Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
WARWICK, R.I. — Opponents of the proposed Burrillville power plant aren't getting the project dismissed, but they are seeing that it gets delayed.
On March 21, the application process for the Clear River Energy Center was prolonged at least until late summer, after the Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB) agreed to a four-month extension. The three-member board did so to grant several state agencies and the town of Burrillville time to write new reports analyzing the impact the natural-gas/diesel facility would have on a host of public health and environmental issues.
The reports, called advisory opinions, were submitted by 15 state and town entities last fall, but several were incomplete due to the developer’s prolonged search to find a water source to cool the nearly 1,000-megawatt facility.
In January, Chicago-based Invenergy Thermal Development LLC signed a water deal with the town of Johnston. Although the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) and the town Burrillville are contesting that agreement in court, the water plan led to changes in the design of the $1 billion fossil-fuel power plant. The water report increased in size from 11 pages to more than 80. Its impact on wetlands, the water system and even traffic can now be reviewed in full by the requisite state agencies and town departments.
Invenergy also updated its stormwater management plan and its sewage disposal plan. The facility's new water plan also requires the use of demineralization trailers to recycle the cooling water. Burrillville’s attorney, Michael McElroy, also wanted a review of noise from the power plant and an inquiry into Invenergy's failure to consider onsite well water now that the new cooling system requires less water.
Invenergy’s attorney, Alan Shoer, said the new water plan was larger because the company has gone above and beyond the need for information. As such, only a limited number of advisory opinions are needed.
Shoer said he also planned to file a motion in Superior Court to dismiss the lawsuits.
The EFSB agreed to get updated advisory opinions from the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Department of Health, Department of Transportation, Division of Statewide Planning and the Burrillville building inspector.
EFSB board member and DEM director Janet Coit was outvoted by fellow EFSB members Margaret Curran and Parag Agrawal in her request to have the state Public Utilities Commission update its advisory opinion by re-examining the need for the power plant.
All three voted against getting an updated advisory opinion from the Office of Energy Resources. They rejected seeking a report from Johnston officials on the socioeconomic and traffic effects the water filling station would have on the community.
Coit also said she wanted to hear from the Providence Water Supply Board, the entity in charge of the Scituate Reservoir and the supplier of water to Johnston, about how the power plant’s water use “fits into their operation.”
The new report will likely be unveiled during a set of final hearings that will take place over a course of weeks or months after the new updated advisory opinions are submitted.
Coit reminded the board that a conclusive public hearing was also promised for Burrillville. That hearing will be held after the new advisory opinions are submitted and before the EFSB reviews the entire application. Thus, a decision on the application isn't likely until early fall, at the earliest.
The EFSB’s final decision could be further complicated by a bill before the General Assembly that prevents the EFSB from ruling on the Clear River Energy Center if one or more of the state or town agencies are unable to complete their advisory opinions due to a lack of cooperation from Invenergy. A hearing date hasn't been scheduled for the bill.