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Cayuga Power Plant

Almost two years ago Cayuga Operating Company announced it would build a 75 acre, 18 megawatt solar farm, which would be one of the largest in New York State.  Last June the company announced a proposal to repower its 155 megawatt coal-fired power plant with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) will be conveyed to the plant by 25 to 60 trucks per day, eliminating the need for a natural gas pipeline that had proved to be an unpopular option in Tompkins County.

Neither proposal has come to fruition.  The solar farm has reportedly been stalled because of a dearth of potential customers and lack of grants, while the repowering proposal has been put on hold for six to ten months.  While the solar farm has been popular with area residents, the new repowering plan has received almost as much push-back in the community as an earlier proposal that would have required a pipeline.  The Tompkins County Legislature passed a resolution opposing the plan on November 21, 2018.  And local residents have expressed concern about the safety of trucks full of CNG passing the Lansing school campus on a daily basis, as well as the additional truck traffic close to the schools.

"I am here to ask this board to act in opposition to the conversion of the power plant to natural gas," Lansing resident Diane Beckwith told the Town Board Wednesday. "I know that the plant application is currently in abeyance.  It was suspended for a period of six to ten months, so it wouldn't be possibly active again until the first of the year.  But that means it also could be acted upon in the future.  It's not dead.  It's still out there."

Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne responded to Beckwith Wednesday, saying that rather than working against the lant repowering project he wants to work with her and the community at large to get the solar farm built, and to expand the current solar proposal to make it profitable enough that the plant wouldn't have to repower with fossil fuels.

"Give them a reason not to go with natural gas," he said. "They haven't said anything to me about going forward with this project.  But I want to take this project off the table.  You do it by giving them a reason not to, which is 'we're making so much money on solar, why would we even go there?' - do it in a positive way to work together as a community to move from coal to renewable energy.  Just imagine the momentum they would have, to be the poster boy of how you do these things?  What I care about is how Lansing can get clean, renewable energy, and doing that by getting that plant fired up with solar.  I am more than happy to work with you on that."

Beckwith said other residents have expressed concerns about the CNG trucks, traffic, and challenged the notion that the closing of the power plant would mean massive tax rise for property taxpayers.

School Power Plant RevenueThis chart shows the Lansing school tax rate along with the estimated or actual revenue from taxes paid by the Cayuga Power Plant. "Do the supporters of this conversion realize that the entire Lansing School campus is in the evacuation zone should an accident occur?  How can that be an acceptable risk?  Another asks why do we keep hearing things like catastrophic loss of tax revenue and huge tax burden when school officials have publicly said that that is not the case?  And also, what message are we sending our children by supporting an increase in the burning of fossil fuels and further endangering their future when we should be decreasing it wherever possible."

In fact, revenue loss from the power plant was $2,421,188.  If applied to the 2019-20 budget taxpayers are about to vote on next month, that equals 7.86% of next year's school year budget, a considerable chunk.  Because of cuts, careful under-spending, and using fund balance to mitigate the levy, the school district was able to avert tax disaster during the leanest years in which the plant lost considerable value and state aid was cut, amounting to what school officials called a 'funding cliff' that the district was desperately trying not to fall off of.  Remarkably, the district has also managed to keep the tax levy below the state-imposed tax cap since it was imposed in 2011.

Recent new construction and reassessment has helped revive the tax base, leading School Superintendent Chris Pettograsso to hint that if the plant does close it will mean cuts to programming, but will not be a disaster for the district.

"We're always trying to say, if the plant did close what would the value be?" Pettograsso told the Board Of Education last month. "We don't have a definite number. There would still be some value to it if it were to be closed, because it's property and land. But at this point I don't think it would be catastrophic. We would have to make some decisions about our programming. But we've been planning on that in case it does happen. We're hopeful it doesn't."

LaVigne said he would like to see 200 acres of the plant's 480 acres that are usable for solar panels used, expanding on the 75 acre, 18 megawatt proposal.

"Let's take it one step further... There is 480 acres next door, I think, owned by Iberdrola," Lavigne continued. "Wouldn't it be nice if the power company could buy that land, use the flat land for solar panels and donate the rest for a park.  You'd have a wooded park in front by the lake shore that would be protected.  You could have the biggest solar farm in the northeast, and it would be in New York."

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