Rhode Island Superior Court will hear a case against Invenergy - the company proposing to build a natural gas power plant in Burrillville - and the Town of Johnston.
Judge Michael Silverstein denied Tuesday Invenergy's motion to dismiss a lawsuit from Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, that claims the water contract between Invenergy and Johnston is illegal.
The contract states Johnston will buy water from Providence and resell it to Invenergy to cool the power plant. CLF is arguing Providence doesn't have a legal obligation to sell water to Johnston for that purpose, and that Johnston can only purchase water for domestic or ordinary municipal purposes.
Invenergy argued at a hearing on June 1 that CLF doesn't have standing to bring the case. The court agreed, but decided to overlook the lack of standing because the case is of "substantial public interest."
Jerry Elmer, senior attorney for CLF, said this is a huge victory for opponents of the power plant. He said he's confident the court will rule the water contract is illegal, which will set-back Invenergy's progress.
"Invenergy will be back to square one, it will have to find a new source of water for its proposed power plant, and it’ll have to file a new application with the Energy Facility Siting Board," Elmer said.
Elmer said Invenergy has a legal obligation to ISO New England, the region's electricity grid operator, to have the power plant built and operational by June 1, 2020. He said the delay from the lawsuit could prevent that from happening.
"It may be impossible for Invenergy to meet its legal obligation to be up and running and that would be enough to kill the plant," Elmer said.
Invenergy said in a statement they’re reviewing the judge’s decision to determine next steps, but remain committed to the project.
Elmer said a final ruling on the case could take several months.