The Art of the Deal: Power Plant Water Agreement Nothing But a Rhode Island Con


Take a bow. The con was executed brilliantly. With so many moving parts and people involved, the production couldn’t have been easy to choreograph.

The performance of the Woonsocket City Council and Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt was Oscar worthy. They made the necessary distraction look so real, like they actually were seriously considering supplying water to the proposed Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville. A framework for the water deal was released. A press release issued. A fact sheet produced. Hearings were held to distract and wear down opponents of the proposed fossil fuel power plant. People had to sacrifice downtime and take time off from work to attend. The possibility of trucking the water to Burrillville instead of building 14 miles of pipeline was floated as an added distraction.

Invenergy Thermal Development LLC and its hired public-relations firm continued playing their part: the spewing of lies and misinformation. At a staged Jan. 6 Woonsocket City Council meeting, John Niland, Invenergy’s director of business development, lied that the natural-gas/diesel power plant would save ratepayers $210 million during the first four years of operation. That claim is a lie — proved as such during and after a hearing before the state Energy Facilities Siting Board last year. It’s been a con job since the beginning.

On the morning of Jan. 10, the Chicago-based company’s locally hired PR firm sent ecoRI News electronic spam. Invenergy spokeswoman Meaghan Wims wrote in an e-mail that, “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.” About 10 hours later, the Johnston Town Council would vote unanimously to sell Providence water to the fossil fuel power plant proposed for a parcel of forest in Burrillville.

Both the Woonsocket City Council and the Johnston Town Council held special meetings on the evening of Jan. 10 to address the selling of local water to an out-of-state company. Invenergy had until Jan. 11 to name its water supplier. Since the Woonsocket City Council rejected the water deal, as the con required, the project still hasn’t identified a backup water source, as if that really ever mattered.

The stars of this con, though, were Johnston Mayor Joe Polisena and his council puppets. Their Jan. 10 meeting lasted less than 5 minutes, included no discussion, featured no framework, press release or fact sheet, and the small room was prepacked with supporters of building a 20th-century facility in the 21st century. The mayor and his five punchinellos borrowed a Trump blueprint: no discussion, no questions, no opponents and screw somebody else over. Polisena has the best ideas.

Both Polisena and council president Anthony Verado sounded like Trump cabinet picks when they spoke with RI Future after the show. The mayor said, “My concern is Johnston. I have a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that I can get as much revenue in for the town that I can.”

Why not sell crack out of Town Hall?

Johnston has no water supply of its own. It does, though, have rights to an unlimited amount from Providence Water, which operates the Scituate Reservoir. Polisena said the town’s agreement with Providence Water doesn’t limit how much water it can sell, or whom it can sell water to, like a Midwest corporation that wants to build a fossil fuel power plant where it’s not welcome.

In fact, both Polisena and Verado don’t much care about anyone or anything else, including their colleagues on the Burrillville Town Council and the many residents there who don’t want the greenhouse gas-spewing facility.

Polisena and Verado both admitted to RI Future that environmental impacts weren’t factored into their decision to sell water to cool a fossil fuel power plant. Climate change, after all, is just a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese government.

“I really never gave it much thought,” Polisena said when asked by RI Future’s Bob Plain if he believes climate change is caused by humans. “This world has been around a long time, it’s gonna be around a lot longer. I don’t really think it will be a major issue. I think humanity is very smart, and they will do the right thing.”

Well, at least we know you aren’t and won’t.

Verado said the deal was good for Johnston, and he noted that environmentalists have “put a lot of people out of work” during the past eight years. Like Trump, he provided no facts, just lies.

The supporters who prepacked the meeting room yelled, “Go back to Burrillville,” “Deliverance” and “Go back to hugging trees” to the crowd unable to watch Polisena work his puppets.

Gov. Gina Raimondo — who supports the building of the power plant and has lauded Polisena for being “a great steward of public money” — and her administration are doing the best they can to enable a banana republic.

Imagine if the powers-that-be schemed this hard to put developers to work building homes for the homeless and other stuff we actually need.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.


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  1. Building homes for the homeless, is like giving work boots to a cripple. How can they keep a home, if they can’t keep a home already….

    • You’re an idiot with that so called analogy. Sorry for the big word, it might hurt your brain a bit but you will get over it snowflake.

  2. I’ll let you know, Woonsockets City Council had no part in the Con, I will believe that the Mayor may have been privy to said smoke show considering she never once to an official position on the deal

  3. That should be – I am against the plant – as is the author of this article – and I think this article is still very incoherent.

  4. Problem is the RI TAXPAYERpaid for all the conservation land surrounding this monster!!! We also still pay to maintain. RI TAXPAYERS AND VOTERS should be really angry that we are constantly being asked to vote to purchase green space only to use it for this!!!! This plant is now REALLY!!! a STATE PROBLEM NOW!!! How dare they take WATER FROM SCITUATE RESERVOIR. YOUR DRINKING WATER. In case you haven’t noticed the water levels take a ride and check it out!!!

