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Seneca Power Partners

Batavia power plant gets green light for water withdrawal access despite municipal appeals

By Joanne Beck
Dec 1, 2022, 7:00am

Despite the letters of appeal with several reasons why city, town, and county officials did not want a company tapping into Batavia’s Well D, the Department of Environmental Conservation has ruled otherwise.

After a more than four-month review process of paperwork and supporting documentation from the applicant, Seneca Power Partners, and from city, town and county management and legal sources, the DEC has opted to grant Seneca a permit to “add Well D at the Batavia Well Field as a new permanent source of water supply.”

The permit has been granted for five years, with the option for Seneca Power Partners to reapply when that time is up.

“We have the same concerns we had when we issued the letters of concern (in July),” City Manager Rachael Tabelski said. “We outlined our concerns to the DEC, and we will meet with DPW and our legal counsel to determine the next steps.”

Tabelski wasn't quite certain how the DEC arrived at its decision, given some confusing supporting information. 

Environmental Analyst Guillermo Saar sent the municipalities and Brian Gregson of SPP a letter on Nov. 18 regarding the decision and reasons for the approval (PDF). In short, the permit authorizes the withdrawal of up to 698,400 gallons per day, or a total of  26 million gallons per year of water for the purpose of system maintenance, boiler make-up water, and non-contact cooling to support the generation of electric power in accordance with the terms and conditions of this permit. Water is to be withdrawn from a new groundwater supply, Well D, located at the Batavia Power Plant.

The longer version cites each reason stated by town, city and county officials, and DEC’s response to each. An example of DEC’s reasons includes a dispute about how much of an impact this additional water draw would negatively affect the county.

The opposing sides cited a significantly lower season average trend that “continues to exacerbate the overuse of the aquifer,” versus DEC’s determination that groundwater level data over the period from October 2007 through July 2022 “do not show that the drought experienced from 2015 to 2017 is indicative of a long-term declining trend in aquifer storage, but rather, a discrete event around which water levels recovered to statistically normal conditions.”

Or, with the Town of Batavia’s request to consider the “collateral environmental impacts” of this extra water taken for the company’s production needs, DEC reviewed statistics and prior water levels and found that the highest yearly draw for two decades, up to 2021, was 22 million gallons -- four million gallons less than what DEC has allowed.

A projected pumping rate of 700 gallons per minute, which is the equivalent of 1.08 million gallons per day, “would not adversely impact the Tonawanda Creek Primary Aquifer,” Saar said.

In the city’s letter of appeal, attorney George Van Nest argued that the DEC must determine that the proposed water withdrawal takes proper consideration of other sources of water supply that may become available.

First, that option was not listed by Seneca in the November 2021 Engineer’s Report included with the new Water Withdrawal permit application, Saar said. And engineers deemed the potential re-use of discharge water unfeasible “because the O-At-Ka discharge water is too hot for the Batavia Power plant’s cooling use.”

Overall, it was not the answer municipal leaders were hoping for.

“Genesee County was certainly disappointed by the DEC permitting Seneca Power a permit to draw water from Well D,” County Manager Matt Landers said. “The County and City will continue to monitor the water levels in the aquifer with the hope this additional draw doesn’t have a material impact on the City Water Plant’s ability to draw water during peak demand days in the summer.”

Water concerns have been on the rise, as the county has continued to see an uptick in demand, and drier summer weather, coupled with the need for updated aquifer systems that are part of an ongoing three-phase water project.  

"The county will continue to observe the use/access of the water,” Legislative Chairwoman Rochelle Stein said. “Our concerns will be noted to our state elected officials too. We rely on the ground water for a portion of our water supply.”

County Highway Superintendent and engineer Tim Hens has become the Paul Revere of water each summer, asking residents to temper their usage and warning that one day a serious drought could arrive.

He wasn’t too worried to hear the news of Seneca’s permit, at least not yet.

