Luminant, TCEQ address lake permit worries

July 12, 2014

ATTENTIVE AUDIENCE: Staffers at the Granbury Resort Conference Center had to put out more chairs Tuesday night when an estimated 350 local residents showed up for a public hearing about the lake. Luminant’s DeCordova Power Plant is seeking a permit renewal that involves discharging water into the lake. In light of the lake’s much lower levels, some are concerned about possible environmental effects. Officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) held the public hearing to answer questions and hear concerns. Also on the panel was Luminant representative Don Montgomery.

Lakes and grilling are part of summer, but Tuesday night’s roast involving Lake Granbury had more to do with officials on the hot seat.

None of the estimated 350 Hood County residents who packed a public hearing at the Granbury Resort Conference Center about Luminant’s permit renewal application lost their temper. But one by one, citizens and elected officials took to the microphone to demand answers to hard questions.

Officials with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) agreed to come to Granbury to hold the public hearing after requests were made by the Commissioners Court, the Granbury City Council, state Rep. Jim Keffer (R-Eastland) and state Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury).

Tuesday evening was the last opportunity for citizens to file statements – either written or audible – with the TCEQ as the permit renewal for Luminant is considered.

That same day, a letter on behalf of the Lake Granbury Coalition – a group that includes city and county officials – was delivered to the Austin offices of the TCEQ requesting a contested case hearing at the State Office of Administrative Hearings. The letter regarding the permit renewal application was written by Coalition attorney Ken Ramirez.

Four TCEQ representatives were seated at a table by the podium at Tuesday night’s public hearing. Tara Drissell of TCEQ’s office of the chief clerk moderated. Several other TCEQ officials were in attendance.

Also present was Don Montgomery, Luminant’s director of community affairs.

For two-and-a-half hours, the panel answered questions and listened as Hood County residents vented their concerns and frustrations over a crippled lake that has now crippled lifestyles, property values and, many fear, the environment.

the permit

The renewal application for the DeCordova Power Co. and Luminant Generation Co. involves a permit that has been in place since the mid-1970s. It must be renewed every five years.

The permit allows Luminant to use lake water for cooling purposes. According to Montgomery, 99 percent is returned to Lake Granbury. The other 1 percent is lost through evaporation.

Although the water is much cooler by the time it passes through a mile-and-a-half-long canal and is discharged back into the lake, concerns have been raised about the ecological effect of the water’s temperature in light of the lower lake levels.

Until recently, the lake was at a record 11 feet low. Although recent heavy rains raised the water level, it is still down 4.1 feet.

According to many, Lake Granbury is a different lake since the record drought hit and since the Brazos River Authority (BRA), several years ago, shut down the hydroelectric plant upriver at the Possum Kingdom dam.

The lake’s altered condition has affected some property values. As a result, county elected officials fear taxes may have to be raised to make up for the loss of revenue. Otherwise, services to citizens might have to be cut, along with jobs.

Seated by the podium Tuesday night, on behalf of TCEQ, were: Merritt McKelvy, permit writer and environmental specialist; Mike Linder, team leader, industrial wastewater permits; Alicia Ramirez, attorney for the executive director; and Aaron Tucker, attorney for the Public Interest Council.

Montgomery – the Luminant representative – was the first to address the crowd after introductions were made. He stressed that Luminant is not asking for additional water and that 99 percent of the water that is used for cooling purposes at the DeCordova plant is put back into the lake.

The permit allows Luminant to discharge 1,041,480,000 gallons per day into the lake.

McKelvy detailed the permitting process and the controls that are in place to monitor water quality.

Greg Easley, team leader for Water Quality Standards, told the crowd that TCEQ works with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to “develop further evaluation procedures.”

Standards are “constantly evolving,” he said.

When a concern was raised about whether the permit renewal might result in more fish kills in Lake Granbury, Jeff Tate, section manager for the Dallas/Fort Worth region, stated that there are repercussions for any entity found responsible.

He said Luminant submits reports monthly on the DeCordova plant. He added that TCEQ has inspected the plant three times in the past five years.

THE PLANT and the future

The plant is currently operational. It has four “CT’s” – combustion turbines. They use air to cool and do not need water to operate. The four CT’s combined produce 260 megawatts of electricity.

The plant used to have a traditional, gas-fired steam unit. That unit was retired several years ago, and was imploded in November of last year.

In the coming weeks, Luminant will likely file an air permit application for a combined cycle unit thatwoulduse water, though it would use significantly less than the traditional unit that had been at the plant for many years.

The main reason for seeking the air permit, according to Montgomery and Luminant spokesperson Meranda Cohn, is to be prepared for future needs.

“You can’t necessarily drive a car without a driver’s license, and we can’t build a plant if we don’t have the right permits in place,” Cohn told the Hood County News on Wednesday.

“Right now, with the current conditions of the market, it just isn’t the right time for us to start building the unit that would use the water.”

However, if the market changes, the company wants to be able to quickly “pick up at the next step,” she said.

In response to one man’s question about possible plans to build another power plant, Montgomery stated:

“We are continuing to maintain the permitting and the infrastructure for two reasons: One, again, it is a facility in an area where there already are transmission lines built in; and we don’t have to build from the ground up.”

Montgomery went on to say that, with one million people likely moving to Texas in the next year and 6 million predicted over the next 8-10 years, there are going to be “stresses” regarding provision of water and electricity.

The man asked Montgomery if there is “a minimum water level that you have to have in the lake in order to feed” the power plant. Mayor Nin Hulett interjected when it appeared Montgomery might be unclear as to the man’s question.

“If the lake level drops really, really low, could you operate (the plant)?” Hulett asked.

The man then said: “In some places in (Lake Granbury), there is 60 foot of water. In other places, it’s 10 foot. I assume that’s where you’re taking water from, is the deeper water,” he said. He then asked if water would be taken even if “we’re down 20 feet.”

Montgomery responded: “Which is all, 99 percent, returned to the lake.”

tough crowd

The question-and-answer session lasted about an hour-and-a-half.

After a brief break, attendees were given an opportunity to give statements to be taken into consideration as the TCEQ reviews the permit renewal application.

Although a couple of people stood by their chairs to speak, Drissell asked that speakers come to the microphone because the session was being recorded.

In addition to citizens, several elected officials spoke. They included Mayor Pro Tem Tony Allen; council members Gary Couch, Mickey Parson and Rose Myers; and County Commissioner Steve Berry.

Parson, armed with notes, spoke for several minutes on behalf of the Lake Granbury Coalition.

Parson challenged the permit being classified as a renewal instead of a new permit, or one with a “major amendment.” Luminant’s permit actually expired on May 1, he stated.

He also asked whether the permit request has been considered in light of Senate Bill 3, which has to do with environmental flows.

In Hood County’s challenge to the BRA’s permit number 5851- a request for additional water rights – the application was remanded back to the river authority for modifications.

Also, Parson inquired whether TCEQ has considered rules issued in May by the EPA regarding inflows and outflows of plants.

Alicia Ramirez, one of the attorneys on the panel, said she will be preparing a response to comments at the hearing. Responses will mailed to those who asked to be placed on the mailing list.

After the responses are mailed, there is a 30-day window to contest the application. After that, the permit will be put on the Commission’s agenda, she said. If the permit is contested, she said, it could go to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. (The Lake Granbury Coalition already has contested the permit.) The final decision of the Commissioners can be appealed in district court, Ramirez stated.

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