repowering_sunflower120Tompkins County Legislator Carol Chock (District 3 , Ithaca) was one of the most vocal opponents to a plan to repower the coal-fired Cayuga Power Plant with natural gas when the NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) held a public hearing July 28th on whether to repower the plant or to close it.  In August she and Town of Caroline councilmember Irene Weiser formed Ratepayers and Community Intervenors to 'demand unredacted information for review and analysis'.  The group has partnered with Earthjustice, an activist group that provides legal representation at no cost to environmental groups and causes.  Chock and Weiser sent an email Monday to a wider list of elected officials from 24 counties to urge them to join.

The organization is currently made up of more than 30 members, mainly Tompkins County elected officials, organizations and individuals, with some members from Cortland, Cayuga, Seneca, Ontario, Chemung, Erie and Steuben Counties.  The email targeted officials from Load Zones A (impacted by the Dunkirk Power Plant) and C (impacted by the Cayuga Power Plant), most impacted by the Cayuga plant in Lansing and the Dunkirk plant south of Buffalo.

repowering_chock200Tompkins County Legislator Carol Chock speaking at a June 29th Cayuga Power Plant repowering protest "Due to our concerns about the lack of transparency in this public process, and to ensure that the PSC adheres to its mandate to protect the ratepayer and consider the full environmental impact, we have formed the 'Ratepayer and Community Intervenor' group, and secured pro-bono legal representation by Earthjustice. We will soon be initiating legal action to demand unredacted information for review and analysis," they wrote.

The Lansing repowering issue comes from a combination of the cost of coal being uncompetitively high compared to that of natural gas and NYSEG's desire to reduce an 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.

"I was told by one of the organizers, the night of the PSC hearing, that 'sometimes the few must be sacrificed for the many.'" says Pat Pryor, Lansing's representative to the Tompkins County Legislature.  "That statement, as repugnant as I find it, fails to recognize the reality that while the Town of Lansing residents will bear the biggest brunt of the costs if the plant closes, the result of closing will also be felt across Tompkins County and this entire region.  I would caution the intervenor group to be careful what they wish for or there may be unexpected consequences to our entire local economy."

The PSC is considering what amounts to only two options: to repower the Cayuga plant with natural gas that would come from an existing pipeline that would be extended from Freeville to the lakeside plant, or NYSEG's plan to close the plant and upgrade the transmission system.  Plant officials responded with four repowering plans, but one in particular is in the running because of its relatively low cost.  Whichever plan is chosen will be funded by a rate hike on NYSEG electric bills.  Chock and Weiser say that price tag for converting the 2 plants could be over $500,000 million each, to be paid by residents and businesses in the power districts A and C.

"Those who read the September 10th Ithaca Journal article, 'Lansing power plant retrofit $924M cheaper than upgrades,' would learn that some of the document redactions complained about by the ad-hoc intervenor group, when uncovered, revealed that when associated costs of the transmission upgrades are included, costs of transmission upgrades would actually be millions of dollars more than the cost of repowering the plant," counters Pryor.  "The Ithaca Journal acknowledged in the article that it made the error in its original reporting.  It’s unfortunate that the organizers of the intervenor group continue to focus on the issue of the use of natural gas when the question of repowering the plant vs. transmission upgrades is irrelevant to the issue of the use of natural gas since the percentage of use of natural gas in NY State will not change no matter which solution is chosen by the PSC."

Advocates of repowering the plant say that it is likely that 'Option 1' would not only have no impact on electric rates but may even reduce them.  Additionally closing the plants is expected to have devastating consequences for the Lansing and Dunkirk communities.  In Lansing it is estimated that the loss of county, school and town tax income would immediately cost property taxpayers almost $600 on average, making the Lansing Central School District the highest taxed non-city school district in the state.  Closing the plants would also impact existing and projected new jobs and millions of dollars in local spending.

repowering_zonesmapCarol Chock and irene Weiser solicited elected officials from 24 counties in zones A and C Monday to join their Ratepayers and Intervenors Group

Zone A includes Niagara, Orleans, Erie, Genesee, Wyoming, Chautauqua, Livingston and Cattaraugus Counties.  Zone C includes Tompkins, Cortland, Steuben, Chemung, Tioga, Broome, Schuyler, Yates, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga and Oswego counties.  Both contain portions of other counties.

Chock and Weiser say the NYSEG plan to upgrade the transmission lines is presumed to be less environmentally detrimental, and to cost less than repowering the Cayuga plant.  But because both plans contain heavily redacted materials they say their legal challenge will focus on their demand to make unredacted copies available to the public so the public may form more informed opinions.