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Legislature Opposes Cayuga Power Plant Repowering Proposal

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Legislature Opposes Cayuga Power Plant Repowering Proposal

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

After listening to two hours of public comment and engaging in close to another hour-and-a-half of thoughtful discussion, the Tompkins County Legislature went on record against the Cayuga Operating Company’s current proposal to repower the Lansing coal-fired plant.  The measure, approved by a 12-2 vote, with Legislators Mike Sigler and Glenn Morey voting no, opposes the Cayuga Operating Company’s proposal to convert the Cayuga Power Plant to natural gas.  Through amendments incorporated to what had been passed in committee, the resolution also urges the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to require a full Environmental Impact Statement with a full public scoping process that solicits input from all impacted communities; urges Governor Cuomo to support Cayuga’s transition to renewable energy and energy storage; and to work with the State Legislature and State agencies to provide transition support to plant workers and support to the Lansing Town and School District to mitigate tax impacts of plant closure, under the State’s program through the State’s Urban Development Corporation.

More than 100 people packed Legislature Chambers and 50 spoke.  As had happened earlier before the Legislature’s Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee, virtually all expressed serious concern about continued dependence on fossil fuels, the dangers of an increase in greenhouse gas emissions including from methane, use of imported “fracked” gas (inconsistent with the County’s past opposition to and the State’s prohibition of fracking), and the increased truck traffic and potential dangers associated with trucks transporting compressed natural gas (CNG) to fuel the plant.  A number of speakers voiced impassioned concerns about the need to protect the planet for their children and grandchildren.

The resolution states that the Legislature “finds that Cayuga’s proposal to convert to a non-operating, inefficient, coal-burning steam-turbine unit to natural gas fuel, resulting in creased CO2 and methane emissions, is incompatible with the urgent global imperative to reduce reliance on fossil fuels, and will result in significant adverse environmental impact in Tompkins County and other Southern Tier communities with regard to traffic, public safety, and poses a direct and material conflict with Tompkins County’s and New York State’s energy policies and greenhouse gas reduction goals.” Therefore, it states, the Legislature opposes Cayuga’s request for a modification of its air emissions permit to allow conversion to burn natural gas, and calls for the full EIS.  In one of a number of wording changes before passage, it also expresses full support of the portion of the proposal that would install solar and storage capacity.

Legislator Sigler cautioned that he doesn’t see solar at the plant happening without the transition to natural gas, and he once again suggested that singling out an individual company on the natural gas issue is misdirected—that local building codes projects in other municipalities should be addressed to limit gas use, not just in Lansing, where there is a moratorium on new hook-ups.  Both Legislators Rich John and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne said they were “struggling” with the resolution, both saying it should be re-crafted in a better way to send a clear, coherent message to the DEC.  Others, however, spoke against delay, saying it’s important to get the County’s message before the DEC before the agency makes its initial declaration.  A proposal to send it back to committee failed by a 6-8 vote.  Legislator Michael Lane said that, while he is not convinced by arguments that the plant is no longer needed, and is most concerned about the people who work in Tompkins County and at the Cayuga Power Plant, he shares concerns about the dangers of trucked CNG, and supports the resolution.  Legislator Deborah Dawson, who was involved in helping to craft the amended resolution said that perhaps it’s the County’s role to set an example and to take the lead on this important issue.