ITHACA, NY – Tompkins County legislators voted unanimously in favor of an arrangement that will allow it to purchase hydroelectric power to meet the government’s power needs.

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It works through a process called remote net metering. This process allows a body to purchase power from a renewable energy facility and in turn receive a deduction on its electric bill based on how much electricity that facility provides.

In other words, the power — which will come from a hydroelectric plant in Waterloo, near Seneca Lake — won’t be routed directly to Tompkins. Rather, Tompkins will pay for the electricity and receive a credit toward its regular bill.

The Tompkins County government will be able to pay for 63 percent — 2 megawatts worth — of its energy needs through this arrangement. Note that this pertains specifically to the Tompkins County Government and buildings that it operates, not to the whole of the county.

This arrangement provides multiple benefits to the county, as outlined in a presentation by Omay Elphick, Director of Power Marketing at Gravity Renewables, Inc.

On a purely economic level, the reduction in the Tompkins government’s power bill will come out to about $39,000 annually. This will add up to $735,000 over the 20 year term of the deal.

It also provides a boost to the local economy. Elphick said that for every 1 megawatt of power generated by the plant will create between $50,000 and $100,000 in taxes and local spending, without requiring any land use or investment by the county. Much of that benefit will go toward Seneca County, Tompkins’ sister county, where the plant is located.

The plan also fits in well with Tompkins County’s commitment toward renewable energy.

The power produced by the plant will offset 2,620 metric tons of carbon.

The county will also receive Renewable Energy Certificates, also known as RECs or Green Tags, which are a sort of commodity generated per megawatt-hour of renewable energy production. These RECs do not have much value now, according to Elphick, but projections say that they will be worth anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 in the coming years.

This is one more example of where Tompkins County is a leader, what better way than water, one of the oldest methods, we’re pleased to have this partnership going forward. People who say we’re not doing enough… we’re doing a lot.

Additionally, this arrangement will guarantee reinvestment that will ensure the hydroelectric plant remains in commission. Many small hydroelectric plants across New York are nearing the end of their useful life cycles and in many cases the current owners are not willing or able to make investments to keep them running.

“This is one more example of where Tompkisn County is a leader and is out in front,” said Tompkins Legislature Chair Mike Lane. “What better way to generate electricity for our needs than by water power, one of the oldest methods of using power in history.”

“Those folks that don’t think we’re doing enough in Tompkins County, take a look around us, we’re doing more than a lot of places are,” Lane added.

(Featured photo from grendelkhan on Flickr)

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.