Niskayuna residents question revenue projections of wastewater treatment plant

Exterior of the Niskayuna Town Hall building at Niskayuna Circle.

Exterior of the Niskayuna Town Hall building at Niskayuna Circle.

Niskayuna residents are concerned about the lack of revenue being generated at the town’s wastewater treatment facility that received a multi-million dollar upgrade for the purpose of making money.

The town bonded for a $22 million upgrade of its wastewater treatment plant, including an improvement that allowed the plant to accept “high strength waste” such as soda water, food cooking oils and other organic materials that produce gas. The gas would be used to power the plant and the town would be able to make money through a tipping fee it charged companies to treat their waste.

Supervisor Yasmine Syed said Energy Systems Group, an energy services provider, would identify companies to contract with the town to dispose of that particular type of waste. The town anticipated at least $350,000 annually in revenue would be generated from this arrangement.

But the town has yet to see any significant revenue from the facility, even as it continues to budget for it and residents are tired of not knowing what’s happening.

“Where is that revenue and how come we’re not being told what’s happening there?” asked resident Jon Lemelin. “Why can’t you be transparent?”

It would help if the town showed how much had been made so far at the facility, said resident Denis Brennan, who is also the town historian. He said without those figures it’s like the town is flying blind with its projections for the next year.

“They never make any money off of it,” said Margaret Brennan. “How do they ever balance the budget?”

For 2022, the town has proposed $230,000 in revenue from the facility, according to the preliminary budget, which is expected to be the subject of a hearing during a special board meeting Nov. 4.

Syed said the town was in discussion with Energy System Group regarding the amount of revenue to budget for 2022. However, Performance Assurance Director Aidan Murphy said the group was not involved in the budgeting.

“ESG has not seen the proposed budget number and was not involved in developing it,” he said in an Oct. 13 email.

Syed said on Sept. 22 the facility had only generated $1,350 in revenue for the year so far. The town budgeted for $250,000 in revenue. Any losses this year would be covered by Sewer 6 reserves, Syed said. There is approximately $1.6 million in that account, she said.

For 2020, the town budgeted $530,000 but only received $239. The town offset the lack of revenue by raising residents’ sewer rates, Syed had said, noting that that remedy is not a strategy that should be used again. In 2019 the town budgeted $208,000, but only made $1,111. It offset the lack of revenue that year by using reserve funds to cover the difference.

Syed said the issue remains that the Department of Environmental Conservation has not given the town the permit to continue treating high-strength waste – which it needs to secure contracts with companies.

The town piloted the treatment of soda water from Pepsi in 2019 to show the DEC the plant did what it was upgraded to do, said Matt Yetto, the town’s superintendent of water, sewer and engineering.

But now the town must wait for the DEC to approve the treatment of fats, oils and greases.

The DEC provided additional questions to the town on July 15. Syed said the town responded to those questions on Oct. 13.

A spokesperson with the DEC on Wednesday is reviewing the town’s proposal to accept the high-strength organic waste for use at the treatment plant, after which it will determine whether the current permit is sufficient. The DEC also noted that “the town did not request to receive a specific high-strength organic waste (permit) in their 10/13/21 response and DEC will be meeting with the town and the town’s consultant regarding the acceptance of new waste streams.”

Syed said she believes it will be in place before the end of the year.

Residents have also questioned why Energy Systems Group isn’t paying the town the $350,000 in revenue, which Syed had said on March 27, 2018 was guaranteed in the contract each year for 15 years, according to meeting minutes.

Syed said that agreement only comes into effect when the town has the permit from the DEC and ESG has to begin getting companies to use the facility.

Syed said the town has saved approximately $100,000 in natural gas and electricity costs from the upgrades at the facility.

Categories: News, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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