Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill says he will volunteer to join the Tompkins County Energy and Economic Development Task Force (EEDTF) to 'try to bring some sense' to its plan that would extend Lansing's moratorium on natural gas indefinitely in order to force developers to use sustainable energy solutions. Hartill said that a proposed plant that would have brought 100 good jobs to the Village is now being located in Massachusetts because natural gas is not available for new projects in the Cornell Business and Technology Park.
"Macom was planning on building another building in the Cornell Business and Technology Park to add a second line," Hartill told the Village of Lansing Board of Trustees Monday. "When they came up against the natural gas moratorium they decided to build that second line in Massachusetts instead. It's entirely because of the natural gas moratorium. They will keep the current production line here in Ithaca but the second line would have added 100 jobs here. That means 100 good paying jobs that we could have had are not going to be here. That has motivated me to volunteer myself to get involved with this crazy county energy committee, to try to bring some sense into that."
The task force announced last month that it had consulted with NYSEG to help convince the company to forgo a proposed natural gas delivery pipeline that would have brought stability to current Lansing customers' service and added capacity for new developments. The plan involves installing a compressor to insure a steady flow of gas delivery to existing customers. But it would make the current moratorium on new natural gas customers permanent, forcing new projects to find creative solutions that would reduce natural gas use. NYSEG submitted the plan to the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) in a letter dated January 23.
Elected Lansing officials including Hartill and Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne and Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler were quick to criticize the plan. LaVigne argued that if Lansing, the Town that is currently the fastest growing community with nearly 900 residential units and 30 projects currently under construction or in the planning phase, was not able to get natural gas it would hold up development. He cited the Cayuga Farms project, that has been trying to get services lined up for a $25.5 million, 102 unit townhouse project on Triphammer Road south of Asbury Road for three years years.
LaVigne says these projects could go a long way toward mitigating lax revenue losses from the Ithaca Mall and the Cayuga Power Plant. He suggested the moratorium be extended county-wide so the people imposing this plan on Lansing would be facing the same stakes in their own communities. Hartill added his voice to that idea.
"The other thing is that it's only the Town of Lansing, including the Village, that's under this natural gas moratorium," he said. "My pitch is going to be that it should be all of us that is under the moratorium, not just a particular area. I'm probably not going to be very popular, but it's motivated me to try to do something. That's one of the reasons that I'm willing to spend time on this energy committee. They probably won't accept me, but I'll volunteer."
Hartill noted that electricity is currently the only economically feasible alternative to natural gas, but he complained that the infrastructure is in poor shape. He cited a recent incident that plunged Cornell University and parts of the Town and City of Ithaca into darkness for three hours when a rotted cross bar on a utility pole failed, dropping the wires and shorting out the circuit. Hartill said a circuit breaker didn't trip fast enough to trigger a backup power cogeneration plant, and one of the many consequences was that a Cornell lab he is associated with lost between $15,000 and $20,000 of liquid helium when its refrigeration units shut down.
"What that says is that we have maintenance issues in our electrical infrastructure. This isn't the first time that's happened. About nine months ago the same thing happened, but the generator didn't shut down so it was a much easier transition. That's going to continue to happen because the power companies are focused on the bottom line and not so much on the liability. One of the emphases of this committee is to move much more quickly, effectively into just electric power. That puts you at risk."
Hartill added that alternative energy sources that the task force is recommending are not economically feasible. He said that on investigating the cost of heat pumps for his own house, he found it would cost around $50,000 to install an adequate system. He noted that in mild weather they are effective, but on cold days such as we had over the weekend they are only about as effective as resistive heat. He also said that while they are effective for air conditioning, that isn't a major issue in our climate.
"I was very surprised -- you could go to a Web site and look at the estimates from these three providers," he said. "My read of it was something like $10,000 per ton to install the system, including the wells. So it's $50,000 for my house, for example. That is not very attractive, and that's why this whole gas business is coupled into that. This has been a push to force people in that direction by not providing gas. It's a crazy thing."
The West Dryden Road natural gas delivery pipeline is still the solution the PSC is officially considering. If the PSC does not accept the compressor solution the pipeline will continue to be the solution that could then bring more natural gas capacity to the Lansings. Some Lansing officials have vowed to fight the proposal, saying they will lobby the PSC to reject it. All have said they support moving from fossil fuels to sustainable energy sources, but say it must be a much more gradual transition that is technologically feasible and affordable.
"It's clear that one has to go in that direction," Hartill said. "But you can't do it instantaneously. You have to figure out a path that is affordable, that people will buy in to."