Water Again Central Issue at Power-Plant Hearing

 The proposed Clear River Energy Center would be situated near  Wilson Reservoir and the Clear River . (Invenergy)

The proposed Clear River Energy Center would be situated near Wilson Reservoir and the Clear River. (Invenergy)

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

WARWICK, R.I. — The latest power-plant hearing in front of the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) was again about water. This time, the debate centered on the town of Burrillville's contention that a survey of underground water should be performed on the 67-acre site before the fossil-fuel power plant is built.

“There could be an aquifer directly underneath the parcel that is seeking to be developed as a power plant,” said Michael McElroy, attorney for Burrillville. “If there is, you can’t put a power plant on it. You just can’t. We need to know whether it is or it isn’t.”

Burrillville's building inspector, Joseph Raymond, noted that the town maps that Invenergy Thermal Development LLC relied on for locating the footprint of the power plant were outdated. He said they were drawn in the early 1980s, after hazardous waste contaminated well water. Underground water, Raymond said, moves and therefore the maps are unreliable. Well water is the only source of water in the town, and Raymond is concerned that the power plant might contaminate the aquifer that supplies many homes and businesses.

Raymond expressed doubt about the power plant's layout on the site prepared by Invenergy’s engineer, Richard Lipsitz. In his advisory opinion to the EFSB, Raymond wrote he and the planning and zoning departments would be unable to render conclusions about the power plant without seeing the full plans, which will be submitted to the town if the power plant is approved.

“There is no specific plan at this point as to how this (project) is going to proceed,” Raymond said.

McElroy made a motion to suspend the hearings until a water survey was conducted at the site.

After discussion among the three-member EFSB board and attorneys, Invenergy agreed to conduct and pay for a hydrogeological inspection of the site, but only if the EFSB approves the project. The EFSB didn’t accept or deny Invenergy’s offer, but agreed that water experts could address the question at hearings in September.

“We can’t build if we can’t prove it to you,” said Michael Blazer, Invenergy’s chief legal council, about the location of the aquifer.

Blazer then took Raymond to task for asserting that the proposed Clear River Energy Center is two power plants, not one. Raymond had noted that there are two separate power generations that will be built, commissioned and run independently. Each has its own turbine, cooling system with 120-foot-tall exhaust tower, and oil storage tank. The two power units will share a cooling-water storage tank, wastewater tank, and ammonia storage tank.

Raymond wrote in his advisory opinion that the town ordinance only allows for a single use, and that the power plant was in fact two electric generating facilities and therefore requires an exemption from the town.

Blazer asked Raymond to confirm that the town zoning ordinances don't prohibit the number of power-generation units.

After the recent hearing, Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation, said Invenergy initially resisted the hydrological testing because it will slow an already delayed application process. Invenergy also knows that finding an aquifer will kill the application, he said.

“Invenergy backed off its objection when it became clear that the board was concerned about the aquifer,” Elmer said.

The hearings are scheduled to continue Aug. 15 at 9:30 a.m. at the Public Utilities Commission office, 89 Jefferson Blvd.

At the hearing scheduled for Sept. 5, Elmer said he intends to question staff from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management about fuel-oil piping, storage tanks, forest connectivity, biodiversity, light pollution, public recreation, and the cumulative impacts of the project.