postheadericon State Hears Public on Cayuga Power Plant Future

pschearing_120The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) was in Lansing Monday to hear opinions on whether the Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing should be repowered with gas or shut down.  Lansing Middle School Auditorium was filled beyond capacity as more than 600 people attended, some of them listening in an 'overflow room' in the school.  Speakers argued for plans to repower the plant, or close it and upgrade the power transmission system that the PSC is considering, as well as for stopping the use of fossil fuels altogether.

Upstate New York Power Producers, which operates the Cayuga Power Plant, put forward four plans to upgrade the coal-powered plant to natural gas, including a 14 mile pipeline extension from Freeville and a 2 megawatt, 6 acre solar panel array.  The plan that seems to be most in contention is the lowest price plan that plant officials say will not raise ratepayers electric bills, and will actually lower rates.  NYSEG's plan would close the Lansing plant and use a rate hike to fund an electricity delivery system.  Both plans aim to provide more reliable electric service to the Auburn area. 

pschearing_panelThe panel at the New York State Public Service Commission's public hearing on Cayuga Generating Facility Repowering Alternatives included (left to right) New York State Public Service Commissioner Gregg C. Sayre, Office of Electric, Gas and Water's Steven Keller, Administrative Judge David Prestemon, New York State Public Service Commission's Erin O'Dell-Keller, Cayuga Power Plant's Project Manager Douglas Roll and CEO Jerry Goodenough and NYSEG's Tim Lynch and Jim Landon

The public comment period ends August 16th.  Comments can still be submitted by calling 1-800-336-2120, or emailing This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it and referring to case 12-E-0577.  Searching for that case number on the PSC Web site will yield all public documents to date. The deadline to submit comments is Friday, Aug. 16.
130 people signed up to speak, though many of them were gone by the time their turn came in the six hour hearing that didn't end until midnight.  Representatives of the PSC were joined by plant representatives Jerry Goodenough and Douglas Roll and NYSEG representatives Tim Lynch and Jim Landon.  Each presented their plans and rationale before a question period and finally the public hearing.

Speakers included elected officials, school administrators, members of the Board of Education, and teachers including Kevin Wyszkowski and Athletic Director Adam Heck, business leaders, farmers, union leaders, plant employees and property tax payers.  Many of those in favor of repowering the plant with gas were Lansing residents.  Speakers from the Towns of Ulysses, Dryden, and Ithaca favored the NYSEG plan.  Many speakers also advocated renewable alternatives that the PSC is not currently considering.

Lansing residents and town and school officials, including many power plant employees, were the strongest advocates of the plan to repower the coal-fired plant with natural gas.  New York State Senator Mike Nozzolio passionately advocated repowering the plant, citing devastating consequences to the Lansing community if the plant is closed.

pschearing_nozzolioNYS Senator Mike Nozzolio greeting plant repowering supporters

"We are here because a new law I supported in the New York State Senate establishes important additional requirements and standards for the Public Service Commission when it evaluates power generation," he said.  "Tonight's public hearing is the direct result of this new law that requires the PSC to engage in a comprehensive analysis including a number of factors such as electric rate and the environment; and most importantly, under the new law the PSC must take into full consideration the impact to Lansing and the region the repowering of the Cayuga Power Plant would have on the economy, including the economic impact of permanent jobs and temporary jobs, economic development, local tax revenue, and electric market competitiveness."

Nozzolio noted that people and representatives from the town and Tompkins County had come to offer their support of repowering the plant.

"They have every right to be here and to be listened to tonight," Nozzolio told PSC representatives.  "They all share the common bond of living in Lansing, loving Lansing, and caring about Lansing's future.  They also share a collective concern that the loss of the Cayuga Power Plant would have a devastating economic impact on the Lansing Community."

Nozzolio enumerated several reason he said repowering the plant is the superior option, including securing 90 permanent local jobs and over 500 temporary construction jobs, stabilizing the tax base in Lansing and Tompkins County and protecting the Lansing schools, boosting the local economy, improving regional system reliability, delivering clean energy at a low cost, reducing emissions currently coming from the coal-powered plant, enabling future renewable alternatives, and supporting Governor Andrew Cuomo's Energy Highway Blueprint.

Lansing Councilman Ed LaVigne defended the repowering plan as a practical decision that reflects the reality now.  LaVigne said that repowering with gas is a temporary solution while renewable and cleaner energy alternatives are developed to the point where they can practically service the region's needs.

"I hear all the information tonight, all the research, and it sounds like this plan is the one thing that is going to determine if there is global warming," he said.  "I am trying to see what is reasonable and obtainable.  That is in front of us.  Renewable sources -- yes their time is coming.  But for now this needs to be stabilized.  We're willing to invest in casinos with the hope of creating jobs.  We're willing to invest in tax-free zones with the hope of creating jobs.  You have a business model here.  These people have researched it.  We should work with the information we have and make practical decisions."

pschearing_tentsAttendees were greeted by anti-fracking supporters handing out literature and stickers opposing the repowering in one tent, and Cayuga Power Plant advocates in another tent, handing out T-shirts and fans branded with the 'Repower Cayuga - The Future is Now' slogan before the public hearing began

Many of the speakers chided the PSC for only considering two options, one using fossil fuels and the other delivering power created in large part by fossil fueled plants elsewhere.  They argued the PSC should consider alternatives.  Some said they should be considering renewable energy only.  New York State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton argued against any further use of fossil fuels, citing evidence of global warming and devastating climate events including 'Super Storm Sandy'.  She argued that climate scientists say the 'short term' of 20 years some are estimating it will take to make alternative energy sources viable will be enough to tip global warming to the point of no return.