“There’s not a whole lot we can do at this point, it’s just going to be a wait-and-see. In most cases it shouldn’t be an issue for us unless we’re in periods of extended drought and groundwater has dropped precipitously,” Hens said. “We did do testing to show that their well could operate alongside of ours, and know we can handle short durations from both sources.”

However, it’s the long-term impacts on groundwater that have to be monitored, he said. And no one really knows for sure if and how much that may become a problem in the future.

At the beginning of July, City and Town of Batavia and Genesee County officials had joined forces to oppose the request for water that they believed could potentially affect the flow for area residents.

The three municipalities called upon environmental analyst Guillermo Saar of the state Department of Conservation to consider the burden that a request to draw 715,600 gallons a day would put on Batavia and Genesee County if granted.

Seneca Power Partners, a company at 163 Cedar St., Batavia, made the request through a permit application to DEC’s Division of Environmental Permits. The municipalities' response was swift.

“The major users of the Well Field (Genesee County, Town of Batavia, and City of Batavia) oppose this application and seek to help Seneca Power Partners find an alternative means to access untreated water for their operations. The aquifer directly feeds the Batavia Water Treatment Plant (owned by Genesee County, and operated by the City of Batavia) as a major source of drinking water,” the municipalities stated. “While the Tonawanda Creek also contributes as a source of drinking water, the quality and turbidity of the Creek make it a much less desirable source. Any excess extraction of water from the aquifer will force the Batavia Water Treatment Plant to rely more heavily on the Creek, and that will, in turn, increase the cost of municipal water treatment and decrease sustainability.”

In its application, a 662-page document stating its case with several supporting documents, Seneca Power Partners said that the use of water is “an integral part of the energy production process and is proportional to production.” More water is needed to produce more electricity. A simplified route the water takes looks something like this:

Water + heated by natural gas = steam = spins a turbine = goes into a generator = energy converted to electricity. The steam often evaporates and cannot be collected after the process, applicant John Trendowski, on behalf of the company, stated.

Prior coverage:

File photo of Seneca Power Partners' Batavia-based power plant on Cedar Street, by Howard Owens.

A fluid issue pits Batavia company against city, town and county

By Joanne Beck
Jul 8, 2022, 10:55pm

Just as the deadline for public comments was coming to a close Thursday, local municipalities were giving their reasons for opposing a request for what they believe is an excessive amount of water from City Well D.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is at the center of the request from Seneca Power Partners and opposing sides of the city and town of Batavia and Genesee County. DEC Communications spokeswoman Andrea Pedrick told The Batavian Thursday that “the public comment period ends today. DEC’s next step is to evaluate the application and any comments received to determine next steps.”

“The letter of opposition will be reviewed the same as any other public comments sent to DEC regarding this application,” Pedrick said. “It would be speculative to speak ahead of this review process.”

Seneca Power Partners surprised the municipality leaders with the permit request to draw 715,600 gallons of water per day from the city’s well for the company’s Batavia Power Plant at 163 Cedar St., Batavia. Such extraction of water daily could greatly affect the water supply for local citizens, the opposing letters stated in much more elaborated terms. (See Batavia company seeks permit for water, faces opposition)

The opposition ...
Batavia Town Supervisor Greg Post agrees with the reasons cited by city and Genesee County officials for opposing the application. In addition to letters sent by the other two municipalities, Post also sent a letter with additional ramifications if the request is granted.

One topic that has not been considered in the application or related reports is “the collateral environmental impacts,” Post said.

He has witnessed how excess demands on the aquifer downstream, primarily east and north of the city’s wellfield, he said. DeWitt Park, Seven Springs Country Club, Rochester Zen Center, Retreat at Chapin Mill, Horseshoe Lake, and Genesee County Fish and Game Protective Association (at Godfrey’s Pond) all depend on the water supply from this aquifer to maintain wetlands, ponds, lakes, and headwaters of Bigelow Creek “in the same manner consistent with the past several centuries," he said.

Post disagrees with SPP's environmental assessment that there are “no known significant individual or cumulative adverse environmental impacts” from the large withdrawal of water for Batavia Power Plant each day. Reports used as supporting documentation for SPP’s request were based mostly during low usage of the aquifer than more current times would show, Post said.

