Fall River Regrets Water Sale to Burrillville Power Plant

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

FALL RIVER, Mass. — Water remains a contentious issue for the proposed Burrillville, R.I., power plant. In the latest development, the City Council renounced the fossil-fuel project and registered its opposition to the renewal of a controversial water contract the city made last year.

The water deal was signed last October between the Watuppa Water Board and the water delivery company Benn Water & Heavy Transport of Hopkinton, R.I. The deal offers the city’s primary supply as a back-up water source for cooling water for the proposed Clear River Energy Center.

“No community, especially Fall River ... should ever contribute to the demise of another community and that is exactly what the selling of this water is doing,” City Council member Pam Laliberte-Lebeau said at the council's May 15 meeting.

Laliberte-Lebeau said the volume of water offered to Benn Water could make Fall River the primary water source for the Clear River Energy Center if other agreements fail.

“We are supplying enough to be the first supplier. And we should really be ashamed about what we are doing to the people of Burrillville,” she said.

The water deal, which includes a $25,000 annual fee to the city, was criticized during a previous City Council meeting for going forward without sufficient scrutiny and knowledge of how the water would be used.

Yet, council member Stephen Long said the water board “acted in the right and proper manner” and there was nothing underhanded about the agreement.

“The city of Fall River has sold water in the past. We are constantly selling water to outside vendors,” Long said.

Much of the information about how the water would be used, Long explained, wasn't known until after the agreement was finalized.

“We didn’t know what (the water) was going to be used for. Had we known that we would have made a different decision,” he said.

Does this latest development have any impact on the power plant as its application moves through the final phase of hearings with the Rhode Island Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB)?

According to Michael Blazer, chief legal council for Invenergy, the resolutions passed by the Fall River City Council gives validity to the water agreement.

“The Fall River City Council’s vote ... acknowledged that a binding contract exists between the Watuppa Water Board and Benn Water, and statements by some that this somehow puts our water plan ‘in jeopardy’ are simply false and misleading,” Blazer said. “Fall River is one of several sources that Benn has access to utilize as the secondary water source for the Clear River Energy Center.”

The primary water source for cooling water is the town of Johnston. The Rhode Island municipality is reselling the water it buys from the Scituate Reservoir, which is owned and managed by the city of Providence. The town of Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) are suing Johnston over its right to resell water it receives from an outside municipality.

Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for CLF, said Fall River’s resolution raises questions about whether the city will be a secure long-term source of water for the proposed natural-gas/diesel power plant.

“In a broader legal sense, the EFSB must consider all of Invenergy’s multiple problems with procuring a secure source of water,” Elmer said. “In this sense, the recent Fall River City Council action is definitely relevant to the EFSB proceeding.”

Elmer said the action in Fall River is another example of dubious steps by the Chicago-based developer. On the opening day of the final round of hearings, Elmer accused Invenergy of lying to the public, the EFSB, and the operator of the power grid, ISO New England.

“Invenergy is not a company that should be trusted to build a billion-dollar fossil-fuel plant in the forest of Burrillville,” Elmer said. “What Invenergy did in Fall River is just another example of Invenergy’s dishonesty — as if another example were needed after Invenergy tried to clandestinely shift $168 million in interconnection costs to the public.”

Burrillville town manager Michael Wood noted that several other cites and towns, including two water boards in Burrillville, rejected water agreements with Invenergy. The resolution passed by Fall River adds them to the list of 36 cities and towns in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to publicly oppose the proposed Clear River Energy Center.

“The City Council resolution opposing the renewal of the Watuppa Water Board contract again illustrates that Invenergy is not ready for prime time with what is now its sixth proposed water plan in jeopardy,” Wood said.

The final phase of hearings resumes July 19 with an overview of the $1 billion project by Invenergy. The EFSB is expected to deliver a decision on the application by the end of this year or in early 2019.