Claire Muller, lead community organizer at Toxics Action Center, speaks at a special meeting at the Lansing Town Hall on May 29.

Claire Muller, lead community organizer at Toxics Action Center, speaks at a special meeting at the Lansing Town Hall on May 29. 

 

With the recent news of the Cayuga Power Plant’s plan to convert to a data center, Lisa Marshall, a community organizer for Mothers Out Front NY, assembled a special meeting with members of the community at the Lansing Town Hall on May 29 to discuss what the community’s course of action to support the power plant’s decision.

Claire Muller, the lead community organizer at Toxics Action Center, was the special guest speaker at the meeting. Muller was a part of a committee comprised of local Latinx residents called Neighbor to Neighbor in Holyoke, MA, that fought to decommission the town’s coal plant and convert it into a solar farm. She gave a presentation that outlined what took place and how the committee was able to successfully pressure the plant to close down, and then answered questions from audience members regarding the committee’s project.

Muller also offered her opinion on what a local task force should do to help the power plant to make that transition to a data center.

“I think my short answer is really in any sort of big development it’s good practice for a community to do its due diligence – to read the documents, to ask the questions,” Muller said. “Say, ‘What’s the downside of this? Could you do it slightly differently? Could you put in a revision for local hiring?’ … Most folks are already doing a lot, so having a transition task force can be really helpful to give that added layer of oversight and due diligence.”

Members of the Town Board as well as members of multiple local renewable energy advocacy organizations were in attendance to discuss how the community could help make the power plant’s plan a reality. No members of the power plant were in attendance, so Town Supervisor Edward LaVigne, who has been in contact with members of the plant, spoke on behalf of the power plant to the best of his abilities.

LaVigne said cumulatively over the past decade the power plant has lost over $900 million in assessed value, which has resulted in a loss of about two-thirds of the town’s tax revenue over that time.

“The situation is that we are at the point where they are willing to listen,” LaVigne said. “They already started to talk with the New York Power Authority about their allocation now for the power. … What we can do as a group [is] for once we can all agree on something and not fight over everything, and maybe move forward together because if the tax base goes up, the other concern I have is the schools. Schools are one of our busiest and best businesses we have. And if the schools tend to go down, we’re going to lose everything that’s drawn here.”

He said 71 percent of the housing in the Village of Lansing is rentals, and the decrease in the value of the power plant could potentially cause the rental housing economy to dip, causing a large number of residents to move away.

“All these things come to play, but what can we do as a group is we can find ways to initiate as the governor in Albany talks to the power company to get the allocation of the power,” he said.

The proposed site for the data center would hold 100 megawatts and would be a $100 million capital investment. According to information presented to the Town Board, applications have been sent to Empire State Development for capital funding to assist with the re-use of electrical equipment, and to the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to receive a 125 megawatt renewable energy allocation. If the NYPA cannot offer a fair and reasonable power allocation, and deactivates and closes the coal plants at the site, there will be noticeable, negative economic impacts on the surrounding communities. For instance, 600 union construction and 96 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) jobs will be lost. Four million dollars in revenue would be lost for taxing jurisdictions, affecting the financial welfare of local school districts, residents and businesses.

Next month, the power plant will be presenting its plan to the public. LaVigne urged the public to keep an open mind when the plant presents its plan.

“The bottom line is: what can we do,” he said. “When we see have the presentation in another month, don’t see them as adversaries; see them as partners.”

Muller said the committee in Holyoke did not see the power plant as an adversary, and encouraged the public to do the same.

“The way the city needed to engage with them is as a partner,” she said. “They’re a corporate neighbor, right? … I hope they do everything right by you guys.”

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