  5. With you all the way Frank. But you did not mention the undoubted real maestro behind the performance: RI Construction and Building Trades Council president, Michael Sabitoni, a Johnston native and board member of the Central Landfill. He was at the Woonsocket meeting while the brief charade in Johnston was played. Sabitoni, a close political ally of Governor Raimondo since 2014, when the Council’s support for her was critical to her primary and general election victories, was appointed by Raimondo to her transition team, and helped secure Raimondo’s appointment of Laborer’s Union official, Peter Alviti Jr., as Director of the Department of Transportation. Sabitoni was at Raimondo’s side when she announced the Invenergy project and has been the chief lobbyist for it ever since.

    Alviti has played in part in larger picture, too. Charged by the Energy Facilities Siting Board with delivering an "Opinion" concerning the Invenergy project’s impact on traffic constrained, essentially one-way traffic grid in northwest RI, the DOT begged off, filing no Opinion at all, citing lack of information.

    This role of Alviti’s should not be overlooked. Burrillville and North Smithfield have an enormous problem with water tanker traffic already when, nearly every summer, drought prevents the Ocean State power plant from drawing cooling water from the Blackstone. Several hundred tanker trucks per day crowd Routes 7, 44 and 102. Invenergy’s switch to tanker transport of their cooling water will be far worse. Although they claim there will be few water tanker deliveries needed per day from spring through autumn because of their new cooling scheme for the turbines, in winter, when the plant is compelled to burn oil due to unpredictable weather and fuel-market conditions, the plant’s water demands and oil demands will spike at the same time as vastly more water is required to cool oil-fired operation, and the narrow streets of Chepachet and Pascoag, in the snow, through which Rts. 44 and 100 thread, will simply be hell, crowded with both water and oil tankers—making life miserable, reducing property values, and inviting dangerous accidents. The on-site fuel oil storage tanks will hold only a three-days supply.

    Don’t expect DOT Director Alviti to respond. He’s with Mike and Gina.

    But do expect the residents of northwest RI to respond. Gina Raimondo will be hated in that region for the next generation.

    Again, if I’m Allan Fung, I’m lovin’ this! The ever more out-of-control freak show of "Gina’s power plant."

  6. I would ask that this article be edited to not make Woonsocket’s city council look bad. THEY actually did the honorable thing in all of this and took hundreds of hours to get the information from various parties, attempted to negotiate in good faith with Invenergy, and in the end, opted out largely because of the bad vibes they were getting from them, lack of protection for their residents in the contract, and the lack of responsiveness from them. This article implies they were part of the corrupt strategy employed elsewhere in this process. I know that Woonsocket’s council, at least, was doing the right thing every single step of the way.

  7. Wow! Although I agree with the author, I think it should have been written with a little more class a lot more actual facts to support his claim rather than innuendo.

  8. That’s quite a stretch ….to accuse the Woonsocket town council of collusion in the Invenergy water purchase attempt. The Johnston January 10th "meeting" was a scam for sure. By the mayor’s own admission, prior to the "meeting", he met individually with the council members to discuss the water sale issue; an attempt to circumvent the Open Meetings rules that has been attempted before. It’s called a "Walking Quorum" and if pursued, could result in a finding that the "meeting" was illegal.

    Identifying myself as a Middletown resident I emailed each of the 7 Woonsocket council members and received replies from 2 of them. Their replies were courteous and informative, correcting my impression about the quality of the water being considered. Woonsocket council members did the research and the result was to reject the Invenergy proposal.

    Woonsocket does not deserve to be painted with the same dirty brush as the Johnston debacle.

    Maggie Bulmer

  9. You want to expose what you consider to be a "CON" fine.

    After all, this is Rhode Island, the state with the "temporary" state income tax, still there after nearly 50 years,
    a state that somehow decided they needed a 300 MILLION dollar computer system,
    (YES !!! 1/3 of a BILLION dollars) to manage their services…

    in unraveling the sordid or not deal involved here. Trump is a businessman, his motto is
    "on time and under budget".

    The American people, taken as a whole, elected Trump President to implement changes
    which President Obama was unwilling, incapable or unable to even begin doing.

    Trade deal inequities costing millions of jobs, terrorist attacks, multiple ones,
    a blind allegiance to the TPP, a health care plan that brought needed reforms
    but ignored competition and price controls, a foreign policy which left
    the U.S. a main player in a refugee nightmare…. THAT’S why we elected Trump.

    Separate your hatred of him from this "deal" .

  10. Here is a letter I wrote in repsonse to the abomination in johnston

    Ever since the Invenergy Clear River power plant was proposed for Burrillville the overwhelming majority of people in Rhode Island have been united in opposition, while many of the most powerful people in Rhode Island supported the plant. Governor Raimondo asked the people to trust the process. So the people did everything they could within the process. Attend hearings, speak out, write letters, talk to ciy officials. And everywhere the people were given a proper hearing, where there was a real process, the project has been rejected.

    Now Invenergy sems to have found a water source, in the one community that would not hold a public hearing, did all the negotiating in secret, and would not let the people have any voice. The question for the Governor is, How can we still trust the process? Untill you demand that Johnston hold an actual process and hear from the community your words ring hollow and we shall believe that the fix was in.

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