Watershed Group Says Power Plant Harms New England

By ecoRI News staff

Another environmental group is opposing the fossil-fuel power plant proposed for Burrillville, R.I. The Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone wants to put a halt to what would be Rhode Island's largest power plant.

The Blackstone River Watershed Council/Friends of the Blackstone (BRWC/FOB), which works to protect and restore the Blackstone River and its watershed, says the proposed Clear River Energy Center isn’t just bad for Burrillville and Rhode Island but is also a threat to Connecticut, Massachusetts and all of New England.

Cooling water is a major problem, according to BRWC/FOB. The site on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville sits next to Iron Mine Brook, which feeds into the Clear River, the Blackstone River and eventually to Narragansett Bay. The environmental advocacy group says these waterways are already stressed because of a prolonged drought in the region and the natural-gas/diesel power plant would draw nearly 1 million gallons of water daily from these sources to cool the nearly 1,000-megawatt facility.

“How much more depletion can they handle?” a July 27 letter from BRWC/FOB, signed by president John Marsland, to the state's Energy Facilities Siting Board asked. “Releases of potentially contaminated and overheated water from the plant into rivers and streams would exacerbate damage to wildlife and to the overall health of the region’s waterways, destroying many a cold water stream."

Marsland wrote that the $700 million power plant would threaten 25 years of restoration efforts and millions of dollars of investment by the state and nonprofits like the BRWC/FOB. The noted that the destruction of one of the state’s remaining contiguous forests is “appalling and insulting” to these efforts.

Emissions from the power plant, in particular methane and carbon dioxide, would affect a 30-mile area in the northwest corner of Rhode Island, according to the organization. It also said the facility would nullify emission-reduction goals established by the Resilient Rhode Island Act of 2014. BRWC/FOB wrote that these goals are necessary to protect the Blackstone River watershed the state’s natural resources, as well as fishing and tourism across Rhode Island.

The 300 construction jobs created by building the power plant offer a short-term economic gain at the expense of long-term harm to waterways, the environment and Rhode Island’s reputation as a place where state agencies work together to fulfill overarching goals, according to the BRWC/FOB.

“The Blackstone River and the entire watershed for that matter, is one of the only sustainable economic forces in our state that increases in value over time. Always has. Always will,” according to last month's letter.

The statement by BRWC/FOB comes after Save The Bay, The Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society of Rhode Island presented similar concerns and opposition to the power plant in letters sent to Gov. Gina Raimondo on July 21.