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Task Force Members(Left to right) Caroline Councilwoman Irene Weiser, Tompkins County Commissioner of Planning and Sustainability Edward Marx, County Legislator Martha Robertson, Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Jennifer Tavares,Tompkins County Area Development President Michael Stamm

Members of the Tompkins County Energy and Economic Development Task Force (EEDTF) announced Monday that NYSEG (New York State Electric & Gas) has requested the the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) review a plan that provides an alternate approach to providing energy to the Lansing/Freeville Reinforcement Gas Pipeline Project.  The project, also known as the 'West Dryden Road natural gas pipeline' because its proposed route takes it from Freeville to Lansing along West Dryden Road, would be replaced by a two tiered approach: first, a compressor would be installed in the Town of Lansing to insure a steady flow of gas delivery to existing customers.  Second, 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.

"We feel we have a responsibility to try to address this issue, even if the rest of the country or the world is not moving as quickly as we would like," said Task Force Chair and Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson.  "That doesn't absolve us of the responsibility to do as much as we can on our climate goals.  We also feel we understand there is a deep responsibility to support job growth and economic development.  We desperately need new housing in Tompkins County as well."

NYSEG proposed the West Dryden Road pipeline to address capacity and reliability problems in natural gas delivery from South Lansing just north of Route 34B to the Village of Lansing.  It would entail seven miles of 10" pipe to bring new capacity from> Dominion Transmission’s Freeville Gate Station to a new regulator station on Warren Road in Lansing.  Fierce resistance by landowners along the West Dryden Road route has delayed the project, and last year on February 15th NYSEG sent a letter to the PSC informing state officials that it would no longer accept new natural gas customers in the Town of Lansing.

"Due to current pressures on the distribution system on cold weather days and design-day predicted pressures in the Lansing area, NYSEG cannot provide the requested incremental natural gas service at this time," the letter explained.

NYSEG's new proposal, dated January 23 in a letter from NYSEG President Mark Lynch to PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman, would potentially solve reliability problems suffered by current customers during cold weather outlines three goals: to reinforce the current gas delivery system to remedy what NYSEG calls 'significant pressure inadequacies'; address the need for additional capacity for future new customers; and add distribution capacity to allow for future growth.  The proposal also recommends that Tompkins County review its building codes to increase energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The company presented a conceptual technical study to the PSC on February 2nd.

If the PSC accepts the proposal, NYSEG officials say the compressor could be installed and operating by 2018.  Before that happens NYSEG would have to resubmit its solution as a 'demonstration project' under the State's REV (Reforming the Energy Vision) program.

County officials said an RFP (Request For proposals) would then be sent out to solicit ideas for alternative solutions to replace fossil fuels that may be attractive to developers and meet the requirements of the second two issues raised in NYSEG's letter.

Lansing officials attended Monday's announcement, saying afterward that they were concerned that the proposal will not meet the needs of new developments, especially more than 900 living units that are currently under review or construction (click here to see accompanying story).

"When people say that natural gas is not the way to go I respect their opinion," said Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne.  "But the alternative is -- it's not going to be electric -- not right now.  It looks like that's a few years out.  The reality is those trucks go up and down our roads with propane.  Is it more dangerous?  It is dirtier?  These are all things you have to weigh.  Will the electric grid handle what we want to do?"

But task force members said that its collaboration with NYSEG would reduce fossil fuel use and provide a county-wide solution to climate change and provide what Robertson said would be cost-effective alternatives to natural gas.

"We've seen significant local development using heat pumps, in applications from single family homes to large projects such as Breckenridge, Maplewood, and City Centre," she said.  "The county has already reached out to developers with information about this rapidly advancing technology, and we're eager to work with others as well.  Tompkins County welcomes this opportunity to use all available tools to support economic development at the same time that we 'bend the curve' to cut our use of fossil fuels."

Robertson and other officials emphasized that the County's collaboration with NYSEG and the PSC could result in creative solutions to the County's energy needs, while requiring developers to use alternative energy sources where possible.  The plan would make current natural gas use more efficient, and Robertson said that would free some of the existing capacity for use by new customers who are not able to use natural gas alternatives.

"The task force was a community effort, not a consultant study," said TCAD (Tompkins County Area Development) President Michael Stamm.  "Community leaders in economic development, energy-related businesses, environmental groups, and local government came together in a true spirit of problem-solving.  The first two recommendations were to work with the PSC to reduce reliance on gas, and also to provide reliable energy to local industry.  The work with NYSEG and the PSC provides an exciting opportunity for Tompkins County to – once again – be a leader in tackling the important challenges of our day."

Task Force members said that if the proposal is accepted it will be the first of its kind to be implemented by NYSEG.  The next step is for PSC engineers to review the proposal.  If supported NYSEG will revise its rate case to the PSC, replacing the pipeline with the compressor solution.  Lynch said that if the request is expedited and accepted the 2018 target date for the compressor may be met.\

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