Essential Information about repowering Cayuga Power Plant hidden from Public.
Press conference Monday, August12, 2013. Ithaca Town Hall.
Elected officials and community members gathered today to voice concern that heavy redaction of critical environmental data has deprived the public of the information they need to make an informed decision about repowering the Cayuga Operating Plant.
“How will the capital cost to reconfigure the Cayuga Operating Plant affect NYSEG ratepayers, and how does it compare to the costs of upgrading the transmission lines?” asked Don Barber, supervisor for the Town of Caroline and member of the Tompkins County Area Development board. “What assumptions were used in the economic analysis, and what are the risks to ratepayers when the price of gas goes up? What properties and ecosystems will be impacted by the new gas pipeline?”
Answers to these essential questions are nowhere to be found in the heavily redacted public documents filed with the Public Service Commission by NYSEG and Cayuga Operating Plant. The documents, posted on the PSC website, serve as background information for the public comment period which closes August 16.
“The Public Service Commission has a legal obligation to make financial and environmental information available to the public, or failing that, needs to provide justification for why the redactions are necessary,” says Helen Slottje, Esq., managing attorney for the Community Environmental Defense Council.
Slottje and others called on the PSC to provide un-redacted financial and environmental information and to extend the public comment period so that the public has adequate opportunity to review and respond to additional information.
Cost increases brought about by the conversion or upgrades could have significant impacts on area businesses as well as people with lower or fixed incomes.
“The costs for these plans seem to be a carefully guarded secret,” says Joe Wilson, a retired Dryden resident and retiree on a fixed income. Wilson is disturbed by the lack of publicly available information on how much the proposed changes will cost NYSEG customers like himself.
Using information obtained from sources other than the PSC website, Wilson concludes that the total cost for converting the Cayuga Power Plant to burn gas would be over $500 million dollars. His calculations include $90 million for constructing a new gas pipeline, $370 million for installing a combined-cycle gas-fired generator, and $30 million per year for 3-4 years to keep the old coal burning plant running while the new gas fired one is being built.
According to the PSC, the plant is needed for only 500 hours of operation per year, to provide “service reliability” when demand is at peak, as occurs on very hot summer days.
“A half billion dollars for 500 hours of operation preyer is a huge expense to foist on customers, especially people like me with a fixed income,” Wilson exclaims. “It makes me wonder if they are redacting the economic information to keep this enormous expense hidden.
Frank Proto, (R) Tompkins County Legislator representing Towns of Caroline, Danby and Ithaca, shares Wilson’s concern about the secrecy. “Undoubtedly, the rate-payers will be bearing -if not all- a substantial part of any cost associated with any of the alternatives. To not provide information about the cost to rate-payers seems to me to be a real poke in the eye to the public! How can any informed, intelligent discussion take please without knowing the full cost impacts on which to base that discussion? At a time when the buzzword is transparency, the very agency appointed to protect the public seems to be leading the charge against that very body!”
Economic information is not the only information unavailable to the public. Also redacted or missing is information about the gas pipeline that would be built to bring fuel to the converted plant.
“Cayuga Operating Plant spokespeople have made vague statements such as “it will go into Ellis Hollow, or maybe we will run it through Auburn’. The answer that has been repeated most often is that ‘the pipeline will run 18 miles into Freeville, and meet the Dominion line there.’ Where exactly? Will there be issues of eminent domain? A new compressor station somewhere along the pipeline’s path? No answers are provided,” says Marie McRae, a concerned Dryden resident. Both Ellis Hollow and Freeville are located in the Town of Dryden.
Calling the PSC’s process shortsighted as well as secretive, Barber suggests the process has been flawed from the beginning, since the PSC did not first explore options to reduce demand by requiring Nucor Steel, the rgion’s largest energy consumer, to reduce consumption during peak periods in exchange for the power subsidies they receive. Nor did the PSC solicit proposals to reposer with renewables.
“The State has serious decisions to make right now that will affect the economy and the environment both in the short and long term. Until we have that discussion we’re just kicking the can down the road. Sadly, that can contain our children’s future.”
Statements read or referenced at the press conference
August 12, 2013
Statement of Don Barber,
Supervisor, Town of Caroline
Thomas Jefferson said “Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.” The PSC handling of Case # 12-E-0577 is the antithesis of TJ’s assertion. The terms that comes to my mind are Secrecy and Shortsighted.
- Redactions are pervasive in the released documents from both NYSEG and Cayuga Power Plant. Critical economic and environmental data that the public needs to make an informed judgment has been removed. The legal requirement to justify these redactions has been ignored.
- The documents don’t address the high variability of natural gas prices which in recent years have gone from an all-time high to currently ¼ that price. What assumptions were used in the economic analysis? What are the risks to the rate payers when the price of this volatile commodity takes off again?
- What properties and eco-systems will be impacted by this new gas pipeline?
- How will the capital cost to reconfigure Cayuga Plant affect the rate payers? How does the cost to repower compare to the cost to upgrade the grid? Does authorizing this project keep electric rates “just and reasonable” as is required of the PSC?
