Lansing at Large: Power plant to become data center

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Lansing’s Cayuga Power Plant will be converted into a large data center pending the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) approval of plant owner Heorot Energy’s request for a 125-megawatt allocation of renewable electrical power from Niagara Falls’ hydroelectric power station.


The announcement was made by Lansing Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne and County Legislator Mike Sigler on May 15 at the town board meeting.


The planned “Empire State Data Hub” would resolve the lengthy discussion about the future of the coal-fired power plant, the proposed conversion of the plant to natural gas operation, and the large industrial site’s contribution to the area’s tax revenue.


“Eleven years ago, the plant was valued at $160 million,” LaVigne said. “In just the last four years, we’ve cumulatively lost $3 million in tax revenues from the plant – two-thirds of that from the schools. Upticks in value are cumulative too.”


LaVigne said that Heorot Power’s Vice President of Development Jerry Goodenough has assured him that the company would sign a statement that the company would no longer seek to repower the plant.


That move was welcomed by representatives of Concerned Lansing Citizens (CLC) and No Fracked Gas Cayuga, organizations opposing repowering the plant and the forecasted increases in truck traffic.


“The proposed plan…is good news for the Town of Lansing, good news for Tompkins County, and good news for the planet,” No Fracked Gas Cayuga’s founder Irene Weiser wrote in a statement to the group’s supporters.


“We were working together with the community, government, and business to mitigate the effect of the re-powering,” said Diane Beckwith of the CLC. “Of course, we welcome this news.”


The CLC had planned to bring citizens of Holyoke, MA to Lansing on May 29 to talk about how their town successfully dealt with the closing of a power plant. The meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Town Hall, will still go on, Beckwith said.


“Now I guess we can talk about how the community, government, and business can work together,” she said.


Both of Heorot’s energy plants in New York, Cayuga and Somerset, would be converted into data centers, a transition eased by the power plants’ electrical interconnects, existing utilities, and large tracts of land. Somerset will be larger initially, but the Cayuga plant could be expanded. Heorot has completed a similar project in Montana, Sigler said.


Both of the plants faced shutdown or conversion due to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s May 9 decision to ban coal-fired power generation in the state.
“Closing the Somerset and Cayuga Power plants and repurposing those sites as data centers powered by renewable energy would constitute an almost 10 to one replacement ratio of fossil fuel to clean energy and would fulfill Governor’s pledge to shut down coal in New York ahead of his December 2020 timeline,” Goodenough wrote in a memo summarizing the project.


The $100 million capital investment will generate between 30 and 40 new full-time jobs with salaries ranging from $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

Construction will cost about $60 million and will create about 100 jobs.
About 35 to 40 people work at the power plant now. LaVigne said that he does not know what will happen to those workers, but added that “if we did nothing, then their fate was sealed anyway.”


Heorot also plans to complete the planned 15-megawatt solar farm announced last year.


“The solar project needed customers to get the funding from NYSERDA and now they have their own customer,” LaVigne said. “They will have storage batteries as well, and they would use those at peak times.”


“The Somerset and Cayuga sites transition from energy suppliers to energy consumers,“ Goodenough wrote. “The project ‘replaces ’old’ industry with ‘new’ industry and creates a more stable revenue model for local governments.”


Goodenough wrote that there are “potential synergies on artificial intelligence and machine learning with Cornell, Ithaca College, and other local institutions of higher education.”


He added that the center would be a valuable tool to help the New York Independent System Operator to understand and manage variable energy generation from the growing renewable sources such as solar and wind.
The operation would provide computing and storage capacity for the large volumes of data used in artificial intelligence programming that can predict component failures in manufacturing, increase crop production, model bird migrations, and reforestation, according to Goodenough.


Applications have been submitted to Empire State Development for capital funding to assist with the re-use of the electrical equipment and the NYPA to obtain the renewable energy allocation. NYPA will evaluate the request based on the project’s potential for job creation, capital investment, and long-term commitment to the area.


“Given the data hub’s plan to use existing land, zoning and valuable infrastructure to repower the site with solar and clean energy, the industry revitalization criteria could and should also be utilized in defending a 125-megawatt allocation,” Goodenough wrote.


Sigler and LaVigne have pledged to support the allocation request.


“The real goal now is to get this up and running,” Lavigne said. “My sense is that it is critical to get the power allocation – NYPA has to lock that in.”


“This was a team effort,” LaVigne said. “My small part was to develop relationships and keep the ground fertile. This was never a negative, antagonistic relationship with the plant. It was more ‘how can we help you be successful?’ That opens the door to these kinds of possibilities.”

In brief:

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Library Closings and More
The Lansing Community Library will be closed for spring cleaning on Thursday, May 24, and Friday, May 25, and for Memorial Day on May 27.
The library will kick off their summer reading program on June 22 - Hilby, the German Juggling Boy, will be featured.

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