Ithaca, N.Y. — Town officials from Tompkins County endorsed transmission line upgrades and renewable energy sources on Tuesday at a press conference at the Ithaca Town Hall, opposing a plan to retrofit the Cayuga power plant.
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The New York Public Service Commission asked the Cayuga Operating Company in 2013 to collaborate with the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation on a joint proposal for the plant’s future. However, they failed to reach an agreement, and the two entities submitted separate proposals last week.
Cayuga Operating Company, LLC is proposing to continue burning coal at the aging site, while transitioning its operations to natural gas. The NYSEG proposal states there would be environmental impacts if the plant were to continue its operations, said Irene Weiser, Caroline council member and coordinator of the Community Intervenor Group.
“NYSEG has expressed concern about converting the old power plant, noting that its boilers are inefficient when compared to modern gas plants, which means that the fuel costs and the CO2 emissions will be higher,” she said.
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The NYSEG proposal instead calls for an upgrade to the transmission lines to Auburn. Weiser said that according to the NYSEG proposal, upgrading the transmission lines would cost ratepayers $25 million, which is about one-fifth of the expected cost of renewing the coal plant.
Ulysses town Supervisor Elizabeth Thomas said there is also significant movement toward alternative energy within New York state.
“The public service commission should be encouraging this migration to a more sustainable future for the benefit of the entire public,” she said.
Weiser dismissed concerns about renewable energy being an insufficient replacement for the Cayuga coal plant, saying instead that it is an option. In 2010, NYSEG completed the Ithaca transmission upgrades that were made to ensure that the region would have enough power even if the plant were to shut down, she said.
“We are not looking to power this region with renewables,” Weiser said. “The transmission updates that they are proposing [this year] would accomplish the same thing for Auburn.”
Several officials, including Ithaca town supervisor Herb Engman and Caroline town supervisor Don Barber said the NYSEG proposal would be more fiscally feasible because it keeps money in public pockets.
Weiser said the NYSEG proposal would therefore be a better option for economic and environmental reasons.
“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,” she said.
The PSC has not announced a timeline for its decision on the proposals. If the coal plant is shut down, Weiser said, there would still be concerns about mercury toxics and coal ash on the site.