“Our concern is that any further demands on the aquifer that sustains this region’s people, industries, commerce, agriculture, and the ecological system should be looked at in more depth than the current assembled application,” Post said. “I would strongly ask that all parties demand the time to more thoroughly investigate the consequences of this permit issue.”

Genesee County is still weighing its options for how and if to respond if DEC grants the request, County Manager Matt Landers said. He wasn’t certain whether public hearings would be a future option, and the county is “handling the situation directly with DEC” right now while keeping the public informed through press releases of its correspondence with the agency, he said. To his understanding, “the permitting decision is solely in the hands of the DEC.”

“We obviously hope our letter speaks for itself to the DEC and they deny the application for the permit,” he said. “We are hopeful that an additional strain on one of the main sources of water in Genesee County is not put in place. Putting additional strain on the County’s ability to deliver safe, clean and reliable water to the residents of Genesee County is certainly not in our best interest.”

County Legislature Chairwoman Rochelle Stein said the county would like to “encourage NYS DEC to consider our comments of opposition to the request.”

“We will work in cooperation with our municipal partners as the review process evolves,” she said.

In response to The Batavian’s request for a worst-case scenario if the request is approved, Stein said that could be a “possible reduction of available raw water … for our residents and further water restriction possibilities.”

The applicant ...
In its application, a 662-page document stating its case with several supporting documents, Seneca Power Partners said that the use of water is “an integral part of the energy production process and is proportional to production.” More water is needed to produce more electricity. A simplified route the water takes looks something like this:

Water + heated by natural gas = steam = spins a turbine = goes into a generator = energy converted to electricity

The steam often evaporates and cannot be collected after the process, applicant John Trendowski, on behalf of the company, stated. Batavia  Power Plant tries to minimize its water usage and repairs any leaks within the system in a timely manner. Any wastewater generated will continue to be discharged to the city of Batavia sanitary sewer, treated by the publicly owned wastewater treatment plant for eventual discharge to Tonawanda Creek, Trendowski said.

As production increases, the need for additional water will also increase as there will be more evaporative losses. The facility will track water intake from the well and the city, as well as water discharged to the city of Batavia wastewater treatment plant, he said.

“Although after-efficiency processes may reduce water usage slightly, energy production is a water-intensive process. This project was selected from evaluated alternatives because Batavia Power Plant has struggled economically in the energy market over the last several years. By using the well located on the property on Cedar Street, the Batavia Power Plant can limit its intake water from the city of Batavia,” the application states. “The generation of electricity requires significant amounts of water for cooling purposes, which is proportional to energy production. By reducing the amount of potable water required from the city, the facility can alleviate some of these expenses.”

The water withdrawal by the city to supply water to Batavia Power Plant has occurred since 1996, and based on a hydrogeologic report for Batavia wellfield, “withdrawing water directly from Well D should not have an effect on the water supply for municipalities or industrial sources in the area,” the permit application states.

The application points to major tributary watersheds that connect to Niagara River and Lake Erie, including Tonawanda Creek, which is 1,538 river miles. The creek itself is not the best source of consumable water due to its high turbidity and need for treatment, city officials said in their letter of opposition.

In the letter accompanying SPP’s permit application, Brian Gregson, development manager of Seneca Power Partners, and John Trendowski, senior principal with C&S Engineers, Inc., are the primary representatives for the request.

Not familiar with Seneca Power Partners has seemingly operated under the public radar, with no company signage to indicate it’s even there (on Cedar Street near O-AT-KA), sparse information online, and few, if any, public mentions.

The permit application is now in the hands of the DEC for a final decision.

Top photo: National Grid transmission lines near the power plant; the plant on Cedar Street in Batavia; an aerial view provided within the application; power lines running from the National Grid lines to the power plant. Photos by Howard Owens.

