LANSING, N.Y. — About 70 local residents packed Tompkins County Legislature Chambers early Friday to oppose the Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing converting to natural gas. They urged members of the Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee to support a resolution stating the plant’s conversion to natural gas was “incompatible with the urgent global imperative to reduce fossil fuel use.”

In April, Cayuga Operating Company submitted an application to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to modify its permit to convert from burning coal to compressed natural gas. At a special meeting Friday, Nov. 9, legislators mulled two versions of a resolution. One, dubbed the “nasty letter” version, used strong language opposing the conversion. And the other, while stating the plant’s proposal would have adverse environmental impacts, asked the DEC to perform a full Environmental Impact Statement.

The first resolution strongly opposes the plant’s conversion to natural gas, asks the DEC to deny the plant’s application to convert to fracked gas and requests a full Environmental Impact Statement. The resolution states the proposal “will result in significant environmental impacts in both New York and Pennsylvania communities with regard to climate, air and water pollution, community character, and traffic, safety and wear and tear on the roads.”

It also states, “the Tompkins County Legislature finds that Cayuga Operating Company’s proposal to convert a non-operating, inefficient, coal-burning steam-turbine unit to natural gas fuel, resulting in increased CO2 and methane emissions, is incompatible with the urgent global imperative to reduce fossil fuel use, and is incompatible with New York State’s energy policies and with Tompkins County’s GHG emission reduction goals and should be rejected on its face.” It urges Gov. Andrew Cuomo to provide needed support to assist the plant’s conversion to renewable energy and storage.

Of the crowd that came out, about 30 spoke at the special meeting at 9 a.m. Friday, Nov. 9. Nearly all urged legislators to go with the first resolution that used stronger language.

The second resolution does not go quite as far as the first. It similarly lists the environmental impacts of the plant converting to natural gas and also asks the DEC to require the plant to submit a full Environmental Impact Statement. However, it does not outright say the plant’s proposal “should be rejected on its face.” It just points in that direction by specifying the environmental impacts and county’s emission goals.

Carol Chock address legislators at a special meeting Nov. 9 about the Cayuga Power Plant. (Photo by Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Carol Chock, of Ithaca, told legislators they know enough now to know that trucking in fracked gas is not good for the environment or community and that the 65-year-old plant is not in line with the county’s goals.

“Please ask New York State to put a stop to this application,” Chock said.

Both resolutions considered noted that the Cayuga plant’s application says it will deliver compressed natural gas by between 25 and 60 trucks per day, meaning between 50 and 120 round trips per day.

Citing the county’s 2015 comprehensive plan, the resolutions states a combination of renewable energy and energy storage is better for the environment and fits in line with the county’s policy to “Reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) to reach a minimum 80 percent reduction from 2008 levels by 2050 and reduce reliance on fossil fuels across all sectors.”

The only person who did not agree with public commenters was Legislator Mike Sigler, who said there were no energy experts present at the meeting. He encouraged residents to approach their town boards if they want more renewable energy.

Jerry Goodenough, chief operating officer of Cayuga Operating Company, LLC, was invited to speak at the meeting but declined. The company did send a letter to Anna Kelles, chair of PDEQ, stating, “We believe the repowering of Cayuga with truck natural gas in conjunction with large scale solar and energy storage development would be a worthy and beneficial project for Tompkins County and the Southern Tier environmentally, economically, and for stated policy goals.”

The letter went on to list several advantages for the state, such as creating local economic activity, preserving jobs, and said the plant “fulfills a recognized need for cleaner natural gas plants to bolster New York State’s proposed, but highly variable, renewable energy grid.”

Read the full letter below:

Letter from Cayuga Operating Company to PDEQ by Kelsey O’Connor on Scribd

After public comment, which spanned about an hour and a half, legislators debated whether they should send the stronger “nasty letter” resolution or the alternative, milder resolution.

Legislator Deborah Dawson, of Lansing, said it is not up to the Legislature to send nasty letters and said the scientific evaluation should be made by the DEC. Dawson said she agrees with the concerns voiced about the environmental impacts. “I think we’re just going to have to part ways on strategy,” Dawson said.

Legislator Anna Kelles, who chairs PDEQ, said she also weighed which resolution would result in the outcome they want but ultimately chose to support the first resolution.

The first resolution, Resolution A, passed with 4-1 support. It was supported by Kelles, Amanda Champion, Anne Koreman and David McKenna, with Dawson opposed. The resolution will move on to full Tompkins County Legislature.

Featured image: Irene Weiser addresses PDEQ Committee about the Cayuga Power Plant. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)

Kelsey O'Connor

Kelsey O'Connor is the managing editor for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at koconnor@ithacavoice.com and follow her on Twitter @bykelseyoconnor.