"It is important to understand that most, if not all of the natural gas that would repower this plant would be fracked gas.  Fracked not here in New York, but in other states in our country," Lifton said.  "My study of hydrofracking has led me to conclude that continuing down the path of fossil fuel energy puts our lives and future generations at unconscionable risk."

She asked the PSC to take more time to conduct a reliability study on converting the plant to renewable biomass power.  She said this could provide a safe stopgap solution for 20 years while newer renewable technologies are developed to the point where they become practical.  She advocated making the plant a demonstration project for solid biofuel.

pschearing_reps(Left to right) Lansing Town Supervisor Kathy Miller, Tompkins County Legislator representing Lansing Pat Pryor, Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson, Deputy Lansing Supervisor Sharon Butler Bowman

County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson offered a similar argument.  She argued the importance of keeping the Lansing and Dunkirk plants open, citing economic hardship if the plants close.  She called the plans being considered a 'false choice' when proven technologies are being used including 10 plants in New York State and 400 in Europe are using solid waste for fuel.  She suggesting combined coal and biomass fired plants that would reduce emissions, could go online much sooner than the proposals PSC solicited, maintain the reliability of the railroads, reduce coal usage by up to 30%, and create new markets for farmers.

"These plants are vital for their local economies in terms of the jobs and the tax base they provide, as many families and communities continue to struggle in these difficult economic times. For these and other reasons, it makes sense to maintain local control of our energy," Robertson said.  "We must consider the alternative that would keep both plants open, saving jobs and creating even more employment opportunities, while lowering costs, risks, and environmental impacts."

Click here to read our accompanying article on the impact of a power plant closing on Lansing schools.
A centerpiece of the public comment session was the impact the closing of the plant would have on Lansing schools.  Superintendent Chris Pettograsso, Business Administrator Mary June King, School Board members Glenn Swanson, Tom Robinson and Walker Reynolds all spoke of the value of the schools in the community and the devastating cuts to the academic and extra-curricular programs and rising class sizes the loss of power plant tax revenue would create.

"The community has suffered tax increases due to the reduction of state aid as well as the decrease in value of the Cayuga Operating Plant," Pettograsso said.  "These tax increases have all occurred while we have actually decreased our budget and have made over two million dollar reductions these past five years.  Further reduction of a $1.25 million dollar loss due to the plant going away will be too much to bear.  We will need to make significant reductions, reductions that would greatly diminish the value of what it means to be educated in Lansing."

"I fear that our current residents who suffer these tax increases to be part of the Lansing school community and those who are trying so hard to get into the Lansing school community will go away," she added.  "I'm here and my children go to school here because of all that we offer."

But Tompkins County Legislator Carol Chock and Ulysses Town Supervisor Elizabeth Thomas argued that energy policy should not be made on the basis of how schools are funded.  They said other school systems get by without a power plant to fund them, and that Lansing should, too.

pschearing_audienceThe Lansing auditorium was filled beyond capacity with speakers on all sides of the repowering issue, including the Lansing football team

The repowering issue is a result of a combination of the cost of coal being uncompetitively high compared to that of natural gas and NYSEG's desire to reduce the annual 500 'at risk' hours in the company's Auburn Market.  'At risk' hours are the number of hours estimated that power could be reduced or completely out.  Increasing the size of power lines would increase their capacity to deliver the voltage needed to consistently power electric devices of all kinds, especially in peek usage periods.

"NYSEG discovered they need the plant for reliability purposes, for energy and for voltage stabilization," explained Upstate New York Power Producers Chief Operating Officer Jerry Goodenough in an interview two weeks ago.  "In order for the plant to go away they need to upgrade their transmission system.  They're not saying the plant should close.  They're saying they'd rather do a transmission system upgrade than to repower the facility.  They've made that claim based on lease cost to the ratepayer."

But Goodenough challenges NYSEG's proposal on two grounds.  First, he says the least expensive of the plant's four repowering proposals would be less costly than the transmission project, and may cost ratepayers less because of revenues coming back in Installed Capacity (ICAP) payments over a 20 year period.  More expensive repowering options would add a cost to ratepayers, as would the delivery upgrade option advocated by NYSEG, which NYSEG representatives said Monday will have to be implemented whether the plant is repowered or not. Goodenough also says that NYSEG did not consider local impact in their proposal, something the PSC required when soliciting proposals.

"The PSC order to NYSEG and to National Grid was very explicit that local economic impact, both direct and indirect, needed to be part of the analysis," Goodenough says.  "Our proposal included that.  NYSEG's proposal did not.  I don't know why they didn't choose to do it, but they were ordered to.  And it's a huge impact."

Nozzolio agrees.

"Massive property tax hikes, the loss of critically important school funds, children not receiving the education they need and deserve, deep and painful cuts in essential town and county services such as fire and police, private sector job losses, higher electricity bills, reliance on out-of-state power -- those are the very real consequences of the Cayuga Operating plant closing," he said.

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