Six Tompkins-County-area lawmakers gathered Tuesday and called for Cayuga power plant's closure, but two Lansing officials said the group is working against the community's best interest.
Last Friday, Cayuga Operating Company LLC and New York State Electric & Gas Corp. filed opposing proposals with the state Public Service Commission.
Cayuga is seeking a natural gas retrofitting for its coal-fired power plant in Lansing. NYSEG is seeking transmission-line upgrades that would eliminate Ithaca-area electricity reliability issues if the plant were closed.
The PSC has final say on whether the proposals will be approved, but the matter remains open for public comment, agency spokesman James Denn said. There is no deadline for the PSC decision, he said.
Denn added that Tompkins County public comment forums haven't been scheduled yet, but people can comment online about the proceeding at tinyurl.com/pbt8ovm.
Cayuga and NYSEG's opposing plans have crystallized Tompkins County tensions on whether the plant should be retrofitted or closed.
About dozen people, mostly public officials and media, attended a Ratepayers and Community Intervenors Tuesday press conference. Community intervenors is a group of NYSEG customers and Ithaca-area lawmakers who are fighting the plant's natural-gas retrofitting.
The town supervisors of Caroline, Ithaca and Ulysses and town board members from Caroline and Dryden, spoke at the press conference. All said that they favored closing the plant for environmental and economic reasons.
"The choice is clear, the Public Service Commission should end this boondoggle and reject Cayuga's regressive proposal, which is not in the best interest of either the ratepayer or the environment," said Irene Weiser, community intervenors co-president. She is also a board member for the Town of Caroline.
Weiser added that retrofitting the plant to burn natural gas would mean further Tompkins County investment in fossil fuel infrastructure.
The Ithaca Journal contacted Lansing Town Supervisor Kathy Miller after the meeting.
"If we bring power in from Pennsylvania and power in from Ohio and and power in from Canada, it's going to be energy that's been created by gas," she said.
Miller said she supports the retrofitting because the region needs the electricity and jobs to support the economy, and the power plant provides crucial tax dollars in Lansing.
At the press conference, Dryden Town Board member Linda Lavine said that upgrading NYSEG transmission lines could allow Tompkins to bring in power from new renewable sources, as well.
"The other system (retrofitting Cayuga) is a white elephant, but the new grid upgrade enables you to move forward into the future with all possible sources of energy," Lavine said. The group added that new jobs could be created from further renewable energy development.
Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, R-Lansing, watched the press conference, and he said that community intervenors members should consider their own infrastructure before casting stones at Cayuga.
Pointing to community intervenors' fight against fossil fuel development, Sigler ironically suggested that the town officials not allow any new buildings in their municipalities unless they have zero carbon emissions.
"It's no skin off their nose if the power plant closes," Sigler said. But in Lansing, closing the plant means losing millions in property taxes and about 70 jobs, he said.
The Cayuga plant is Tompkins County's most valuable taxable property. For the 2014 tax roll, Cayuga paid $1.3 million in Lansing schools taxes and $552,273 to local governments and the Lansing Fire Department.
Ulysses Town Supervisor Liz Thomas said that her town and schools don't have the benefit of large industry.
"Yes, the transition away from reliance (Cayuga's tax contribution) will be an adjustment, and the state should have mechanism to assist municipalities in their transition," she said.
Community intervenors speakers also pointed out the NYSEG proposal calls for discussions with state agencies to identify other development opportunities that could ease the transition for the Lansing area.
Miller said NYSEG's economic-easing proposal is lacking teeth. "I think (NYSEG) needed to provide specifics," she said.