By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — There might be another power-plant hearing at the high school after all. In an unexpected development, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC sent a letter Oct. 19 to the Energy Facilities Siting Board requesting a public hearing for its revised water plan.
The Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) has yet to respond to the request, but it appears that Invenergy is taking advantage of a six-week break before a final series of smaller hearings, known as evidentiary hearings, begin in mid-December. The break was announced this week by the EFSB after the town of Charlestown was granted a role in the power-plant application process. The recent ruling gives Charleston at least 30 days to organize and announce a public hearing, which is expected the week of Dec. 4 at Charlestown Elementary School.
Charlestown jumped into the application process after Invenergy announced last month that it would buy water, as a backup supply, from the Narragansett Indian Tribe. This agreement angered many members of the tribe, who felt excluded from the decision. It also raised questions about the threat the water use might have on Charlestown's water supply. On Oct. 10, the Charlestown Town Council voted to investigate the issue and seek a role in the application process for the proposed Clear River Energy Center (CREC).
The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF), quickly seized on Invenergy’s admission that the revised water-supply plan was a significant change to its applications and therefore requires a public hearing. On March 21, CLF was denied a motion to dismiss the CREC proposal after the environmental legal group argued that the power plant’s water-cooling system and the source of the water warranted a new application.
In a recent e-mail titled “CLF Agrees with Invenergy!”, CLF senior attorney Jerry Elmer wrote, “Invenergy’s belated admission that this is a new water plan means that the EFSB must dismiss the pending docket.”
Due to the new information, CLF sent a letter to the EFSB to reconsider its previous motion to dismiss the project. It's too soon to know if the EFSB will consider the request or even grant a sixth public hearing in Burrillville.
Elmer said Invenergy may have called for the hearing to ward off a potential appeal by CLF and the town of Burrillvile on grounds that the revised water-supply plan warranted a new application. Appeals can only be filed after the EFSB rules on the fate of the power plant. If the three-member board approves the natural-gas/diesel facility, the water issue and the controversy it has created will likely be fodder for appeals.
By seeking the hearing in Burrilville to address the water controversy, Invenergy, a Chicago-based company, can say that it agreed the updated water plan was a significant change to its application and attempted to address it.