Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing

After hearing from a multitude of community residents and a public discussion among members about the collateral effects of the project, the Tompkins County Planning, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee voted Friday to urge the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to reject the Cayuga Operating Company’s proposal to convert to natural gas and urging the Governor to support the plant’s to renewable energy and energy storage.

The resolution passed by a 4-1 vote, with legislator Deborah Dawson the only member to vote against. The bill will now appear before the Tompkins County Legislature on Nov. 20 to seek final approval.

Residents from communities all across Tompkins County showed up for the public comment portion of the meeting, which last around 90 minutes. Pleas were made with the committee to support “Resolution A,” which asks for the DEC to reject the proposal outright instead of “Resolution B,” the more moderate of the two which would have asked for an environmental impact study conducted on the project as well as inform the DEC that the proposal could create one or more significant adverse environmental impact(s).

Opponents of the proposal also revived their previously voiced concerns that the proposal could be dangerous or damaging to local infrastructure since the natural gas would have to be trucked in from Pennsylvania.

Comments varied from asking the health- and safety-based questions of whether or not a truck could possibly get into an accident that could cause an explosion (the likelihood of which seems unclear) or what could happen should something malfunction at the plant. Other comments displayed a sense of worry about what kind of planet they would be leaving future generations. Many people cited the recent (and much-publicized) climate change study done by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which stated that the the impacts of climate change could rise to crisis-level as soon as 2040 if changes aren’t made to the global economy and energy usage.

Some of the speakers at the meeting also had words to say about the effects this has had on communities in Pennsylvania, where fracking has been a constant point of tension. A couple of people in attendance spoke about how escaping the effects of fracking was the reason they moved to Tompkins County and wouldn’t want to see the roots they put down tainted by the effects of natural gas.

But there were proponents of the natural gas change as well. Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler, who said that concerned people should be voicing their concerns at their town/village boards about land-use ordinances, has been a proponent of the plan since it was first introduced (though he noted his personal support for renewable energy usage). He also said that based on the results of this project, there could be plenty of backlash when it comes to getting an Environmental Impact Statement on other projects involving natural gas. Dawson, the lone dissenting vote, said that getting an environmental impact study would be the prudent way of navigating the situation and that it’s the right choice for the DEC to be making. Dawson drafted “Resolution B.”

Cornell University, as well as the City of Ithaca’s Planning Board, have seen plenty of pushback from students, residents, and environmental advocates regarding the Cornell North Campus Residential Expansion Project, which would require the use of natural gas to power the buildings in the expansion. The plant in question is more of a “peaker plant” and is used primarily during peak hours when the extra power is needed, during particularly hot days in the summer or cold days in the winter.

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