Polisena: Board’s decision on Burrillville plant ‘disappointing’

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The state Energy Facility Siting Board’s denial of plans for a $1 billion, fossil-fuel burning power plant Burrillville is “very disappointing” and “a setback for energy,” Mayor Joseph Polisena said Tuesday.

The town of Johnston had a 20-year, $18-million agreement in place with Chicago-based Invenergy to truck two to three 8,000-gallon tankers of water to the proposed 1,000-megawatt Clean River Energy Center every day.

Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Michael A. Silverstein ruled in April that Johnston has a right to sell its water – which is supplied by Providence Water – for use at the power plant because it constitutes an “ordinary municipal water supply purpose.”

That verdict is rendered moot for now, though, as the EFSB deemed there was no need for the plant in Burrillville.

“I think it was a big economic loss for the state, and as I said, most importantly, it’s a big energy loss,” Polisena said. “I don’t know, I think people are relying too much on things like solar and wind power, but I don’t think we’re there yet.”

Polisena said he spoke with Invenergy Senior Vice President Michael Blazer on the day of the vote, recalling that he was also disappointed with the result. Polisena said he told Blazer that if the plant were located in Johnston, “they would have been up and running right now.”

“I don’t pay attention to the treehuggers when it affects my town and it affects the financial strength of my town,” Polisena said.

Locating the plant in Johnston was not a possibility, though, because Polisena was told the gas line running through the property he had in mind – a 156-acre parcel of land on Route 6 – was not large enough to support the plant.

“I visualized them – and maybe it was a dream – that they could have come on Route 6,” the mayor said. “You know how big that would’ve been for us? Huge. I would say if that came to Johnston at $200 million-plus, with an escalator clause – which I would have put on there – I don’t think there would have ever been a tax raise in this town.”

Polisena reiterated past statements that the revenue generated from the water agreement would likely have gone toward youth recreational programs and commodities for the town’s elderly population. He mentioned adding a few more senior buses and starting more sports programs for children. He said he also intended to create scholarships with some of the money.

“What are you going to do?” he said. “The good thing is, we weren’t relying on that money. It was kind of going to be extra, but it is what it is. We’re fiscally prudent. I’m not saying, ‘Oh, my God, what am I going to do? I lost that money.’”

Polisena said he remains open to selling water to other companies, but he has not received any offers yet. He offered a familiar refrain while defending the town’s right to move water, comparing it to people opposing a contract with a hypothetical soda factory.

“It’s no different than if someone doesn’t like the ABC Soda Company that [is] going to build in Rhode Island because soda rots people’s teeth out,” he said. “We’re still selling water. They’re still going to operate as a business. If I had to do it again, I would do the same thing again. If another power plant came in and they needed water, they don’t even have to ask. We’ll sit down and we’ll work on an agreement. We would’ve been financially enriched. People may say, who are reading this article, ‘What about the people in Burrillville?’ They would’ve been hugely enriched financially, I mean, they would have done really well.”

Polisena said he has no regrets regarding how he handled the deal with Invenergy, and he criticized “outsiders” who “basically control the narrative” for the end result.

“I believe that the environmentalists put a lot of pressure and focused on the community of Burrillville,” he said. ‘I think the politicians were afraid to speak up, but I think if they were to explain how much money it would’ve been, how much money the town would’ve received, I think it would’ve been a different story. But I don’t know, I’m second-guessing.”

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