Attorney General: Johnston has ‘no right’ to sell water to proposed Burrillville power plant

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PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin has submitted a court brief questioning the town of Johnston’s right to sell water to the developer that hopes to build a power plant in the town of Burrillville.

Kilmartin’s “brief of amicus curiae” supports the position of parties challenging the resale of water provided by the Providence Water Supply Board to the town of Johnston, stating that, “Whatever rights Johnston has to the water are derived from a particular Rhode Island Public Law that provides that the water is exclusively ‘for use for domestic, fire and other ordinary municipal water supply purposes.'”

The brief is that latest – if seemingly delayed – chapter in what has been a highly publicized and dramatic search for water supplies to cool generators on the proposed 1,000 megawatt plant. The company that hopes to build the plant, Invenergy Thermal, LLC, has courted numerous sources, including the city of Woonsocket, where City Councilors rejected a 20-year $18 million deal in January 2017.

At the end of a highly contentious meeting in which Woonsocket councilors voted against selling water to the plant, city officials learned that the Johnston Town Council had approved similar a deal the very same night.

Johnston purchases the resource from the PWSB, water which comes from the Scituate Reservoir.

The Town of Burrillville and the Conservation Law Foundation have challenged the Johnston’s right to sell the water to the proposed Clean River Energy Center, a gas-burning facility Invenergy hopes to erect on Wallum Lake Road, in Superior Court.

Defendants Johnston and Clean River Energy, LLC filed a motion for summary judgement in the case, asking Judge Michael Silverstein to dismiss that challenge.

Kilmartin’s brief supported of the plaintiffs ’s objections, citing a 1915 law meant to preserve water resources in the state.

“The Attorney General is keenly concerned, on behalf of current and future Rhode Islanders, with the legal protections providing for the sustainability of the Scituate Reservoir — a resource that provides drinking water to sixty percent of the State’s population,” Kilmartin wrote.

“Johnston has no right to supply PWSB water to major industrial plants beyond its boundaries because such action violates the 1915 Act.”

Oral arguments for the motion are scheduled for Monday, Aug. 20 at Superior Court in Providence.

Final hearings on the proposal before the Energy Facility Siting Board – the state body that must decide if power plant developers can move forward – are expected to continue through the end of the year.

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