, “My concern is Johnston. I have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that I can get as much revenue in for the town that I can.”

Why not sell crack out of Town Hall?

Johnston has no water supply of its own. It does, though, have rights to an unlimited amount from Providence Water, which operates the Scituate Reservoir. Polisena said the town’s agreement with Providence Water doesn’t limit how much water it can sell, or whom it can sell water to, like a Midwest corporation that wants to build a fossil-fuel power plant where it’s not welcome.

In fact, both Polisena and Verado don’t much care about anyone or anything else, including their colleagues on the Burrillville Town Council and the many residents there who don’t want the greenhouse-gas spewing facility.

Polisena and Verado both admitted to RI Future that environmental impacts weren’t factored into their decision to sell water to cool a fossil-fuel power plant. Climate change, after all, is just a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese government.

“I really never gave it much thought,” Polisena said when asked by RI Future’s Bob Plain if he believes climate change is caused by humans. “This world has been around a long time, it’s gonna be around a lot longer. I don’t really think it will be a major issue. I think humanity is very smart, and they will do the right thing.”

Well, at least we know you aren’t and won’t.

Verado said the deal was good for Johnston, and he noted that environmentalists have “put a lot of people out of work” during the past eight years. Like Trump, he provided no facts, just more bullshit.

The supporters who prepacked the meeting room yelled, “Go back to Burrillville,” “Deliverance” and “Go back to hugging trees” to the crowd unable to watch Polisena work his puppets.

Gov. Gina Raimondo — who supports the building of the power plant and has lauded Polisena for being “a great steward of public money” — and her administration are doing the best they can to enable a banana republic.

Imagine if the powers-that-be schemed this hard to put developers to work building homes for the homeless and other stuff we actually need.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.