Woonsocket Sends Mixed Message Regarding Supplying Water to Cool Proposed Burrillville Power Plant

Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — Just hours after the state Energy Facilities Siting Board gave Chicago-based Invenergy 10 days to make a case for building a power plant in Burrillville, the City Council admitted that the all-important matter of providing water to the proposed facility is unlikely but hasn't been ruled out.

After days of rumors that Invenergy Thermal Development LLC was in private discussions with Woonsocket to deliver cooling water to the proposed Clear River Energy Center, member Daniel Gendron raised the subject at the City's Council Oct. 3 meeting.

In response, city solicitor Michael Marcello made it clear that there was no talk of relocating the facility to Woonsocket. He noted that information regarding water use wasn't to be deliberated, as per a discussion in executive session that occurred minutes earlier.

“You received a briefing in closed session and that‘s where that information must lay right now, in closed session,” Marcello said.

The public comment session followed.

“This is a 40-year pact with the devil,” Burrillville resident Denise Potvin said.

After more power-plant opponents spoke against suspected “secret negotiations” to sell water to Invenergy, City Council members tried to ease any concerns that a deal is imminent.

“There is nothing here tonight that we are voting on,” City Council president Robert Moreau said. “You will get plenty of notice if this — if — this ever comes back before us in any way, shape or form. ... You’ll probably know about it before us.”

Opponents, many from Burrillville, pressed on, arguing against the city selling water, or even treated sewage effluent, to Invenergy.

“You have a responsibility to protect the state and I just hope you will keep that in mind if Invenergy comes to you. But I believe they already have,” Burrillville resident Stephanie Sloman said.

University of Rhode Island physics professor Peter Nightingale explained that potable water is becoming a local and global problem. Drought and industrial demand have forced Burrillville’s Ocean State Power to truck in water to cool its natural-gas facility.

Kevin Cleary, chairman of the Burrillville Conservation Commission, noted that the proposed power plant would expose Woonsocket to pollution and legal difficulties with Invenergy.

“You’ll see that there is a paper trail of litigation and lawsuits that follow them everywhere they go," he said. "And it’s going to end up right here if you invite them in. You are dancing with the devil here ... if you run out of water you are going to supply them, guess whose going to pay for it? The city of Woonsocket.”

City Council members again noted that there is no deal before them.

Council member Albert Brien said there is nothing in the foreseeable future that will be on the agenda to provide water to Invenergy. “No one is dancing with the devil here because there is no proposal before this city council,” he said.

“Before anything can happen it will require action by this City Council," Brien added. “This City Council cannot consider anything that is not on our agenda and posted with the secretary of state.”

Gendron said he put the power plant on the agenda for discussion only to “squelch some of the rumors.”

“And I assure you, that is what precipitated the executive session that took place prior to this meeting,” he said, adding that there is no foreseeable action by the City Council on the water issue.

Council member Roger Jalette Sr., who is running for mayor, told power-plant critics that he is “very, very sensitive to your plight.” He noted that no action will likely be taken until after Election Day, which elicited applause.

Election Day, Nov. 8, may not be enough time for Invenergy. Earlier in the day, the Energy Facilities Siting Board voted 3-0 to require that the company provide information on its water source or have its application suspended or dismissed.

“You have 30 days until Election Day; they have 10 days,” Burrillville resident Christopher Watson said. “They don’t have water, that is a key issue. They are going to be shut down if they don’t have a place to get water.”

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt was absent from the meeting. Several critics of the water deal said the mayor is being wooed by Invenergy and has been seen at public events with representatives from Invenergy.

A spokesman for the mayor's office told ecoRI News last week that there are no negotiations with Invenergy for water use.

“We’ve been told to trust the process and frankly we don’t,” Sloman said.

Meanwhile, Burrillville’s town clerk is circulating a request to Rhode Island municipalities asking that they pass a resolution supporting the Town Council's decision to oppose the power plant.