100 years ago, we didn’t have centralized energy production, we were burning little fossil fuel and our climate was much different (Cayuga Lake and Beebe Lake froze over every winter). Since then we have created an atmosphere that traps heat from the sun resulting in hotter temperatures, expanding deserts, raging forest fires, rising seas, and vanishing ice packs.
The discussion around this power plant and all power plants should begin with: “Are they sustainable or even practical given the rapid climate change we are experiencing?” As a State we have serious decisions to make right now that will affect the economy and the environment both in the short and long term. Until we have that discussion and deliberation, we’re just kicking the can down the road. Sadly that can contains our children’s future.
The Public Service Commission should be exploring renewable alternatives, not limiting the repowering options to replacing one global warming fossil fuel with another one.
The PSC should look for solutions that reduce energy consumption. They should use their authority to broker a demand-response compact with Nucor Steel so that in trade for the energy subsidies Nucor receives, they agree to reduce their energy consumption during the 500 hours of peak demand each year.
I ask the PSC to
- End the secrecy and follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice and engage the public in solving our energy problems
- Release un-redacted documents.
- Then extend comment period to allow the public to consider the range of options with the information they deserve.
- Look to options to reduce energy consumption first before burdening the ratepayer with costly upgrades.
- If repowering is necessary, solicit proposals for renewable energy solutions to provide the power that is needed.
August 12, 2013
Statement of Marie McRae
My name is Marie McRae. I am a resident of Dryden and a NYSE&G electric rate payer. I consider the process that the NY Public Service Commission is following to reach a decision on the future of the Cayuga power plant to be seriously flawed. By redacting important parts of their proposal, Cayuga Operating Company is keeping the public in the dark. At the same time, the PSC is asking us to make comment on the merits of the choices they have offered. A false choice with little information.
For instance, I know that any plan to burn fossil gas to generate 300 Mega watts of electricity, even if it is only generated for 500 hours a year as projected, would require construction of a new gas pipeline to deliver the fuel.
But when we ask where the pipeline will go, or when we read the overly redacted proposal there are no answers. Cayuga Operating Company spokespeople have made vague statements such as it will go into Ellis Hollow, or maybe we will run it to Auburn. The answer that has been spoken most often goes something like this: the pipeline will run 18 miles into Freeville, and meet the Dominion line there.
Where exactly will it meet the Dominion line? We are told that the new pipeline will follow current NYSE&G electric line rights of way. Those rights of way will have to be widened of course. By how much? No one is talking. By eminent domain? No one has the answer for us. Will there be a new compressor station creating noise and pollution 24 hours a day in Freeville? No answer. How much more will you and I pay every month on our electric bill? No answer.
The citizens of Lansing, Dryden, and the rest of Tompkins County do not have enough information. The proposal is redacted. The spoken answers are vague at best. The only thing certain right now is that we, and a lot of other electric customers in NY, will be paying for it. Paying hundreds of millions of dollars to change over the plant and construct a pipeline to fuel a privately owned power generation plant that will have its output utilized only five percent of the year. A plant whose electricity NYSE&G says publicly, would not be needed after transmission lines are upgraded.
I call on the PSC to provide un-redacted documents that include the route of the pipeline and the costs of the plans so that the public can make an informed decision. Further, I ask for an extension of the public comment period so that there is adequate opportunity to review the new information.
Content for the tab Nested 1-3
August 12, 2013
Statement of Frank Proto
Tompkins County Legislator;
District 7; Towns of Caroline, Danby, & Ithaca
August 12, 2013
I’m sorry that, due to a conflict, I am unable to attend this important and timely event, but I would like to weigh in regarding its process.
Though the decision regarding which alternative the Public Service Commission will advance is still undecided, I must say that the opportunity for public comment seems to be severely flawed. Undoubtedly, the rate-payers will be bearing – if not all – a substantial part of any cost associated with any of the alternatives. To not provide information about the cost to the ratepayer - whether it is missing or redacted from the public documents – seems to me to be a real poke in the eye to the public! How can any informed, intelligent discussion take place without knowing the full cost impacts on which to base that discussion? Even if there’s disagreement, those of us representing the constituency affected by this issue can at least then believe that we too have done our job. Is there a reason we cannot know this material? At a time when the buzzword is transparency, the very agency appointed to protect the public seems to be leading the charge against that very body!!
August 12, 2013
Statement by Helen Slottje
Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.
Comments on PSC Case 12-E-0577: Proceeding on Motion of the Commission to Examine Repowering Alternatives to Utility Transmission Reinforcements
We are here today because Governor Cuomo acting through his five hand-picked PSC Commissioners has presented us – NYSEG retail ratepayers – with a classic false choice dodge: transmission upgrades or repowering of the Cayuga power plant with natural gas. In focusing the public’s attention on this false choice, the Governor is attempting to deflect public attention from the real issue here: how much is this new fossil fuel power plant going to cost and why are we even considering construction of a financially noncompetitive “out of market” fossil fuel power plant operated for profit by private institutional investors? And more importantly, why do the power plant operators who are asking the public to pay for the construction of a new power plant at least tell us what the new plant is expected to cost? And why won’t the PSC insist that the power plant operators disclose the proposed location of their new methane gas pipeline – particularly since the public is going to be paying for the pipeline?
