Invenergy Solidifies Water Plan with Tribe Backup

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — Water is again a source of contention for the proposed fossil-fuel power plant.

A week after opponents of the energy project failed to persuade the state siting board to halt the project, the developer named two backup sources to provide water for cooling. The Narragansett Indian Tribe and Benn Water of Hopkinton will be paid by Invenergy Thermal Development LLC to serve as standby water supplies. Benn Water, a pool-filling company, has already been named as the primary water delivery company.

John Brown, Narragansett Indian Tribe medicine man, gave ecoRI News a list of reasons for agreeing to work with what could be one of the biggest polluters in the state. Brown said he was impressed that Invenergy invited the tribe to survey the 105-acre site for Native American artifacts. Brown also claimed that the proposed Clear River Energy Center is necessary to keep the electric grid running.

“Until there are viable energy sources, you have the system that you have,” Brown said.

He also noted that the tribe is an insignificant piece in a much larger project and, therefore, sees no harm in accepting money from the Chicago-based company.

“It doesn’t start with us or end with us,” Brown said. “What would you have us do, do nothing?”

If the Narragansetts are called upon for water it will be drawn from tribal lands along the lower Wood River aquifer. According to Invenergy, the site within the Wood-Pawtuxet rivers watershed has the potential to lose 6 million gallons of water per day.

If built, the natural-gas/diesel power plant is estimated to need about 15,000 gallons of water delivered daily by two to three tanker trucks.

An earlier plan required up to 1 million gallons of water per day, but after failing to secure water from wells in Burillville, Invenergy switched its design to a more expensive cooling system that recycles water and reduces demand.

Invenergy faced strong public opposition to its initial proposal to draw polluted groundwater from a well in the village of Pascoag. Two water district boards in Burrillville also denied Invenergy the use of local well water. The Illinois-based company then proposed a water pipeline from Woonsocket, before switching its plans to the recycled-water system. Woonsocket eventually turned down an offer of $18 million over 20 years to deliver water by truck from its municipal water supply. Johnston, however, accepted the same offer. The water will not be sourced from the town. Instead, it will resell Providence Water from the Scituate Reservoir.

The town of Burrillvile and the Conservation LawFoundation are suing Invenergy and the town Johnston over the resale of municipal water. They asked the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) to suspend Invenergy’s application until the lawsuit is resolved. But the EFSB said it would proceed while monitoring the case. The announcement of backup water supplies now makes it unlikely that the court case will impede Invenergy’s plans for building the facility, if approved by the EFSB.

“Attorneys representing opponents to our project have tried to make much of a lawsuit they filed that challenges our agreement with Johnston,” said Michael Blazer, chief legal officer for Invenergy. “While we remain fully committed to Johnston, and believe, as others do, that the lawsuit has no merit, these backup agreements make it clear that the lawsuit is functionally irrelevant to Clear River’s water needs and the EFSB process.”