CHARLESTOWN — Chicago-based Invenergy has granted a request by the Narragansett Indian Tribe to be released from an agreement it signed in 2017 to provide a secondary source of water for the controversial Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville.
In a letter sent Monday, Alan M. Shoer, an attorney for Invenergy, said in a letter to Todd Anthony Bianco of the state Energy Facility Siting Board, “I write to inform the Rhode Island Energy Facility Siting Board that as of January 19, 2018, the Water Supply Agreement between the Narragansett Indian Tribe and Clear River Energy LLC, executed on September 19, 2017, has been terminated and is null and void.”
The Narragansetts’ plan to become a secondary supplier of water to cool the company’s 900-megawatt plant’s natural gas- and oil-fired turbines had been the subject of much public hand-wringing over the past few months.
The town of Charlestown was granted intervenor status with the state siting board after discovering the tribe was planning on siphoning between 15,000 and 725,000 gallons of water per day from the town’s sole-source aquifer if the power plant called upon its secondary water sources. The town also objected to the possibility of increased truck traffic that would result from transporting the water from Charlestown to Burrillville.
Later in the process, it was revealed that the tribal aquifers are sourced from the southern portion of the Lower Wood Aquifer, part of the Wood-Pawcatuck Watershed comprising all or parts of Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton, Westerly, Exeter, West Greenwich and South Kingstown in Rhode Island and Stonington, North Stonington, Voluntown and Sterling in Connecticut.
A group of Narragansetts also came out against the plan, objecting to the legality of the contract because the entire tribe hadn’t voted on it and throwing into question whether the document was under the jurisdiction of American Indian law and the Rhode Island Indian Claims Settlement Act.
On Dec. 5, hundreds of residents and town officials packed an Energy Facility Siting Board hearing at Charlestown Elementary School to deliver a unified message on the power-plant water-supply proposal: “No.”
Five days later, the state board said it could not evaluate the project until two federal lawsuits over a grid-connection fee were resolved. That night, Jerry Elmer, a staff lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation, said no matter which way the lawsuits went, the proposal wouldn’t move forward because if Invenergy won, the fee would get transferred to ratepayers and the firm promised it was a privately funded project. If Invenergy lost the suits, the company would be ordered to pay the tariff immediately, something it had said it won’t do.
Late last week, with overwhelming public opposition to the water agreement, and the larger project very much on the rocks, the tribe decided to ask Invenergy to tear up the pact.
“As you know, a small group of persons have wrongfully claimed they speak for the Tribe and have publicly disavowed the Water Supply Agreement entered into between the Tribe and Invenergy,” wrote John Brown, the Narragansetts’ historic preservation officer and medicine man, to Invenergy. “While these individuals are not Tribal officials and have been restrained by the NIT Tribal Court from representing themselves as such, their statements and actions have created a significant amount of turmoil in the aftermath of our entry in the Water Supply Agreement.
“That turmoil has been exacerbated by individuals outside the Tribe who are opposed to your project and who are using the actions of this dissident group as a vehicle for that opposition,” Brown continued.
Later in the letter, Brown asked Invenergy to release the tribe from the water-supply contract, citing the turmoil.
“Therefore, I must regrettably ask, in the interest of fairness to the continuing progress of your project, and in order to allow the tribe to finally resolve matters related to Tribal governance without undue interference by outsiders with their own agendas, that we mutually agree to voluntarily terminate the Water Supply Agreement,” Brown wrote. “We sincerely hope that we can work with you in some other productive way in the future in order to bring much needed economic relief to the tribe.”