Burrillville power plant decision delayed over changes to water plan

Burrillville power plant decision delayed over changes to water plan

BURRILLVILLE – The state-run Energy Facilities Siting Board will not issue a final decision on Invenergy Thermal Development LLC’s plan to build a 1,000 megawatt natural gas-fired power plant on Wallum Lake Road in Burrillville until at least March, after announcements of changes to the company’s water plan prompted action by multiple parties, and the scheduling of additional public hearings.

Invenergy first announced plans to build the facility, a $1 billion project known as the Clear River Energy Center, in early 2016, and has faced opposition from residents and municipalities across the state and beyond as it works to tackle state regulatory hurdles. Some 35 communities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have passed resolutions opposing plans by the Chicago-based company.

A meeting on Oct. 10 in Burrillville was expected to offer a final chance for public comment, with evidentiary hearings scheduled to begin Oct. 31, but those meetings have been pushed back as more details of Invenergy’s latest plans are unveiled.

The plant is expected to require between 15,000 and 750,000 gallons of water each day to cool turbines, and the planned source of the water has been a focus for both residents and regulators. Pascoag Utility District and the Harrisville Water and Fire District rejected proposals by the company to secure the water, and the Woonsocket City Council turned down an offer to serve as a water source last January.

The company’s main source of water, at least according to recent discussions, is Johnston, a town supplied by the Scituate Reservoir through the Providence Water Supply Board.

But in recent weeks, numerous backup sources have been revealed, including the Narragansett Indian Tribe, the Benn Water Supply Co. in Hopkinton, and the Watuppa Water Board in Fall River, Mass.

The tribe’s decision to offer water led the town of Charlestown, which shares an aquifer with the tribe, to ask to intervene in the power plant’s application. The siting board granted Charlestown intervenor status earlier this month, prompting the town to schedule its own public hearing, a meeting requiring a 30-day notice that will likely be held around Thanksgiving.

The regulatory board also voted on what evidence will be submitted for the final hearing phase on the project, rejecting the resolutions passed by every municipality except Burrillville. The 34 additional municipal resolutions will be considered as public comment.

The Tribal Council of the Narragansett Indian Tribe, meanwhile, is contesting the legality of the tribe’s decision, stating that it was made by tribal leaders without a vote by full membership, and has also asked the siting board for intervenor status.

The Johnston water source is also being challenged in Rhode Island Superior Court by the Conservation Law Foundation and the town of Burrillville.

Invenergy recently asked the state siting board if the company could hold an additional public comment meeting in Burrillville, acknowledging that the recent changes made to the power plant’s water plans are significant.

Final evidentiary hearings before the board are now expected to begin Dec. 11 or later, but circumstances could change with the evolving project, according to officials. The soonest the board could issue a decision would be March 2018 and at least for now, the board will continue to accept public comment.