Tompkins County
New York


Resolution Opposing Cayuga Operating Company's Proposal to Convert to Natural Gas, Urging the Department of Environmental Conservation to Require an Environmental Impact Statement with Full Public Scoping, and Urging the Governor to Support Cayuga's Transition to Renewable Energy and Energy Storage and Provide Transition Support to the Plant Workers and to the Lansing Town and School District


Department:Planning, Dev. and Env. Quality Committee (2016-2018)Sponsors:
Category:EnvironmentalFunctions:Cayuga Power Plant, Environmental

Resolution/Document Body

WHEREAS, on April 27, 2018, the Cayuga Operating Company, LLC in Lansing, NY (Cayuga), submitted an application to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to modify its Title V Air Emissions Permit to convert one or more of its generating units from burning coal to burning natural gas, and


              WHEREAS, the Tompkins County Legislature recognizes that the project would represent a significant investment in the community with a corresponding impact on the tax base and job preservation, and


              WHEREAS, Cayuga’s application states that the requisite natural gas would be supplied in the form of compressed natural gas (CNG) delivered by 30 CNG powered trucks per day, and Cayuga’s press release states that it would be delivered by an average of 25 - 60 trucks per day, thereby generating 50 -120 truck trips per day through numerous villages, towns, and cities in Tompkins County and other Southern Tier counties and creating a substantial increase in traffic in those communities, and


              WHEREAS, CNG transport trucks in other regions of New York State have experienced multiple traffic incidents including two occurrences of spontaneous venting of gas (5/27/17 Binghamton, NY, resulting in closure of four lanes of Interstate, 6/18/18 Little Falls, NY) and 3 rollovers (9/12/17 Hartwick, NY;  6/2/18 Bethlehem, NY;  7/11/18 Exeter, NY - necessitated venting, evacuation within one-quarter mile and road closure for 12 hours) and have caused quality of life and safety concerns for residents along the truck route, and


              WHEREAS, Cayuga’s proposal would create a material demand for numerous daily CNG transport truck trips through the Southern Tier and Tompkins County, thereby creating a danger to human health and constituting a potentially significant adverse impact on the environment, and


              WHEREAS, Cayuga has been operating for 63 years and uses outdated and inefficient steam-turbines to generate electricity, and nationwide 95% of plants of Cayuga’s age and type have ceased operations, and


              WHEREAS, in anticipation of Cayuga’s outage, in August 2010 New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) completed transmission line upgrades from Cortland to the Etna substation to ensure reliable electric supply to Tompkins County independent of the Cayuga plant, and in July 2017 transmission line upgrades were completed in Auburn to similarly address reliability needs there, hence power from the Cayuga plant is no longer needed for regional reliability, and


              WHEREAS, a fire in April 2016 severely damaged Generating Unit 2’s stack and since then it has operated at only 4% capacity and since July 1, 2018, it has been on forced outage, and



              WHEREAS, a substantial body of scientific research now clearly shows that when full life-cycle, fugitive methane emissions are taken into account and methane’s global warming potential is evaluated in a 20-year timeframe, conversion from coal to gas does not provide any reduction in global warming impacts from greenhouse gas emissions, and in many instances is worse, and


              WHEREAS, Cayuga’s proposal would result in a major change in the quantity and type of energy used by its generating units, thereby constituting a potentially significant adverse impact on the environment, and


              WHEREAS, the 2015 Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan established the principle that “Tompkins County should be a place where the energy system meets community needs without contributing additional greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere,” and established the 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,” and


              WHEREAS, in New York State’s Clean Energy Plan, Governor Cuomo established GHG reduction goals of 40% by 2030, and the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) and Clean Energy Standard initiatives articulate a vision for achieving that goal through reliance on renewable energy resources and energy conservation, and in 2017, New York State published a Methane Reduction Plan, recognizing that methane “is second to carbon dioxide in its contribution to climate change as a result of its high volume in the atmosphere and strong radiative effects”, and


