Locals Worry About Proposed Power Plant's Water Use

Burrillville, R.I., residents spoke against the proposed natural-gas power plant during a March 24 workshop. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

Burrillville, R.I., residents spoke against the proposed natural-gas power plant during a March 24 workshop. (Tim Faulkner/ecoRI News)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Opponents are getting informed, and agitated, in advance of the first of three public hearings for the proposed Invenergy power plant scheduled for March 31. About 300 residents, and a large media presence, are expected in the Burrillville High School cafeteria for the 6 p.m. meeting that is likely to run close to midnight or later.

Irene Watson lives about 2,000 feet from the proposed site of the Clear River Energy Center on Wallum Lake Road. She recalled failed opposition campaigns to the existing power plant in town, as well as the expansion of the natural-gas pipeline compressor station. She said she was frustrated by the lack of empathy from the Town Council.

“I hate to be pessimist, and I’m certainly going to fight it, but it kind of takes the wind out of our sails,” she said of the current indifference from town leaders.

Watson was one of about 40 residents who gathered recently for a “Learn the Facts” meeting at the Burrillville Historical and Preservation Society.

“It’s not a done deal,” Paul Roselli of the Burrillville Land Trust said. “Go to public hearings, sign up (to speak), and bring your friends.”

Roselli organized the information session to explain the structure of the March 31 hearing. The agenda includes a 30-minute presentation of the natural-gas facility by its by owners, Invenergy LLC of Chicago. Members of the public will be allowed to speak for five minutes, although Roselli explained that a speaker can defer their time to other attendees.

Roselli led a discussion on the size of the proposed $700 million power plant, vehicle traffic and noise, among other issues. He explained that water use at the 1-gigawatt natural-gas plant is emerging as a significant concern. Some residents worry that the plant will drain well water, streams and ponds, and tap out the aquifer that feeds homes and businesses.

Their fears might be justified. According to the Invenergy application, the power plant can use up to 924,489 gallons of water a day to cool its turbines and equipment. The drawback is that more than 75 percent of that water is lost to evaporation and therefore won’t be circulating back into the watershed.

Much of the water will be drawn from a contaminated public well in the village of Pascoag. The well has been closed since in 2001, when it was polluted by a leak from an underground tank at a nearby gas station.

Invenergy intends to filter and clean the fouled water before it travels along a new pipeline to the power plant. Roselli and environmentalists worry, however, that the depleted well will draw down other water sources.

“The (contaminated) well has to be filled up from somewhere. Homeowners will definitely be affected,” Roselli said.

According to the town, the wells, which are owned by the Pascoag Utility District, were drawing 90 to 113 million gallons of water annually to provide water service to the community before they were shut down. Invenergy projects that the power plant will use about 78 million gallons a year.

Mike Kirkwood, general manager of the Pascoag Utility District, told ecoRI News that re-commissioning the water source and filtering water from the infamous well site will eventually make it safe for public use.

“We think there is both adequate supply for the power plant as well as the needs of the population,” Kirkwood said.

He said, however, that the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) ultimately decides if the water supply is adequate, “or if conditions have to be placed on the power plant.”

DEM and the Rhode Island Water Resource Board refused to answer ecoRI News questions about the adequacy of the water supply in Burrillville. They deferred comment until the agency releases an advisory opinion to the Energy Facility Siting Board, the committee deciding the fate of the power plant. DEM has until Sept. 10 to submit the advisory opinion.

Other factors that weigh on the water supply include a possible expansion of the existing Ocean State Power natural-gas plant, as well as future residential and commercial development, such as the ongoing expansion of the Daniele specialty meats business.

During the recent “Learn the Facts” meeting two real-estate brokers spoke of how the proposed power plant was hurting business.

“It’s unfathomable to me,” said Paul Lefebvre, a residential and commercial Realtor. “You would think the town would not want to live with this nonsense.”

Prior to the March 31 public hearing, the Burrillville Land Trust is hosting a third information session March 29.

On March 28, Fight Against Natural Gas and Burrillville Against Spectra Energy host a meeting Rep. Cale Keable, D-Burrillville, and Sen. Paul Fogarty, D-Burrillville, are hosting a public meeting at the Jesse Smith Library at 6:30 p.m.