Members of the Tompkins County Energy and Economic Development Task Force announced Monday a possible alternative to the proposed West Dryden Road natural gas pipeline, that was planned to supply natural gas primarily to areas of Lansing. The alternative would provide more reliable natural gas delivery to existing customers by installing a compressor station to insure a steady flow of natural gas, but would extend the existing moratorium on new Lansing natural gas customers to force new customers to find alternative energy solutions.
Task Force Chair Martha Robertson said that leaders in Tompkins County have a responsibility to address the issue of reducing fossil fuel use, while supporting job growth and economic development. But Lansing representatives were very unhappy about the solution, complaining that it may solve the problem two, four or more years in the future, and while there is ample natural gas in the rest of the County, that 'rest of the County' was keeping natural gas out of Lansing and stunting development.
"We have a developer that wants to put $26 million into our town," says Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne. "He's been delayed for three years because they're going back and forth with this natural gas situation. The reality is that we need to put money into our town now, because we don't know where the power plant is going to go. That is a critical, critical concern that I have right now."
Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill was equally unhappy. He complained that the payback time for alternatives such as heat pumps is ten or more years, saying that the moratorium on natural gas is causing problems for development in the Village.
"The new lab up by the Airport is running on propane because we don't have natural gas," he says. "Natural gas is the energy source of preference, but there are no new hookups, period. It has limited any construction that really needs natural gas. In the case of the lab they were able to put in those great big propane tanks. They have their own features and hazards. Any other new facility is going to face the same problem."
The only Lansing representation on the task force is County Legislator Glenn Morey, whose district includes Voting District 8 in Lansing, the northeast-most tip of the Town. LaVigne says to his knowledge there was no contact between Morey and the town government about the alternative solution. Robertson said that when the task force was formed in 2015 they tried to come up with a broad group that represented different issues, yet was small enough that they could get the work done.
"We really did try to create a balance," she said. "The Town of Dryden complained they weren't represented either, although Mike lane and I represent them, but we're not on the Town Board. We did the best we could to have a diverse group. Jerry Goodenough was an active member in the group. It included Graham Gillespie, an architect; it included Herman Sieverding, who is active in economic development and business technology. So we tried to have a balanced and wide ranging group."
According to Legislator Dooley Keifer, whose district includes the Village of Lansing, she and Legislator Mike Sigler, who represents most of the Town of Lansing outside the Village, were asked to invite two representatives from Lansing to a presentation on January 18th. LaVigne attended, and Hartill, out of town, attended by phone. Both say they weren't aware that an alternative to the pipeline was under discussion until this meeting.
"My impression was that the conclusion had already been made," LaVigne says. There really wasn't any input."
"The Town and Village should have been included in all discussions as those two entities are in charge of all planning, not the County," said Sigler.
After Monday's announcement Sigler sent a letter asking four questions. He asked whether NYSEG has considered extending the Lansing moratorium on new natural gas customers to the whole county. He also asked how best to revise building codes, challenging the economy of heat pumps and asking for a re-visit the issue of retrofitting the Cayuga Power Plant, and about IDA requirements for using alternative energy on projects that receive consideration from the County on tax abatements or PILOT agreements.
LaVigne also advocates extending the moratorium county-wide, arguing that if all municipalities in the County have 'skin in the game' rather than just Lansing, they may not be so quick to impose new rules that hold up development until cost-effective alternatives are available.
"My opinion is that a lot of politicians are out of touch with people that are in the real world," he says. "Municipalities are a whole different world. They don't suffer the consequences. That's why I am in favor of a county-wide ban on new customers. No expansion whatsoever. Let's go back to the table and see if this is really feasible. When the bigger players get upset I daresay that the bear will be poked and they may not like the results."
Caroline Councilwoman Irene Weiser defended the makeup of the task force,
"We recognize that certainly there were concerns from Lansing, but these concerns were county-wide," she explained. "We felt that having TCAD (Tompkins County Area Development) and the Chamber (of Commerce) really addressed business issues county-wide. Also, Martha's position as chair of the Planning and Economic Development committee meant that there was representation for the County in regards to economic development concerns."
Sigler and Kiefer said there should be more Lansing representation as this issue moves forward.
"I think the entire Village Board and Town Board should be involved," Kiefer says.
LaVigne and Lansing Planning Consultant Michael Long say that the issue of bringing natural gas to new customers is not theoretical. 904 housing units that are part of nearly 35 projects are currently either approved or in the process of being approved in Lansing. Most have been approved already, and LaVigne says may of them want natural gas service.
"Nearly 900 houses, apartment units, and commercial businesses projects certainly shows are great needs," Long says.
LaVigne stresses that development is crucial to Lansing, especially in the face of the possible loss of more tax income from the Cayuga Power Plant, which has already lost $100 million in assessed value. He says that he does not oppose alternative energy sources, but it is unfair for Tompkins County people outside of Lansing's borders to impose alternative sources before both the science and economy of them match the price and desirability of natural gas.
"It seems that on the backs of Lansing we may lose a power plant, or its value may be decreased," he says. "How does that affect everyone else? That affects Lansing the most. We will be hurt the most."
NYSEG's proposal is being investigated. Robertson said that if the NYS PSC (Public Service Commission) does not accept it the West Dryden Road pipeline is still being considered. That gives Lansing leaders time to make their case.
"It's at least a matter of financing as something technically feasible," she explained. "The pipeline was part of NYSEG's rate case to the PSC, so that is, right now, the approved approach. If the PSC agrees that the compressor station appears to be feasible, NYSEG will revise its application and put this in as part of the rate case."