By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
PROVIDENCE — The screws are turning on the proposed Burrillville power plant, but it's not clear if the growing opposition will do much to derail the $700 million fossil-fuel project.
At its Feb. 2 meeting, the City Council voted 10-0, with two recusals and one abstention, to oppose construction of the state’s largest power plant. The vote makes Providence the 24th municipality to reject the proposed natural-gas/diesel facility. This resolution is unique because it also instructs the city solicitor to review whether the city can prevent the town of Johnston from reselling water at a markup to the developer of the proposed power plant, Invenergy Thermal Development LLC.
The resolution asks that the findings from the legal review be given to the state Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB), the three-member council now weighing the fate of the proposed power plant.
The city of Providence owns Providence Water, the state’s largest supplier of municipal water. Lawyers for the city department said during a Jan. 25 meeting that there is no language in the water supplier’s enabling legislation from 1915 that prevents the resale of water by a municipal customer, such as the Johnston Water Control District.
On Jan. 10, the Johnston Town Council unanimously approved an $18 million, 20-year deal to sell water to Invenergy, ending the Chicago-based company’s challenge to find a supply to cool the proposed Clear River Energy Center.
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena has vowed to fight in court efforts by Providence or other entities to nullify the deal.
The vote by the Providence City Council clearly irked five leaders from the building trade union who marched out of the council chamber as the resolution passed.
“It’s unfortunate the trade unions are on the side of the power plant,” said council member Seth Yurdin, the sponsor of the resolution. “It can’t be at the expense of long-term sustainability.”
Opponents of the power plant were clearly delighted as they gathered outside the council chamber after the vote.
“It’s a big deal,” said Kevin Cleary, chairman of the Burrillville Conservation Commission.
Recently elected Burrillville Town Council member Ray Trinque said reselling public water for a profit is simply unjust. “It’s like lending your neighbor your lawnmower and he turns around and sells it at a yard sale," he said.
It’s not clear what happens next or how the resolution could impact the fossil-fuel project. Yurdin said the enabling legislation written for Providence Water leaves room for clarification. For now, the resolution heads to Mayor Jorge Elorza’s desk, where he can sign, veto or leave it alone. Elorza, however, opposes the power plant, and Yurdin expects he will likely take some steps to follow-through on the resolution.
Elorza’s office told ecoRI News that the mayor plans to review the resolution next week.
The City Council, in fact, passed two other resolutions related to the water debate. Article 28 urges the General Assembly to restrict the resale of water by municipalities. Article 35 asks Providence Water to restrict the sale of water by a municipality to within the community only.
If enacted, the changes would likely not apply to the Johnston deal, as they would be ex-post-facto laws, which are typically unenforceable. Nevertheless City Council member Jo-Ann Ryan said the votes send “a good message from the Providence Council.”
“All three (resolutions) speak to the fact that we’re concerned about the resale of Providence water for commercial purposes,” she said.
The debate continues Feb. 6, when the EFSB is scheduled to hold a hearing to address two motions to dismiss the power plant's application, Both motions are based on Invenergy’s lengthy struggle to find a water supply and the new system it would use to cool the power plant.