Town of Lansing Officials were in Albany Monday to talk to PSC (New York State Public Service Commission) and NYSEG officials about power needs in Lansing. Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne says the trip was motivated by the Energy and Economic Development Task Force (EEDTF)'s activity in working with NYSEG to extend the moratorium on new natural gas customers indefinitely with, LaVigne says, no input from Lansing representatives. Lansing Planning Consultant Michael Long accompanied LaVigne to a meeting that included four NYSEG representatives including President Mark Lynch, plus three PSC officials including PSC Interim Chair Greg Sayre.
"We shared information about our need for power for our units," LaVigne said. "I thought it was very candid and very informative on all sides. Hopefully positive results would come of it."
LaVigne would not divulge details of the meeting, but he said it was productive and he felt his and Long's comments were well received. Long said that NYSEG officials acknowledged that Cornell University and the NuCor Steel Plant in Auburn are among the energy provider's largest customers.
"They also said they are looking at three distinct projects," Long said. "One is to provide natural gas to the existing customers that have a (pressure) problem because of cold weather. So the compressor station is to solve that situation; the second piece is to address the built up demand that we already have. The third piece is looking at what the future needs of the region are. Tompkins is one of the highest growth areas in upstate New York. it has the lowest unemployment rate in upstate New York. So development is primarily happening here."
LaVigne and Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill have been vocal about Lansing being left out of EEDTF's deliberations. With the EEDTF's collaboration NYSEG requested the the PSC review a plan that provides an alternate approach to providing energy to the Lansing/Freeville Reinforcement Gas Pipeline Project. With strong opposition in Dryden to to the 'West Dryden Road natural gas pipeline', the new plan would locate a compressor in the Town of Lansing to insure a steady flow of gas delivery to existing customers, creative solutions would be proposed to reduce natural gas use, and the existing moratorium on new natural gas customers in Lansing would be extended indefinitely.
In March Hartill said he would try to join the task force to 'try to bring some sense' to the task force. But in an email exchange with Hartill Chairwoman Martha Robertson told him, ""This was well-publicized, so much so that by the deadline there were 37 very qualified applicants. 17 of them had to be turned down, in a very tough decision-making process. Mike Sigler clearly knew about this (being on the County PDEQ Committee that approved the concept back in December) and could have suggested it to you and/or Ed LaVigne. He did recommend someone else - Curt Gooch - who was chosen for the Task Force."
But LaVigne says the result was Lansing was not represented.
"We felt that Lansing's voice wasn't heard," he said Wednesday. "The fact that neither our county legislator (Mike Sigler) nor our town supervisor nor any representative from Lansing besides (County Legislator) Glenn Morey, who represents (Lansing) district eight, but lives in Groton. No disrespect to Mr. Morey, but all sides weren't heard. So we took it upon ourselves to reach out to NYSEG and the PSC asking them for an opportunity to express more information about the situation."
Both Hartill and LaVigne have called for extending the moratorium to the whole county so all Tompkins county communities will have the same stake in finding reasonable energy solutions.
"We're not saying we're pro-this, anti-this," LaVigne says. "We see this as a transition. That's the word that people should think of with natural gas. It is the transitional fuel. The transition, in my opinion, will get there. But it's going to take a while to do that. That's why I think you should consider the bridge fuel, natural gas. It's a lot cleaner than propane. The sad reality is I don't think a lot of the businesses will switch to electric. I think they will switch to propane, as (Cayuga Farms Developer Robert Weinstein) has already expressed. He's not going to go to electric."
LaVigne also cited Macom's decision to build its plant expansion in Massachusetts rather than the Cornell Business and Technology Park and the resulting loss of 100 new good-paying jobs as a result of natural gas not being available in the Village of Lansing location. he and Long cite statistics that show that each new job radiates four other local jobs with more positive income on the economy with trailing spouses and families that settle here.
Robertson told Hartill that the Macom decision was one of the reasons the task force was formed, writing, "Macom's move was one of the events that led to the formation of the Energy and Economic Development Task Force two years ago. We continue to be concerned about the availability of energy (not necessarily gas) for economic development, and are pushing the PSC to move as quickly as possible on the RFP that NYSEG proposed, for 'non-pipeline alternatives'."
LaVigne says he fears preventing new natural gas customers could be disastrous for Lansing, especially in the face of the threat that the power plant may not stay open. He says bringing new business to the Town is crucial in increasing or stabilizing the tax base, especially when trying to bring school taxes under control.
"You go from residential to renters," he says. "Now you go towards services and jobs. That was the next step in our growth of a solid community financial base. That step just got interrupted big-time. I will do whatever is necessary to improve the chances of our town surviving. I was here when Smith Corona left Groton. That was a devastating situation when Smith Corona left. It was a game changer. How this will effect us if, for instance, the power plant closes. If you have no other area for a soft landing you're going to have a mass migration out of here. If that happens what's going to happen to the dynamics of our town?"
LaVigne insists he is not against the use of renewable fuels, but he wants an orderly transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. He says it will take time for the science to become widely feasible and affordable.
"I am open minded about science, but I don't want a long trail of carnage along the way," he says. "Our biggest concern is to have reliable, dependable power. All these other things are noble causes, but are they reliable and dependable, especially on the coldest, darkest days of winter? There are people in Lansing that would suffer terribly. I'm not going to be that person that is the cause of it. I will do everything I can, move mountains if I have to, to protect my town."
Hartill says he will also go to Albany to lobby for extending natural gas to the Lansings, and says he will speak out at task force meetings as a member of the public.
While in Albany LaVigne and Long also visited State Senator Pam Helming's office where they brought their concerns to Helming's staffers.