Fall River Water Deal Incites Power-Plant Opposition

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) is turning up the pressure on the ever-expanding water saga playing out around the proposed Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville, R.I.

On Oct. 23, the environmental legal-advocacy group filed a request for oral argument and a ruling on a request for a public hearing filed by Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, the Chicago-based developer of the nearly 1-gigawatt fossil-fuel power plant.

The CLF requests draw attention to the recent news that Invenergy has an agreement to buy water from Fall River, Mass. CLF maintains that Invenergy failed to disclose the agreement to the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB), even though the Illinois company promised to disclose such information during a hearing before the state agency in September.

In its Oct. 23 motion, CLF notes that Invenergy has made other irregular actions. In a new water plan filed Sept. 28, the water-supply company Benn Water was changed from a backup supplier to the primary water-delivery company. The Hopkinton company will likely deliver the water from Johnston. The Johnston Town Council agreed in January to sell water to Invenergy, but the deal is being challenged by CLF and the town of Burrillville in Rhode Island Superior Court because Johnston is reselling water it buys from the city of Providence.

CLF and the town of Burrillville have pressed Invenergy to name its backup water suppliers so those deals could be scrutinized. Last month, Invenergy announced that the Narragansett Indian Tribe, based in Charlestown, would be a secondary water source. Invenergy hasn't released the agreement, and the deal is being challenged by members of the Narragansett Indian Tribe who oppose the power plant and say the agreement was made without a proper vote. Charlestown also wants a say and the town was recently granted intervenor status at upcoming EFSB hearings. The town was also granted a full public hearing to be held in early December.

Before news of the water deal with Fall River, Invenergy submitted a request for another public hearing in Burrillville, to address the changes in its plan to deliver cooling water to the $1 billion natural-gas/diesel power plant.

The request was made before word got out that Fall River would sell municipal water to Benn Water, with the intent to deliver it to the proposed Clear River Energy Center.

CLF argues that the EFSB must decide if the changes to the water plan are substantial enough to dismiss the application. On March 21, the EFSB denied CLF’s motion to dismiss the power-plant application. CLF argued dismissal was necessary because of the Johnston agreement and other changes to the project's water plan.

In light of the developments in Fall River and Charlestown, CLF would like the EFSB to reconsider its motion to dismiss, or at least allow new testimony on the water agreements. CLF also endorses Invenergy’s request for a new public hearing in Burrillville and wants the EFSB to allow oral arguments before the decision is reached. Both of which will clarify the substance of the water agreement and likely lay the groundwork for an appeal by CLF if the power plant is approved.

“At the very least, CLF’s motion points out how many untrue and mutually contradictory things Invenergy has been saying to the public and to the EFSB. Invenergy’s letter to the EFSB last Thursday clarifies and highlights these many inconsistencies, and casts Invenergy in a very, very unfavorable light,” CLF senior attorney Jerry Elmer said.

Invenergy’s request for a hearing and CLF’s subsequent endorsement of that request, as well as its motion for oral augments, occurred in recent days and the EFSB has yet to respond.