              WHEREAS, Governor Cuomo has committed New York State to a leadership role in upholding the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, and the October 8th Special Report of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), evaluating progress on meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, states unequivocally that we must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) by at least 40% over the next 12 years in order to avoid catastrophic tipping points, and the report specifically cites reduction of short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black-soot and hydro fluorocarbons as an essential aspect of that GHG reduction, and


              WHEREAS, Cayuga’s proposal would result in an increase in carbon dioxide and methane gas emissions that would be in direct and material conflict with Tompkins County current energy goals and policy as stated in its Comprehensive Plan, as well as being in conflict with New York State’s energy goals and the urgent global imperative articulated by the IPCC, thereby constituting a potentially significant adverse impact on the environment, and


              WHEREAS, the New York State 2013 Energy Highway Blueprint does not support keeping uneconomic power plants online if they have not been deemed necessary for reliability purposes, but recognizes the economic impact that power plant retirement can have on workers, local economies and municipal and school tax base, and therefore urged the DEC to work with other State Agencies to develop a “Community Support Plan to mitigate the near-term strain on communities that demonstrate significant hardship arising from the retirement of a fossil-fuel power plant”, and


WHEREAS, the combination of renewable energy and energy storage is better for the environment, and is increasingly found to be more economic than gas peaker plants, and Governor Cuomo has set a goal of 1500 MW energy storage by 2025 and a recent review by the NYS Public Service Commission shows that even more ambitious goals of up to 3000 MW by 2030 are achievable, and


WHEREAS, hundreds of community members spoke to the Legislature with a largely unanimous voice both in person and in written statements in support of making the strongest possible statement against repowering the plant with natural gas, now therefore be it


              RESOLVED, on recommendation of the Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, That the Tompkins County Legislature finds that Cayuga’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 reliance on fossil fuels, and will result in significant adverse environmental impacts in Tompkins County and other Southern Tier communities with regard to traffic, public safety, and poses a direct and material conflict with Tompkins County’s and New York State’s energy policies and greenhouse gas reduction goals,


              RESOLVED, further, That the Tompkins County Legislature therefore opposes Cayuga’s request for a modification of their air emissions permit to allow conversion to burn natural gas,


              RESOLVED, further, That, at a minimum, a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) and formal public scoping process, soliciting input from all impacted communities, should be required in connection with the DEC’s consideration of Cayuga’s proposal,


              RESOLVED, further, That the EIS should take into account the full life-cycle methane emissions - including out of state emissions - and should assess global warming impacts (radiative forcing) on a twenty-year time horizon,


              RESOLVED, further, That the Tompkins County Legislature fully supports that portion of the proposal that would install solar and storage capacity and urges Governor Cuomo to prioritize and provide needed support to assist Cayuga’s conversion to renewable energy and storage upon retirement of all fossil-fuel power generation at their site,


              RESOLVED, further, That the Tompkins County Legislature requests that Governor Cuomo work with the State Legislature and State Agencies to provide transition support to the plant workers and support to the Lansing Town and School District to mitigate tax impacts of plant closure, as Lansing will be eligible under the State’s program through the urban Development Corporation,


              RESOLVED, further, That a copy of this resolution be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo, NYS DEC Regional Permit Administrator, Commissioner Basil Seggos, NYS PSC Commission Chair John Rhodes, State Senator Pamela Helming, State Senator Thomas O’Mara, State Senator James Seward, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, Assistant Secretary for Energy Peter Olmsted, Deputy Secretary  for the Environment Venetia Lannon, Matthew Marko, DEC Regional Director, Region 7,  Thomas Elter, DEC Environmental Engineer, Air Quality Division Region 7, and Joseph Dlugolenski, DEC Deputy Region 7.



Meeting History

Oct 22, 2018 3:00 PM  Planning, Dev. and Env. Quality Committee (2016-2018) Regular Meeting
Nov 9, 2018 9:00 AM  Planning, Dev. and Env. Quality Committee (2016-2018) Special Meeting

Committee members thanked the members of the public for attending and speaking regarding this resolution.

