An email exchange between Providence Water officials and representatives from Invenergy, the company seeking to build a power plant in Burrillville, reveals some of the backroom negotiations taking place as Invenergy scrambles to find the water necessary to cool the proposed $700 million fracked gas and diesel oil burning power plant.
The August emails were obtained through an Access to Public Records Act (APRA) request by RI Future. The response to the request can be accessed here, but I’ve also made the emails available in chronological order here.
Invenergy proposed building a $25-30 million pipeline from the Scituate Reservoir to northern Burrillville to deliver 200 thousand gallons of water a day. Providence Water General Manager Ricky Caruolo, in an email, said that amount “would not be a problem.” But, in another email, he said, he “made it crystal clear that prior to Providence Water committing to provide [Invenergy] with water, the project would need to be cleared with the City administration.”
Meanwhile, an Invenergy lawyer told Caruolo, according to the emails, that Governor Gina Raimondo “was in full support of the project” – an assertion the governor’s office subsequently denied. The emails also indicate Invenergy is considering construction of a solar farm to be built of Providence Water land near Scituate Resevoir.
On Thursday, August 18 of last year representatives from Invenergy met with representatives of Providence Water, to open negotiations regarding the sale of water to the company to cool its turbines. Present at this meeting were John Niland, director of development at Invenergy and his lawyers, Richard Beretta and Alan Shoer from Adler Pollock and Sheehan. Representing Providence Water were Ricky Caruolo, general manager at Providence Water, and deputy general managers Greg Giasson and Peter Pallozzi.
The introductions for this meeting were made by Burrillville assistant attorney Michael McElroy. McElroy is the primary attorney representing Burrillville, the lawyer who negotiated the controversial tax treaty between the town and Invenergy, and then convinced the Burrillville Town Council to sign off on the agreement. McElroy also handles all matters before the Public Utility Commission for Providence Water.
“Because of the possibility of a conflict of interest I will not be involved in these meetings,” wrote McElroy by way of introducing Inenergy attorney Alan Shoer to Providence Water’s Ricky Caruolo. “My role was simply to make the introductions. Best of luck.”
At the August 18 meeting, as described in an email from Ricky Caruolo, it was understood that Invenergy wanted to meet with Providence Water to discuss the sale of water to cool their proposed power plant and the possibility of “leasing some of [Providence Water’s] land for a solar farm.”
This the only reference to a proposed Invenergy solar farm to be located in Rhode Island I have read.
Providence Water was asked if they could supply “approximately 200k gallons of water per day for steam cooling” and Providence Water said it would not be a problem. Invenergy proposed building a pipeline from Providence’s water to the power plant, which would cost the company between $25 and $30 million.
“I communicated that I was a bit surprised by their commitment,” Caruolo wrote. “Richard Beretta informed me that the Governor is in full support of the project.”
In answer to a query, Raimondo denied Beretta’s characterization of her support for Invenergy’s power plant through her press secretary David Ortiz: “Richard Baretta does not speak on behalf of Governor Raimondo or her administration,” wrote Ortiz in an email, “The Governor’s position has not changed: She supports the health and safety of all Rhode Islanders. If the Energy Facility Siting Board’s review finds there are serious concerns that can’t be addressed, the project won’t move forward.”
After the first meeting, Caruolo met later that same day with Brett Smiley, who was then working for Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza. (Smiley did not start as chief of staff at the Governor’s office until September 6.) According to Caruolo, Smiley told him “that the City of Providence did not want to be involved in [the Burrillville power plant] dispute.” Smiley advised Caruolo to bring Robin Muksian, currently Elorza’s director of administration and Nicole Pollock, Elorza’s chief innovation officer, (now chief of staff with the departure of Brett Smiley) into the loop.
Perhaps coincidentally, Muksian had been involved in Burrillville’s Invenergy battle before. In May of last year, Muksian was invited by the Burrillville Town Council to speak at one of their “special meetings.” At the time, the Burrillville Town Council seemed resistant to opposing Invenergy and seemed intent on selling the concept of the power plant to the town. Muksian was introduced as a resident of Burrillville and the executive director of operations for the Providence School Department. Muksian was not well received.
A follow-up meeting between Invenergy and Providence Water was held on Wednesday, August 24. Everyone from the first meeting attended, but Richard Beretta was on vacation, so he called in by phone. In addition, Joe Spremulli and Carissa Richard from Providence Water were at this meeting.
Caruolo told Invenergy that the company would be treated like any other customer looking to connect to the Providence Water system. Caruolo suggested that Invenergy contact Woonsocket Water and Smithfield Water, as they would be much closer. Invenergy countered that “it was their preference not to deal with towns or small water utilities and they were more comfortable dealing with the City of Providence.”
However, since the meetings with Providence Water, Invenergy has a made a big push into Woonsocket, beginning with some large donations to the campaign of Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. Currently, the Woonsocket Town Council is deliberating on whether or not to sell water to Invenergy.
Caruolo told Invenergy that it was up to the company to “submit detailed plans with regards to the potential pipeline” for Providence Water to review. Caruolo also “made it crystal clear that prior to Providence Water committing to provide [Invenergy] with water, the project would need to be cleared with the City administration.”
Caruolo told Invenergy “that once it became public that [Providence Water] was approached [by Invenergy], there would be a considerable amount of pushback from various groups.” Caruolo noted that “some of the groups have already been reaching out to us.”
Caruolo ended his description of the meeting by writing, “In closing [Providence Water] needs to treat Invenergy like any other customer looking to connect [to] our system. This does not mean that we are going to provide [Invenergy] with water. It’s very safe to say that [Invenergy is] going to be met with a tremendous amount of opposition, from environmentalist[s] to the public.”
A meeting with Mayor Elorza, to bring him up to speed on the meetings with Invenergy, was held on September 16. Present were Caruolo, Elorza, Giasson, Pallozzi, Pollock and Muksian. The intent of the meeting, according communications director Crowell,”was to outline tax treaties and agreements” between Invenergy and Providence Water.
In setting up the meeting Caruolo indicated that time was a factor, writing, “Invenergy has a lot of work to do but I get the feeling they don’t like to waste time and they have the financial resources to move quickly.”
Caruolo also noted that “If the media becomes aware that we have been approached then someone may try to catch the Mayor off guard which I am trying to avoid. [Providence Water] can easily provide [Invenergy] with water to meet their demand but it’s going to be a huge lift on their end designing a pipeline and getting the public to accept this project.”
[This story was updated at 7:40am to incorporate the responses from Mayor Elorza’s office.]