Power plant developer makes $18-million offer for Woonsocket water

Power plant developer makes $18-million offer for Woonsocket water

WOONSOCKET – The company hoping to build a 1,000 megawatt power plant on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville has made an official offer to the city of Woonsocket for the purchase of water to cool the facility’s generators, and the deal would see the water trucked out from a city-based transport station.

Invenergy Thermal Development LLC would pay Woonsocket the prevailing rate for water consumed; purchase a property in the city to build the filling station; pay $200,000 per year in lieu of taxes for 20 years; pay an additional $500,000 per year, escalating at a rate of 3 percent per year, directly to Woonsocket’s General Fund “for taxpayer relief;” and contribute $200,000 per year for five years to either scholarships for the city’s vocational students or athletic fields for school-aged children.

According to Invenergy’s calculations, that amounts to more than $18 million over the next 20 years to become a new water customer.

“This is money the city could use for tax relief, to invest in schools or infrastructure, and to fund retiree pensions,” a fact sheet issued by the company this week stated.

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt issued a statement regarding the potential arrangement to sell water to the facility, dubbed the Clean River Energy Center, on Tuesday, Jan. 3, stating that a public hearing for the proposal will be held on Friday, Jan. 6 at Woonsocket High School.

“It is of the utmost importance for Woonsocket residents to be fully informed and understand the details of the offer, and attendance is strongly encouraged,” Baldelli-Hunt said.

The company has been in talks with the city for nearly a month regarding purchase of the water following a decision by the Energy Facility Siting Board – the governing state agency – to suspend Invenergy’s application to build the plant until a water source could be identified. Two other potential sources closer to the plant’s proposed location – the Pascoag Utility District and the Harrisville Water and Fire District – rejected proposals by Invenergy to secure water.

Although previous reports estimated that the plant would need an average of 102,000 gallons of water a day, with the amount spiking during winter months to some 925,000 gallons, according to Invenergy officials new estimates put that amount at somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 gallons daily.

“We’ve engineered a solution that significantly cuts our water usage,” explained the fact sheet. “The city of Woonsocket has more than enough water to go around. Our use represents less than one percent of the city’s available supply.”

According to Meaghan Wims, an account supervisor with the company’s public relations group, the estimated water reduction comes as the result of the company’s plans to create an onsite wastewater recycling system. Wims said she is unsure if the details of that system will be included in a filing from the company regarding their water plan, due to the EFSB on Jan. 13.

The offer to Woonsocket states that a proposed “Water Transport Center” located in the city would house trucks and include a filling station, and that the company would work with city staff to identify a suitable parcel. Wims says that means the proposal for a 14-mile pipeline running between the two towns is now off the table.

“Invenergy decided that the best option for Woonsocket water would be to have trucks rather than the pipeline,” said Wims. “This is thought to be a better option for the plant. It’s certainly less disruptive than digging up roadways to lay a new pipeline.”

Wims said between two to three trucks per day would be expected to travel between the facilities.

Burrillville residents and opponents of the plant have flocked to Woonsocket City Hall meetings over the past several weeks to urge councilors to reject company overtures and last week, the issue even prompted a joint meeting between the city board and the Burrillville Town Council.

Burrillville Town Manager Michael Wood issued a statement in response to the proposal.

“Burrillville continues to adamantly oppose the Invenergy power plant and many municipalities are already standing with us in opposition. We are hopeful that Woonsocket, as it considers a proposal to provide water for the facility, will also closely examine the information from our experts regarding the potential damage this polluting monster will do,” Wood said. “Our studies have shown that the plant could jeopardize our region’s environment, clean water and safety. The impact will be felt not just by Burrillville, but by surrounding communities as well – including Woonsocket.”

“In addition the reported proposal that calls for water to be trucked raises important traffic and safety concerns for Burrillville, Woonsocket and any community in between,” Wood continued. “These issues will need to be fully vetted before this matter is concluded.”

According to the proposal, Invenergy’s “long term Water Supply and Economic Development Agreement,” with the city would see up to three people hired by the company, with preference given to Woonsocket residents. Invenergy officials are also pointing to a potential decrease in water bills for Woonsocket users. The city is currently under mandate with the Department of Environmental Management to build a new water treatment plant – a project initially expected to cost between $40 million and $45 million, but sources recently told The Breeze that a RFP for the Jillson Avenue project brought back bids showing price tags closer to $80 million.

“With Invenergy paying more than its share as a water customer, there will be less of a burden on other water customers once the cost of building that facility is passed on to customers,” the fact sheet stated.

Wims said Invenergy does expect to agree to put a cap on the amount of water the company could potentially use.

Asked why company officials would agree to a deal that, at least on the surface, appears very generous, Wims sent a statement from Invenergy officials.

“Invenergy is willing to invest in this project because we believe it will play a major role in meeting Rhode Island’s future energy needs. We think our proposal to provide Woonsocket with more than $18 million over the next 20 years is a good offer for a city that could benefit from this new revenue and that has ample water supply to meet our needs,” the statement said. “Our payments to Woonsocket would be on top of the $700 million we’d invest in building the facility, plus the nearly $100 million in tax revenue and impact fees for Burrillville.”

City Council President Daniel Gendron said the details of the proposed arrangement were provided to him on Monday afternoon.

“I look forward to the public input on Friday from the Woonsocket residents to gauge their opinion of this deal,” Gendron said.

The public hearing is expected to include an opportunity for questions and comments regarding the offer.

Comments

Trucking water to the plant is worse than the plant itself.