Pin It
Cayuga Power Plant

The Lansing Town Hall was packed Wednesday evening with local residents who came to learn about the newest plan to transition the Cayuga and Somerset Power Plants to data centers the owners are calling the 'Empire State Data Hub'.  Heorot Power Vice President of Development Jerry Goodenough and John Mirabella, Environmental Director for the two plants, gave a comprehensive presentation that included answering a plethora of questions submitted by community members and asked at the meeting.  Immediately following the informational meeting the Lansing Town Board unanimously approved a resolution that supports the project.

"The data center is dependent on state support," Goodenough said. "We're looking for a NYPA (New York Power Authority) allocation, and we're looking for Empire State Development funding.  We qualify for all the pieces we need to qualify for it.   We're working hard to try to get their attention so they will throw their support at these two projects.  When communities show support for these, that helps them make their decision."

The company has experience converting a power plant to a data hub.  It's 100 megawatt Big Horn Data Hub in Hardin, Montana, is under construction adjacent to the coal-fired power plant there, to be completed  this summer.  The initial client will focus on machine learning, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technology.  Goodenough says the New York data centers will not handle crypto-currency.

The 309 megawatt Cayuga Power Plant sits on 434 acres of land, and employs 34 IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers) employees with average salaries of $86,000.  The company says their two plant sites are ideal campuses for data centers because they already have energy infrastructures, are located in a moderate climate, and skilled local workers are available, as well as connections to institutions of higher learning.  The company expects to invest $650 million into the two sites, and generate 200 full time equivalent jobs with average salaries between $40,000 and $60,000.

The Somerset Data Center will be 500 MW, with a $550 million capital investment and 150 to 170 full time equivalent jobs, plus a 70 megawatt solar farm built on 350 acres of company land.  The Cayuga Data Center will receive a $100 million capital investment, generate 30 to 40 full time equivalent $40,000 to $60,000 jobs, and a 20 megawatt solar farm on 110 acres of company land.

erry Goodenough and John MirabellaJerry Goodenough (left) and John Mirabella answer questions about the proposed Empire State Data Center

Goodenough commented on conflicting reports about the capacity of the proposed solar farm, ranging between 15 and 20 megawatts, depending on the report.  He said the varying numbers refer to discussions with specific developers.

"There's not going to be a ceiling on it," Goodenough said. "If I can get some solar built, then we're going to do some more.  If you see different numbers, it's just what we talked about that day when we talked to a developer.  There is probably room on the site for 30 megawatts."

He also said that the Cayuga Solar project isn't dead.  If the data center is supported by the State it will be the solar farm's customer, but the company is pursuing solar independently of the data center project.

"In 2017 NYSERDA came out with their first large scale renewable solicitation for solar.  We put in at this site and Somerset, and we put in again in 2018.  We haven't been able to win that bid.  We're continuing to put in.  We're trying hard.  We're going to put in again this year.  So we're going to continue to put in solar."

Video of Empire State data Center Informational Meeting by Ted Laux

Goodenough said that the power plant building will not be used for the data center, which will be housed in new Morton buildings on the property.  But he said the power plant building will not be demolished.  Rather, it will be re-purposed for other uses, such as renting office space.  He said the chimney will be capped, and as part of shutting down the plant the landfill will be sealed.

The company has considered a diverse collection of potential businesses for the site once the power plant is closed for good.  Goodenough said some of their ideas included mill production plant, biodiesel, amoebas that processes CO2 to make fish food, wood pellet plants, converting to gas, solar, and pump storage.

"We tried to get coal generation to gas to a milk plant, biodiesel, fish farms, a wallboard plant... you name it, we've looked at it," Mirabella said. "I think we're finally to a point now where we can get excited about a project, a data center.  It's a win-win for the state, the community, and environmental groups.  I think this is something we can sink our teeth into and make this happen."

Goodenough gave the current employees high praise, but acknowledged that retraining power plant workers for data center jobs is problematic because the skill sets are so different.  He said that there will be some jobs current employees can do, but said that the company is still trying to work out how to help its current employees.

Mirabella explained the various permitting processes the company is and will undergo, and the two answered questions  about water usage, the monitoring and maintenance of the landfill, the retention of the old building including capping but not demolishing the smoke stack, energy efficiency measures the data center will undertake, the location of the solar farm, more information about jobs and providing a 'soft landing' for current employees, site cleanup, public access to Cayuga Lake, and many other topics.

One person asked what will happen if the state does not come through with the power allotment and the Empire State Development grant (to help fund re-use of electrical equipment).

"If we do not get our ask we have to figure out what we're going to do," Goodenough replied. "We're not sure yet what that is.  We've tried to turn over every rock to get where we are now. We're going to figure it out. I don't know what we're going to do.  The energy market won't support energy generation. It just won't."

Jerry Goodenough and Ed LaVigneJerry Goodenough (left) confirs with Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne

He and Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne stressed that community support will help the project's chances of getting what it needs from the state.  The Town Board did just that at a special meeting after the data center information meeting.  After some haggling over the precise language of a resolution urging Governor Cuomo, NYPA, and the Empire State Development Corporation to support Cayuga Operating Company's plan to deactivate the power plant and re-purpose it to a data center using renewable energy, the Board voted 5-0 to send certified copies of the resolution to Cuomo, NYPA President Gil Quiniones, NYPA Board of Trustees Chair John Koelmel, ESD Executive Director Howard Zemsky, State Senator Pamela Helming, State Senator Robert Ortt, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, LaVigne, Deputy Secretary for Energy and Environment Dale Bryk, and Director of Policy John Maggiore,

Pin It