Ms. Koreman said she agreed with Legislator Sigler in regard to doing everything we can in areas of renewable energy and energy conservation including going to local municipalities to urge them to add no new gas infrastructure or installations. She spoke of some of the energy conservation and renewable energy measures she personally has taken in her life and the work she did through the Sierra Club. She will only be supportive of a resolution that rejects the repowering of natural gas.

Ms. Robertson also agreed with Legislator Sigler on some statements including those related to nuclear power and insisting the City and Town of Ithaca require renewable energy in development plans. She spoke of the steps being taken by the Town of Dryden Board’s work to include heat pumps in their building codes. She believes there are a relatively small number of jobs associated with the gas power plants and even fewer with coal plants. She stated the resolution is a narrow request and even if only the plants emissions are reviewed it would show to be an improvement to go to gas from coal. She said it is appropriate that the Legislature weighs in on the larger evaluation of the system and the larger impact it may have. She also spoke of the potential carbon pricing in a few years and if that is imposed it may not be economical for the plant to operate. She is supportive of this resolution.

Ms. Champion spoke of her concerns for her children’s futures and future generations if actions are not taken such as passing this resolution. She stated she is supportive of this resolution.

Ms. Dawson explained that she is not in disagreement with statements that have been made but does not believe it is up to the Legislature to “write nasty letters” such as this resolution. She stated the scientific evaluation should be made by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). She cannot support this resolution but did draft a resolution entitled Resolution Urging the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to Determine that Cayuga Operating Company’s Proposal to Convert to Natural Gas may Create the Potential for One or More Significant Adverse Environmental Impact(s), and to Require an Environmental Impact Statement that is also on the agenda for consideration. She believes the Legislature must act within the framework of the law and can point out the many reasons why a positive declaration should be made and require a complete environmental impact statement (EIS) with public scrutiny. She will support the second resolution on the agenda but cannot support this resolution.

Mr. McKenna stated he is in agreement with some statements made by Legislator Sigler and believes individuals need to reach out to their Town Boards regarding new and replaced equipment and new construction. He will support this resolution.

Ms. Kelles stated she understands what Ms. Dawson has said and she has an interest in moving away from this power plant being used at all. She has thoroughly considered both resolutions and would like to support the resolution that will best achieve the desired goals. She is in agreement with the statement by Legislator Robertson regarding carbon pricing and thanked Krys Cail for the work she has done regarding the ground source heat pumps on the GreenStar project. She also will support this resolution.

Ms. Champion is in agreement with Ms. Dawson regarding the system and the process but the reality is that this Legislature has no power over the DEC or the Power Plant. She said this resolution is a statement and a nasty letter. She believes it is part of the job of the Legislature to make statements like this and believes it is urgent.

Ms. Koreman stated she is in agreement with Ms. Champion. She spoke of other “nasty letters”, or resolutions, endorsed by the Legislature in the past. She believes the resolution represents the County's opinion and the State reacts appropriately to that and are waiting to hear from the County.

Ms. Kelles stated the resolution is not breaking the rules but rather making a political statement. It is also a statement from the community.

Ms. Dawson spoke of different situations in which the Legislature sends “nasty letters” and there are other situations that have process already in place and she believes this situation has a process in place. She chooses to operate within the legal framework set up by the State and fully supports the next resolution on the agenda. She believes if the DEC examines this appropriately and completes an EIS they will determine it to be a terrible idea. The State Legislature has not given the Tompkins County Legislature the authority to say this is a terrible idea.

Ms. Champion stated the resolution will be considered by the Legislature on November 20, 2018, at 5:30 p.m. and invited the members of the public to attend and speak at that meeting.

Ms. Kelles stated she has reviewed and thoroughly considered both resolutions. She is respectful of the resolution Ms. Dawson drafted but after hearing what her constituents support she will also be supporting this resolution.

