Sometimes I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, reliving the same day, fighting the same battle. The county legislature has made it clear that it does not support any new natural gas infrastructure. It has voted to not support new pipelines, both to boost supply to the area or to repower the Cayuga Power plant. Legislature members and activists have tried to thwart construction of compressor stations both big and small, the legislature has voted against trucking in compressed natural gas, and some members have argued for the continuation of the natural gas moratorium that is stifling business development in Lansing. And yet, the county legislature is being asked to again voice its opposition to repowering the Cayuga power plant, a view I and a majority of folks in Tompkins County do not share.
A resolution will be coming in front of the planning, development and environmental quality committee, asking the legislature to take a stand against retrofitting the plant with natural gas in effect closing the power plant. It oddly asks for the Legislature and Governor Cuomo to provide support to Cayuga’s conversion to renewable energy and storage upon retirement of all fossil fuel generation at the site. I say oddly because Cayuga is ready to put in 20 megawatts of solar generation now and has a plan for storage, but this has not garnered the vocal support of those arguing against natural gas use, just as the same group has not been vocal against the ever-increasing use of natural gas in Tompkins outside of the moratorium area.
I always wonder where this opposition to natural gas comes from. When I walk in downtown Ithaca, I see new yellow natural gas pipes going in the ground, new businesses using natural gas going up, folks putting in new natural gas boilers in their homes, and the compressor station in Dryden going online. A new 600 plus megawatt natural gas-fired power plant is going to be running soon just about 150 miles away downstate. The state clearly needs the power with the upcoming closure of about 2000 megawatts of nuclear capacity. There’s clearly a disconnect between the needs of the State and Tompkins County and what the State and County say they want.
I don’t believe in using regulatory agencies to stop projects based on requirements that don’t exist, but a small group in Tompkins thinks agencies should. In the resolution, the county would ask the DEC to account for the full life cycle of methane emissions and assess the global warming impacts on a 20-year time horizon. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon in the first 20 years it enters the atmosphere, but that is not the DEC’s job. The DEC enforces the guidelines set by the legislature and approved of by the Governor. To ask a regulatory agency to put regulations in place based on a favored constituency is bad policy. Unelected regulators should not get to make the regulations and should not be asked to.
This state has embraced natural gas for power generation. Hydro and nuclear would be preferable in terms of carbon, but they are expensive and there seems to be little appetite for either. I’ve pushed a hydro project for three years now and will keep advocating for it, but solar is all we hear from local activists who want everything to be electric. The state has spent a decade pushing solar. We’ve gone from nine to 12 percent renewable generation over that time. The electricity has to come from somewhere and no, it won’t be solar. If solar was the answer, we’d already be there.
If you want big government answers as the group pushing for Cayuga’s closure does, you’ll probably need big government answers and that will mean big generation like you get from gas and nuclear plants that can provide baseload power that keeps the electrical grid intact. Solar, while a safe and for many preferable energy source is effective at providing supplemental power, it simply isn’t in the same ballpark for stability in keeping the lights on and the power flowing to homes to run heating systems.
The county has been clear in its votes. It does not support natural gas. Fortunately for those living in Tompkins, the towns and villages are the ones with control over building codes and permits and there’s been very little movement to ban natural gas from new construction and renovations outside the moratorium area.
If you are in the moratorium area and want natural gas or if you want to make your voice heard on the powerplant you can speak at the legislature on the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 5:30 p.m. or you can go to the planning, development, and environmental quality committee on the fourth Monday of the month at 3:30 p.m. Both are in the legislature chambers, 121 East Court St. Ithaca.
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