According to a report from Tompkins County Legislator Michael Sigler, the Cayuga Power Plant will be closing down next year. The power plant is planning on converting the plant into a data center and “becoming a significant energy user instead of producer,” according to Sigler.
The announcement was made during a Town of Lansing Board meeting on May 15. The power plant was originally planning on remaining as a power producer by switching its source of energy from coal to natural gas. According to Sigler, the plant “has seen this move coming and has a plan for the future,” that plan being converting the plant into a data center.
The power plant’s plan of converting from coal to natural gas received backlash from several members of the Lansing community, including those involved in the No Fracked Gas Cayuga campaign. Irene Weiser, a co-founder of the campaign, offered the following statement regarding the news of the power plant's decision to close and become a data center:
“The proposed plan to close the coal-fired Cayuga Power Plant and convert it into a data center rather than keep it burning with fracked gas is good news for the Town of Lansing, good news for Tompkins County, and good news for the planet. How fitting to replace this relic of the last century's dirty fossil-fuel era with today's modern technology, powered by clean renewable energy. We thank Governor Cuomo and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for keeping their promise to close coal plants by 2020 and for providing transition support to the community and the workers. We urge the New York Power Authority to provide the renewable energy that this data center seeks as long as it commits never to burn fossil fuels again. No Fracked Gas Cayuga will continue to monitor these plans closely to ensure the plant is decommissioned and the site remediated.”
Lansing Town Supervisor Edward LaVigne said the power plant is going to sign a letter of intent that will state that it has “no desire to refire the plant with natural gas, whether through a pipe, whether through trucks or anything else.”
LaVigne said the power plant plans on holding a presentation/Q&A either the second or fourth Wednesday in June about its new plan.
The proposed site for the data center would hold 100 megawatts and would be a $100 million capital investment. Somewhere between 30 and 40 full-time equivalent jobs would be created with salaries ranging between $40,000 and $60,000, along with 100 construction jobs. The construction budget would be $60 million. A 15 megawatt solar farm would also be established on 75 acres of land. There will also be potential corporations on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning between Cornell University, Ithaca College and other local higher education institutions.
LaVigne said some of the current workers at the power plant may have the opportunity to transfer over to the data center, but there is no guarantee.
“So maybe some of them get transitioned over,” he said. “Maybe some of them can retire early. I don’t know how many are there anymore.”
“I’m not going to speak for them either, but it’s a different business model than what they’re doing now. So does that mean that they’re not going to have jobs? I’m not going to say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
While the job security of the current workers at the power plant is a concern for him, LaVigne said the town would have no control over it.
“I’m going to try to help this business survive and get as much assessed value for the town and as many people as possible,” he said. “Whatever happens after that, that’s up to the business. That’s all the best we can do. But that is a concern of mine, and I have voiced that to Jerry Goodenough also.”
According to a sheet of 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 noticable, 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.
Sigler said the town is only losing value on the power plant if it is only closed down and left as it is. He said the power plant’s plan has the chance to bring in millions of dollars in assessed value back on the tax rolls.
“Right now, we keep losing value, and this would be a brand new valuable asset,” Sigler said. “It’s a hundred million dollars, new investment into the town.”
LaVigne said this plan is something the town needs to push to make a reality.
“At the end of the day, what we need from Lansing and the surrounding areas is a unified voice saying, ‘We need to have this done. That we are in favor of this, and that it seems to fit the criteria of the carbon footprint. It seems to fit the criteria of transitioning to … be more green,’” he said.