Town Planner: Power Plant not a Fit for Burrillville

A controversial proposal for a 1,000 megawatt power plant in Burrillville is not a good fit for the community and puts its water resources at risk, according to town planner Thomas Kravitz.

Kravitz, who advises the town planning board, said a power plant was not what members had envisioned for the future of the town. “They didn’t feel the proposal was in conformance with the town comprehensive plan,” Kravitz said in an interview with Motif.

The town comprehensive plan outlines a vision for how town officials and the community want Burrillville to develop over the long term. It considers everything from cultural resources to conservation of open spaces — and a gas-fueled power plant is decidedly not part of the plan. Not only is the power plant not a good match for the community but the specific site selected is next to conservation land, Kravitz added.

Another major concern of the planning board is the impact on the local water supply. The power plant — officially named the Clear River Energy Center — could consume over 200,000 gallons of water a day, according to a fact sheet produced by a local citizens group opposed to the $700 million project. That would use up all the remaining water in the main town aquifer, according to Kravitz.

However, the planning board will not have the final say. Instead, the decision is up to the Energy Facility Siting Board, a division of the Public Utilities Commission, a state agency. As of this writing, the board, which has received an advisory opinion from the Burrillville Planning Board, had yet to render its own decision. The deadline for a vote has been repeatedly postponed. A final decision on the project, which is being backed by Invenergy, is currently expected in February 2017.

Many opponents of the project both locally and elsewhere in the state have raised concerns about its environmental impact — especially when the power plant does not seem to bring much of an economic benefit to the local community. Those include just 24 full-time jobs and what one citizens opposition group calls “a modest non-guaranteed reduction in utility bills” and “marginal per person tax benefits.” (There also would be 300 “non-guaranteed” temporary jobs according to the group, which calls itself Keep Burrillville Beautiful.)

“There should be more thought placed up front about where these projects are sited,” Kravitz said.

Assuming for the sake of argument that there is a need for a power plant in the region, Kravitz wonders why those behind the power plant proposal did not consider a city like Woonsocket instead of Burrillville.

He noted that there is a commercial property in Woonsocket, the Walnut Hill Plaza, which has several vacant lots. The plaza is near gas lines and the needed power lines are also closer. Plus, cash-strapped Woonsocket could really use the tax revenues generated by the power plant, he added.

“How do you miss Woonsocket? How do you miss that?” Kravitz said, adding that his recommendation for a Woonsocket location was his personal opinion as a professional planner and did not reflect the view of the Burrillville Planning Board.

“It’s more of an economic injustice to Woonsocket than an environmental injustice to Burrillville,” he added.

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