The town’s agreement with Invenergy to sell water for use in the operations of a planned power plant in Burrillville has been upheld in Superior Court.
Judge Michael A. Silverstein found that the 20-year, more than $18 million deal – which will involve the trucking of water from a facility in Johnston to the planned 1,000-megawatt, fossil-fuel-burning Clean River Energy Center – constitutes an “ordinary municipal water supply purpose.”
The town of Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation had filed separate legal challenges over the Johnston-Invenergy deal, which received the approval of the Johnston Town Council in January 2017. The cases were consolidated in April 2017.
Perhaps the most central issue in the case was the court’s interpretation of the 1915 Rhode Island law that establishes guidelines for the Providence Water Supply Board’s sale of water from the Scituate Reservoir. The plaintiffs in the case argued that the town of Johnston lacked authority to sell water purchased on a wholesale basis from Providence Water to the power plant’s backers.
Silverstein, however, determined that it is “customary for municipalities to purchase water from PWSB and resell it to energy generation facilities.” As such, he found that the agreement between Johnston and Invenergy is an “ordinary municipal water supply purpose” under state law.
On Wednesday, Town Solicitor William Conley said the town is “obviously very happy” with the court’s decision. He noted that the deal provides the town $500,000 per year with a 3 percent escalator, along with $200,000 each for the first five years dedicated to youth programs and activities.
“It’s an important decision for the town, and it means that once the plant is up and running that income will flow to the town,” he said.
Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena on Wednesday called the decision “great news” for the town. He accused the Conservation Law Foundation of using “stalling tactics” and stood behind the power plant project, saying it will create hundreds of jobs.
“I don’t know if environmentalists want to use candles someday or rub two sticks together. I don’t know what they want,” he said. “We prevailed. We are very happy.”
As for when construction of the controversial power plant will begin, Conley said the approval process is in the late stages at the state Energy Facility Siting Board.
“We hope that it will be timely approved by the board,” he said. “Once the EFSB can go forward, I know Invenergy’s intention is to proceed right away. So the sooner, the better from the town’s perspective to get that income flowing to the town.”
Opponents of the new power plant question its potential environmental impact.
“The majority of communities are against this plant which, although proposed for the Town of Burrillville, will impact residents throughout Rhode Island,” Michael Wood, Burrillville’s town manager, said in 2017. “We know that the proposed plant will ruin valuable forest land, harm our environment, and jeopardize native wildlife. And there are pressing concerns about the danger to the state’s air and water quality.”