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Webster eyes water project


In the late 1990's, local officials and Xerox leaders explored the possibility of pumping cold water from Lake Ontario to Xerox's Webster facility to use in place of the company's air conditioning and manufacturing cooling systems.

The system could have reduced the company's energy use, officials say, and saved money. The complex and experimental project was ultimately shelved, however.

But the Webster Community Coalition says it's time to take another look at the idea, known as a chilled water district energy system. Since the project stalled, similar systems have been built at Cornell University and in Toronto, proving and improving what had been new technology, says Matt Chatfield, the coalition's economic development specialist.

And the Monroe County Water Authority has built a new water treatment plant in Webster, which Chatfield says would be an important part of the system.

The coalition has received an $87,000 grant from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to study the idea. The MCWA is providing engineering assistance, Chatfield says, and the Webster Chamber of Commerce will provide additional funding.

The groups say that a chilled water district would support Webster's existing industry and attract new business to the town.

The project would have a few components. Chilled water would be carried to businesses in the industrial area between Phillips and County Line roads to boost the efficiency of cold storage facilities or air conditioning. It could also be used for cooling systems in some production processes.

But the system would start with an intake pipe that extends a few miles into Lake Ontario, where the water is more than 250 feet deep and about 38 degrees Fahrenheit.

The water would be pulled in to an energy exchange facility to cool the water that will be used by the town's industries. The water from the lake would never touch the cooling water.

Afterward, the lake water would be treated at the MCWA's Webster plant and used as drinking water.

The study will examine the costs of building the system, potential demand, funding and operations issues, required permits, ownership models, the cost for businesses to hook into the system, and the payback that businesses can expect.

What happens after the study depends on its findings, as well as the availability of funding. But with more businesses focused on sustainability and more government assistance available for energy projects, Chatfield says that he's optimistic.

"The time is right to investigate this," he says. "If it doesn't end up working out, we at least did our due diligence to understand that we couldn't make it financially viable. But if there's an opportunity for it to be viable, I think now is it."