Johnston Unexpectedly Offers Water to Power Plant


In an unexpected turn of events, the town of Johnston, R.I., has thrust itself into the proposed Burrillville power plant controversy.

After a contentious hearing Jan. 6 in Woonsocket regarding an $18 million offer from Invenergy Thermal Development LLC to buy cooling water for its 900-megawatt Clear River Energy Center, Johnston has thrown itself into the fray by holding a Jan. 10 vote on a similar deal. The Johnston vote will be held on same night that the Woonsocket City Council holds its vote on a water deal.

Opponents of the natural gas/diesel power plant were surprised by the offer from Johnston.

“No one anticipated they’d be going to Johnston,” said Kevin Cleary, chairman of the Burrillville Conservation Commission.

Cleary said he found no public record of Johnston considering an offer. Some opponents believe the Woonsocket proposal was a bait-and-switch plan from Invenergy to keep attention away from this deal.

“You have to wonder if this is by design,” Cleary said.

Cleary noted that Johnston is likely offering water from the supply it receives from Providence Water, the state’s largest water supplier and a department of the city of Providence. Other municipalities, Cleary said, are free to offer similar deals to sell its water, even though the source is outside the community. Reselling municipal water is legal, Cleary said, as long as the municipality can meet local water needs while having excess room in its network of pipes to sell it to another entity.

Cleary said it looks like Woonsocket might be a pawn in Invenergy’s plan to get water. However, the plan creates more questions than answers.

“What if both communities vote yes?” Cleary asked. “I’m baffled.”

News of the Johnston vote surfaced after municipal offices closed on Monday, so answers have been hard to find.

Invenergy said Friday that it has reluctantly decided to add a costlier cooling system to the Clear River Energy Center after it ran into resistance from Burrillville water boards for access to local water. The new system cleans and recycles water through an on-site filter system. As a result, the power plant’s daily water need dropped from about 200,000 gallons per day to about 20,000, according to Invenergy.

Water woes forced Invenergy to seek a 90-day extension in October on its application for the power plant. That application now sits before the state Energy Facility Siting Board (EFSB). Invenergy has until Jan. 11 to name its water supplier. A meeting has yet to be scheduled with the EFSB to name that source.

“Invenergy has been asked by the EFSB to identify a backup water source, and we are working with the Town of Johnston to potentially serve that function,” Invenergy spokeswoman Meaghan Wims wrote in a Jan. 10 email to ecoRI News.

In an email to its supporters, the FANG Collective is urging power plant opponents to attend either the meeting in Johnston or Woonsocket.

“Only a massive wave of pressure can stop the water deals from passing in both Woonsocket and Johnston,” according to the email.


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  1. At last, Invenergy is playing their final, desperate card for a water deal: the Town of Johnston, bailiwick of the Sabitoni’s.

    The Sabitoni’s—father Armand and son Michael—have run the Labor and Trades Union Council for several decades. They have from the start been the leading proponents of Invenergy’s power plant, and have done everything in their power to disguise its ridiculous site location in the midst of our 25 square-mile complex of public forests in northwest Rhode Island.

    Michael Sabitoni sits on the Board of the Central Landfill in Johnston, too.

    Johnston Town Hall is run by a seamless, textbook political machine where power flows from the top down, and the Sabitoni’s, when they need be, have their fingers on the buttons.

    But for Invenergy, it is a gamble to re-power their stumbling fortunes by plugging into to the Sabitoni-Johnston Town Hall grid. The general public is likely to detect an odor, and follow the stink all the way back to Governor Raimondo’s office where the Invenergy project was originally conceived two years ago. This suspicion might unfair to the Sabitoni’s and the Governor, but Rhode Islanders have been burnt too often by this style of politics to give benefit of the doubt.

    Bottom Line: If I am Allan Fung, I am smiling today.

  2. This lower usage is based on Invenergy using a deionizer ion system which, according to a industry website, uses chemicals that are dangerous to both workears and the environment. None of this has been approved, and if this deal is like the Woonsocket one, it is open ended so if this process is not approved the volume could go up to the 200000 gal estimate again.

  3. Since it appears that Johnston gets the water from Providence and Providence turned this down is this something that Johnston can do? Or is this just a ploy to pressure Woonsocket? What is getting lost here is the larger question that this is an industrial plant for export of energy being built in Rhode Island where 17 towns have already supported Burrillville in opposing this. Any water sale enables Invenergy to use the Frak gas exploited in Pennsylvania at a power plant that will not allow us to reduce our greenhouse gases as required by the resilient Rhode Island act. Inventor G has been less than honest or prepared to show us the real impacts of what they are considering throughout this whole process which has raised anxiety and this water issue is no different.They have proven that they cannot be trusted.

  4. If the Johnston water supply is part & parcel of the Providence water supply and Mayor Elorza votes against it how does Johbston propose to supply water.

  5. Why is it town like Johnson which have almost NO watershed public water supply is allowed to do this…? And what the hades happen to PUBLIC Hearing where these ISSUES are suppose to be made publicly and NOT behind CLOESD Doors…!!!

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