Written questions on the topic were all in support for repowering, so Reed encouraged people with opposing views to speak up as well. A large number of plant employees and supporters sported yellow 'Repower Cayuga' T-shirts, while protesters held up signs supporting renewable energy and closing the plant in favor of upgrading the power transmission lines.
(Listen to a recording of the complete Town hall meeting if your device supports this player)
"I represent 225 members. We have 25% unemployment. Some of these members live in Lansing, IBEW Local 241 Business Manager Michael Talarski told Reed. "They are all Tompkins County residents. They need to be able to have jobs to pay the taxes. if the plant is not there and taxes go up, how are they going to be able to support themselves?"
"To me this is one of the main issues," Reed replied. "It's about jobs. It's not only permanent jobs associated with the proposal, but also the people who are going to go out there and build this. Hundreds of jobs are going to be necessary to do that. I'm going to stand with you to make sure I can do what we can on the federal level to send a message that these jobs are important, and the energy demands of the region."
In a reference to Auburn-based Nucor, the largest electricity consumer in the region, Reed said that if heavy manufacturers can not rely on power heavy manufacturing operations are going to consider whether they can survive.
"That's real jobs and real people that would be negatively impacted if we remove this power plant from our portfolio of power producing facilities in the State," Reed said.
Some constituents said that the environment is more important than the economy, and that upgrading the power transmission lines would be sufficient to provide reliable power in the region.
"We're seeing dramatic weather changes and we have a choice here," said Joe Whitmore. "We have a choice between upgrading the power lines that everybody needs or putting more fossil fuels into our atmosphere and exasperating (sic) climate change. I want to know why you are not taking a stronger stand for climate change, for our long term future."
Reed said that he believes in an 'all of the above' energy approach. He said Washington should have a comprehensive energy policy that would have a short, mid, and long term plan. He said he has supported tax credits for wind and other renewable technologies. But he said the economic and geopolitical aspects of power production have to be considered along with the environmental issue.
"But I do not believe that we're at the point where alternatives and renewables are that short and mid term portion of that comprehensive energy plan," he said. "I don't think the technology is there yet. I don't think the feasibility of the technology is there yet, and when we're trying to recreate an economy in America that is heavy on jobs and heavy on manufacturing -- I believe we have an opportunity for a manufacturing rebirth in America -- having that fossil fuel component of an energy policy is reasonable and is something that needs to be taken into consideration."
There was argument about the science of climate change, with environmentalists saying that scientists have authoritatively proven that climate change is man-made, and Reed saying that scientists disagree on whether climate change is man made or part of a planetary cycle. Caroline Councilwoman Irene Weiser and former Lansing representative to the Tompkins County Legislature Pat Pryor argued the issue and challenged each others' statistics in support of upgrading the power grid or repowering the plant.
"The way you get there is to invest in transmission line upgrades that will be better able to be more efficient in transmitting the power that is generated," Weiser said. "Right now we lose an inordinate amount of electricity because of our grid being in disrepair. it's a smarter investment to build an infrastructure that will carry us into the future rather than spending ten times more to upgrade a power plant that, at most will be operational for ten years."
"I would like to see less reliance on fossil fuels and greater use of renewable energy sources," Pryor said. "However the change must proceed at a rate that allows the technology necessary to overcome the issues of power quality and reliability to become integrated into the system. While the current system can accomodate a relatively modest inclusion of renewable sources it is not yet advanced to the point where we can make a wholesale switch."
Dryden resident JoAnne Cipolla-Dennis challenged Reed on using eminent domain to build gas pipelines. An extension of a pipeline from Freeville through Dryden and Lansing will be necessary if the plant is repowered. Other discussion included the merits of producing energy in America instead of buying it from countries that are otherwise opponents of the United States.
Other topics included military spending, same sex couples' equality, health care and the Affordable Health Care Act, economic inequality, and the issue of punishing those responsible for the mortgage crisis and economic downturn (see accompanying articles).
The town meeting lasted nearly two hours. District Director Joe Sempolinski promised that Reed's staff would reach out to people whose questions were not addressed because of time constraints. Since being elected Reed has conducted more than 100 local town meetings across his district. The 23rd NY Congressional District is about the size of New Jersey.