- By Dan Veaner
Despite widespread enthusiasm for a plan to convert the coal-fired Cayuga Power Plant into a major data center, the Lansing Town Board tabled a motion to support Cayuga Operating Company’s proposal to deactivate the coal plant and re-purpose it to a $100 million data center using renewable energy. While Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne stressed the urgency of expressing Town support while the company is in negotiations with the New York State Power Authority to obtain 125 megawatts of renewable electric power generated at Niagara Falls, Councilman Joe Wetmore said he wanted more information before approving the resolution. He said he prefers to wait until after a presentation next Wednesday at which Cayuga Operating company officials will explain the plan and answer questions.
"I'm really enthusiastic about the idea, but I would like to table this until we've had a chance to see the presentation," said Wetmore. "I want to have a better understanding of what, exactly, they're proposing before I vote (on a proposition) that I haven't had a chance to see until an hour ago."
The company plans to re-purpose the 434-acre Cayuga plant is a component of a capital investment plan they are calling the ' Empire State Data Hub'. The company intends to invest $650 million to close both the Lansing and Somerset plants they own, the last two operating coal plants in New York State. $100 million would go into the Cayuga campus, which to the proclamation says is one of the largest capital investments in Tompkins County. Company officials estimate the project will create 600 Union construction jobs. The data center would employ 200 full time workers with average salaries in the $40,000 to $60,000 range. In Lansing that would mean 100 Union construction jobs, and 30-40 full-time data center employees.
Earlier this month the Tompkins County Legislature weighed in with their endorsement of the plan. In a letter to Governor Cuomo, 13 of the 14 members of the Tompkins County Legislature have expressed their support of applications filed by the Empire State Data Hub initiative. The letter urged approval of an Empire State Data Hub application seeking a 125 MW allocation of renewable energy by the New York Power Authority, and another application requesting $65 million in economic assistance from Empire State Development to support the transition.
LaVigne, who has been working tirelessly to drum up support for the plan he says will reverse the downward spiral of assessed power plant value and provide stability for planning by the affected taxing authorities, took a straw poll to get a sense of who would be comfortable voting on the resolution immediately, and who wanted to wait a week for the presentation. The board split along party lines with Republican Doug Dake agreeing with LaVigne on an immediate vote, and Democrats Wetmore, Binkewicz, and Andra Benson opting to wait.
"Right now they are in negotiations trying to get the New York Power Authority allocation of power," LaVigne said. "They're having these discussions right now. It would be tragic if they decided not to and we didn't get to the table on this."
To vote on the proposition as soon as possible, LaVigne suggested calling an emergency meeting after the presentation next Wednesday. Because public municipal meetings must be announced beforehand, the Board agreed to hold its meeting to vote on the proposition at the Lansing Community Center at 8pm, in case the presentation runs longer than two hours.
"There have been a number of good questions put forward," said Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz. "It would be helpful to have at least some of them answered at that meeting."
Local citizens are also excited that all efforts to repower the plant with natural gas have been halted by the data center proposal. Lauren Chambliss asked the Board Wednesday to consider creating an advisory committee to help the Town Board with the transition.
"We're super excited about this, as I think most of the community is," she said. "I'm please with all the work the Board has done to date to get this proposal brfore the community and before the State. I sit on the Salt Point Board, which is a much smaller advisory committee. I've seen in the three years that I've lived in Lansing what can happen when a citizen group in an advisory capacity works hand in hand with the Town Board, with the Town Parks and Recreation Department, with the DEC (NYS Department of Environmental Conservation), and what can happen and how it can benefit multiple parties within the community."
She said an advisory committee could support the plan's need for renewable power, and helping with the due diligence advisory committees provide.
The Cayuga Operating Company's informational meeting is scheduled at the Lansing town Hall next Wednesday, June 26th at 6pm in the Lansing Town Hall.