DEC process for permit application

By Joanne Beck
Jul 6, 2022, 9:22pm

The Batavian asked Genesee County and City of Batavia officials about the process required for Seneca Power Partners' request to draw 715,600 gallons of water per day from the city/county water system. More specifically, The Batavian wanted to know if there would have to be public hearings about this request, as it seems, according to responses from the city, county and Town of Batavia, that such a draw could severely affect local residents.

City Manager Rachael Tabelski referred us to the Department of Environmental Conservation for those specifics. 

According to DEC’s website, the following are steps to be taken for permit applications:

Step 1: Submit an Application

General Requirements for Applications

A complete application includes a properly completed department application form, location map, project plans, supplemental information required by 6 NYCRR Part 621 (leaves DEC website), Uniform Procedures Regulations and the specific program implementing regulations pertaining to the specific permit(s) sought for the project.

If a project requires more than one DEC permit, the applicant must submit all applications forms and information simultaneously.

If variances from permit standards are sought and provided for by the specific regulatory program in their regulations, the application must include a request and statement of justification for such variances.

Other application requirements include an environmental assessment in accordance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQR), and a cultural resources assessment in accordance with the State Historic Preservation Act (SHPA).

Application Assistance

Contact your DEC regional Permits office with questions about completing the application form and other required information for your application.

Keep plans flexible until DEC staff review your proposal and comment on its conformance with permit standards. Be willing to adjust your project. On occasion, minor changes in layout can avoid disagreements and delays and, in some cases, eliminate the need for a permit.

Applicants proposing complex, multi-residential, commercial or industrial projects are strongly encouraged to schedule a pre-application conference. This meeting with DEC allows the applicant to clarify project objectives and obtain DEC's recommendations. Such feedback can improve the project environmentally and shorten the application procedure.

Submitting Your Application to DEC

Applications are to be submitted to the Regional Permit Administrator. Applications may be submitted by mail, private carrier, or in person.

DEC encourages applicants to submit applications and supporting information electronically, and to submit paper copies as soon as possible. DEC is not yet able to accept electronic only application submissions except in limited circumstances. Contact your DEC regional Permits office for additional information on electronic submissions.

Step 2: Application Review

The Department must inform you of whether your application is complete according to the following time frames:

60 days from receipt of the application in the case of hazardous waste management facilities, certain wastewater discharges and certain air permit applications.
15 days from receipt of the application for all other permit applications.

If the application is incomplete, DEC's Notice of Incomplete Application will tell you what else is needed. When you respond, the above time frames for the DEC will again apply.

To prevent multiple information requests and reviews by DEC, prepare a thorough, accurate and fully justified application.

Step 3: Public Notice

The Uniform Procedures Act recognizes major projects and minor projects for each permit type.

If your project is major, then the project is subject to public review, as follows:

A Notice of Complete Application is published by the Department in the Environmental Notice Bulletin (ENB). You must also publish this notice in a local newspaper.
The Notice of Complete Application sets a public comment period. This is usually either 15-, 30- or 45-day period after the date the Notice is published, depending on the permit type requested.
Based on any comments received and on staff's review of the project against permitting standards, DEC decides whether to hold a public hearing. For more information, refer to the Guide for Public Hearings.

Minor projects do not usually require a public notice.

Step 4: Final Decision

The Uniform Procedures Act requires DEC to make its final decision in the following time frames:

Minor Projects:
DEC must make a permit decision on minor projects within 45 days of determining the application complete.

Major Projects:

If no hearing is held, DEC makes its final decision on the application within 90 days of its determination that the application is complete.
If a hearing is held, DEC notifies the applicant and the public of a hearing within 60 days of the completeness determination. The hearing must commence within 90 days of the completeness determination. Once the hearing ends, DEC must issue a final decision on the application within 60 days after receiving the final hearing records.

The Regional Permit Administrator normally issues permits for projects not requiring a public hearing.

Generally, the Commissioner makes the decision if DEC holds a public hearing.

An email sent to DEC Region 8 Director Tim Walsh Wednesday evening was not immediately answered.

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