MOVER:Anne Koreman, Member
SECONDER:David McKenna, Member
AYES:Anna Kelles, Amanda Champion, David McKenna, Anne Koreman
NAYS:Deborah Dawson
Nov 20, 2018 5:30 PM Media Tompkins County Legislature Regular Meeting

Ms. Kelles said this is not a light decision noting there will be jobs lost and a loss of income to Lansing as the transition support funds are not available unless the plant completely closes. The most effective statement the County can make is that it does not support the continuation of the power plant’s transition to natural gas. Everyone in this community needs to reduce consumption in order for the County to meet its energy goals. We are one of the most progressive counties in the State and lead in so many ways. She would be very concerned if the County could not make a commitment to renewables.

Ms. Champion offered an amendment to substitute the resolution that was accepted as friendly and became the main motion.

Mr. Sigler appreciates some of the proposed changes to the substitute resolution. As an Industrial Development Agency (IDA) member it will be difficult for him to support future projects that come before the IDA that includes natural gas noting he would have voted against GreenStar and Emmy's Organics had this been in place at that time. It is good the Town of Ulysses is putting natural gas in its facility, but suggested the action municipalities should be taking is banning the use of natural gas. He does not think it is good to use the Department of Environmental Conservation to make a statement, some people have made an investment and have reduced the use of natural gas but more have not. He referred to the power plant not coming on line until it hits a certain price point and an argument against it is support for higher taxes. This is a tax on the poor and middle class; people cannot afford solar panels on their homes and heat pumps. Although the loss of the jobs will be locally, they will be made up somewhere else. He spoke with NYSEG about subsidizing the natural gas moratorium as Lansing should not be the only entity that bares the cost. He spoke of sacrificing and of the move to these Chambers five years ago and a decision was not made at that time to convert to renewables. He will vote against anything that includes use of natural gas if this resolution is approved. There are not enough renewables to keep the lights on and that the majority of renewables comes from Niagara Falls. He disagrees with using the term fracked gas as all natural gas is fracked gas.

Mr. John thanked everyone for coming in; it is important to hear from everyone. He spoke of frustration and the County getting where it needs to go. The County’s Energy Road Map includes ideas of what can be done, but not how to get there. We are running out of time. He questioned how this decision reduces the overall production of electricity and thinks that question needs to be answered as well as where this energy will be produced. Economic development is important and if we don’t have a tax base we cannot address challenges. In order to send a strong and coherent message he thinks the resolution should include what the impact will be on the tax base, the loss of jobs, and how much investment the community will forego if this proposal does not go forward. The resolution should also address personal consumption and how we would like New York State to address solar and storage aspects as they are incredibly important. He supports the resolution but would like to see it more explicit in detail and referenced the public endorsement the Legislature has heard and to include language about emissions.

It was MOVED by Mr. John, seconded by Mrs. McBean-Clairborne, to refer the resolution to committee.

Mrs. McBean-Clairborne expressed the same concerns Mr. John raised. She is looking for stronger language in the resolution concerning transition support for employees. She does not want to oppose the resolution, but believes more information needs to be included to make it stronger.

Ms. Kelles said the information being requested would be included in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). She spoke of the short timeline and urgency to communicate this to the DEC.

Ms. Koreman agrees the time is of the essence and the DEC could be making a decision any day to accept the proposal as it is.

Ms. Champion said the resolution will never include all of the wording everyone would like it to and commented later she will offer an amendment referencing public support.

Ms. Black agrees it is time sensitive and shares many of the concerns raised but believes the benefits outweigh the concerns.

Ms. Robertson said there was a lot of good work that went into this before and after the Committee meeting, but strongly believes what matters most is the wording in the title and the timing with getting it to the DEC as soon as possible.

