Johnston’s $18 million agreement with Invenergy to resell water from the Providence Water Supply Board to the company’s proposed Burrillville power plant has hit another legal speedbump.
According to a press release, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin’s cited several concerns and announced his opposition last week to the construction of the Invenergy power plant in Burrillville. Kilmartin now seeks permission from the court to file an amicus brief in Rhode Island Superior Court challenging the plant’s water-supply plan.
“A great deal has changed since the Invenergy power plant was proposed, and there is growing evidence that the power plant is neither needed nor a positive for our economy or our environment,” said Attorney General Kilmartin in the press release. “In our role as the environmental advocate for the State of Rhode Island, I believe this power plant is not in the best interest of the state, the taxpayers or our natural resources.”
Kilmartin’s four areas of concern include the legal uncertainty as to where Invenergy will get water it needs to cool the facility; that the proposed Burrillville plant would exacerbate climate change and undermine Rhode Island’s ability to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals; that alternative solar and wind power plants are increasingly coming online; and Invenergy’s plan to have ratepayers pay for the installation of transmission lines from the plant to the existing grid.
“The agreement to buy water from Johnston would be precedent setting and, in our legal opinion, in violation of state law,” Kilmartin noted. “Perhaps there is no greater or important natural resource than water, and the General Assembly foresaw a century ago the need to properly regulate how municipalities are able to purchase, use and sell water.”
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena strongly disagreed with Kilmartin’s decision and took umbrage in its delivery.
“First of all, I always thought that the purpose of the Attorney General’s office was to prosecute criminals, like for instance the people who were involved in 38 Studios, which for some reason nobody wants to seem to touch,” said Polisena. “Also, I thought that they should look for the $75 million that was obviously taken from Resource Recovery years ago, and also go after the people who took the money away from those men and women who are retirees of the St. Joseph-Fatima Hospital. They lost 40 percent of their income, and I assume that the Attorney General probably should have had his finger on the pulse.”
Polisena said that he first learned about Kilmartin’s decision by reading it in the newspaper. He said that Johnston supported him in his run for the office.
“I know that I came out publicly for him. I was a strong supporter of his, so I don’t know what the deal is. I wish that I would have gotten a phone call from him saying what his intentions are.”
During their January 2017 meeting, the town council approved a 20-year water supply and economic development agreement with the energy company worth more than $18 million. Under the arrangement, water will be trucked to the Burrillville power plant from a facility in Johnston, which has yet to be purchased or built. The council’s decision, which was made without public input, drew scrutiny from environmental activist groups and some Johnston residents.
An investigation by the Attorney General’s office into 23 Open Meetings Act complaints against the Town of Johnston regarding the Town Council’s January 10, 2017 meeting concluded with no violations being found.
Kilmartin disputes the arrangement reached between the town and Invenergy, stating that Johnston would be reselling water it buys from the Scituate Reservoir, and use of that water is restricted by statute for “domestic…municipal…purposes.” Kilmartin believes that the water shipment does not constitute “municipal purposes.”
“I totally disagree. There’s no difference between a water company coming in and going to Johnston Water and buying 100,000 gallons and filling up pools,” said Polisena.
The two lawsuits in which Kilmartin will ask to file amici briefs, Conservation Law Foundation, Inc. v. Clear River Energy, LLC, et al., and Town of Burrillville v. Clear River Energy, LLC, et al., are pending before Superior Court Justice Michael A. Silverstein.
“I’m very disappointed in the attorney general for blindsiding the taxpayers of Johnston, because that’s who it affects,” said Polisena.