A voice vote on the motion to refer to Committee resulted as follows: Ayes - 6 (Legislators John, Lane, McKenna, McBean-Clairborne, Morey, and Sigler); Noes - 8 (Legislators Black, Champion, Dawson, Granison, Kelles, Klein, Koreman, and Robertson). MOTION FAILED.

Mr. Klein briefly commented that another related issue the Legislature will be discussing in the near future is the 200 forest acres the County owns. The proposal will include letting trees grow to old growth. The United Nations Climate report is scary but also said there was a report that was released a week later that offered solutions such as planting trees. He encouraged others from the public to come back in January to speak on behalf of this issue as well.

Ms. Dawson explained her position and said she supports the resolution. She understands Mr. John’s concerns, but believes the County is in a position to take the lead on this and should set an example. She referenced comments made about those who are wealthy and responded “for those who are given much, much is expected”.

Mr. Lane thanked everyone for speaking on this issue. He represents a district that is not wealthy where many use natural gas to heat their homes. The County is already on record for opposing trucked natural gas. He expressed concern for those who work at the power plant and their families and questioned where they are going to get the income they need. The transition money is only short-term and not a guarantee. He would not be opposed to limiting natural gas Countywide and believes that will happen someday. He’s not convinced this plant is no longer needed; although he will support this version of the resolution as a full EIS make sense.

Ms. Champion offered an amendment that was accepted as friendly concerning public statements in support of the resolution.

Ms. Koreman described herself as a blue collar environmentalist who does not take job loss lightly and said she is committed to helping these workers as much as possible. She agrees with Mr. Sigler that we need to look at banning new infrastructure that uses natural gas. She said the NYSEG lines have been upgraded and this plant is not needed. She spoke to affordability and environmentalists have been working to make energy efficiency an affordable option.

Ms. Black said she had some of the same concerns raised concerning jobs and affordability but said her most important job she has is to make sure her children are safe and will support the resolution.

Ms. Robertson said the Legislature has to make choices and make decisions based on looking at the big picture. She is confident the County can get the State to put the transition money in place for the plant workers. There are 140 new housing units being built in Lansing with heat pumps. IDA projects are taking advantage of the Energy Navigator to make those projects as renewable as possible. Tompkins County is doing everything it can to make this transition. Every housing project in Dryden is developed with heat pumps. She encouraged the public to speak with their municipalities and said the Energy Road Map provides scenarios but if we don’t cut gas use by one-half we cannot reach our energy goals and this project takes that movement in the opposite direction.

At this time, Mr. John offered the following amendment that was accepted as friendly:

- 5th Resolved to read: “RESOLVED, further, That the Tompkins County Legislature fully supports that portion of the proposal that would install solar and storage capacity and urges Governor Cuomo to prioritize and provide needed support to assist Cayuga’s conversion to renewable energy and storage upon retirement of all fossil-fuel power generation at their site,”.

It was MOVED by Mr. John, seconded by Mr. Lane, to amend the resolution and add the following as the second Whereas: “WHEREAS, the Tompkins County Legislature recognizes that the project would represent a significant investment in the community with a corresponding impact on the tax base and job preservation, and”. A voice vote resulted as follows on the amendment: Ayes - 12, Noes - 2 (Legislators Dawson and Robertson). AMENDMENT CARRIED.

Mr. John offered the following amendment that was also accepted as friendly:

- Delete 8th Whereas: “WHEREAS, from July 2016 - June 2018 carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from Unit 2 averaged 52,417 tons per year, and according to Cayuga’s application, if conversion to gas were approved, CO2 emissions would average 596,099 tons per year - an 11-fold increase over the past 2 years, and”.

This resolution was adopted by a roll call vote.

MOVER:Anna Kelles, Member
SECONDER:Anne Koreman, Member
AYES:Shawna Black, Amanda Champion, Deborah Dawson, Henry Granison, Rich John, Anna Kelles, Daniel Klein, Anne Koreman, Michael Lane, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, David McKenna, Martha Robertson
NAYS:Glenn Morey, Michael Sigler