These are among the many failures of this PSC proceeding and they must be addressed and answered in order to determine the most appropriate plan before they force NYSEG ratepayers to go out of pocket for hundreds of million of dollars, perhaps even half abbillion dollars, in costs.
The PSC has a legal obligation to make financial and environmental information available to the public. Decisions like this are too important and impose too high a burden on the ratepayers to be made behind closed doors and with purposeful exclusion of full public disclosure.
August 12, 2013
Statement of Joe Wilson
I am Joe Wilson, a NYSEG customer. I live with my wife in Dryden – we are both retired and live on a fixed income.
I am here today because I am disturbed by the lack of publicly available information on how much the option to gassify Cayuga Power Plant will cost me as a NYSEG customer, now and as gas prices go up. I have looked at the documents submitted by Cayuga Operating Company to the Public Service Commission and found that all of the financial information has been redacted; same for the NYSEG plan – all costs are hidden from public view.
In an effort to find answers about the cost to consumers, I did my own research, and the information I found is shocking: the cost to convert the Cayuga Operating Company to burn gas instead of coal could be more than a half billion dollars, as follows: $90 million for constructing a new gas pipeline, $370 million for installing a combined-cycle gas-fired generator, and $30 million per year for 3-4 years to keep the old coal burning plant running while the new gas fired one is being built. What’s more- the power plant is only needed to generate power for 500 hours per year to meet “service reliability” needs during time of peak electric consumption such as very hot summer days.
A half billion dollars for 500 hours of operation per year is a huge expense to foist on ratepayers, especially on people like me with a fixed income. No doubt there will be huge cost impacts to businesses too. It makes me wonder if they have redacted the economic information to keep this enormous expense hidden from the public.
I call on the PSC to provide un-redacted information on the costs of both the Cayuga Operating Company’s plan and the NYSEG plan to upgrade the transmission lines so that the public can make an informed decision about which plan they support. Further, I ask for an extension of the public comment period so that there is adequate opportunity to review the un-redacted information.
To: Editorial Board Editors and Writers
From: Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign
RE: Solutions for retiring the Dunkirk and Cayuga coal-fired power plants
Date: August 7, 2013
New York is moving beyond coal. In the past 18 months, four of the six remaining coal plants in the state have announced plans to retire or go offline indefinitely. Now the state’s leaders and energy regulators face important decisions about how to maintain electricity reliability, manage costs, mitigate climate disruption and provide the workers and communities impacted by coal plant retirements with a responsible path to economic recovery.
These issues are most urgent in Upstate where the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) is investigating how to move beyond the outdated and uneconomical Dunkirk and Cayuga coal-fired power plants. The PSC will decide in the coming weeks how much this transition will cost electricity customers and whether or not the state is going to ramp up on natural gas or move toward more cost-effective energy solutions. These plants, which are currently required to remain operational in case they’re needed to supply a small amount of power to the region, are kept on life support by subsidies and surcharges from more than two million National Grid and NYSEG electricity customers statewide.
In January, the PSC opened a public proceeding to investigate two options for retiring the plants – either, upgrade transmission lines to more effectively move power across the state or convert the plants to natural gas. National Grid and NYSEG customers will be on the hook to help subsidize either option. According to proposals filed by the companies involved, converting to gas could cost electricity customers hundreds of millions of dollars, while transmission upgrades come in at less than one-fifth of the cost with estimates as low as $25 million. Further, converting to gas is not guaranteed to solve all the transmission issues, so customers could still be responsible for paying for future upgrades. Transmission upgrades now are the most affordable and reliable long-term option for families and businesses who will benefit from greater energy security and lower monthly bills.
Unfortunately, the PSC failed to investigate other solutions such as demand response, a cost-effective energy management program that cuts electricity demand during peak periods. Expert analysis showed this could likely reduce energy demand enough to retire at least one of the two units at the Cayuga plant at a lower cost than the options currently being debated[i].
More Natural Gas Puts Electricity Customers at Risk
Natural gas has notoriously volatile prices that can lead to spiking electricity bills. If the industry is successful in its plans to export natural gas overseas, it will drive domestic prices up even further. Burning more natural gas also contributes to climate disruption, putting New Yorkers at greater risk from costly and dangerous extreme weather events like superstorms, heat waves and droughts. . Locking the state into an over-reliance on this risky fuel could mean big problems for families and businesses when the cost of gas rises and causes their monthly bills to spike. Alternately, building renewable energy like wind and solar can lock-in affordable, long-term prices that families and businesses can count on.
New York should pave the way toward a clean, renewable energy future. Investment in wind, solar, efficiency and better energy management will mean reliable long-term electricity costs, healthier communities, more jobs and new manufacturing opportunities.
Caring for Communities as Coal is Retired
As the state moves away from coal, it’s critical that Governor Cuomo takes action to support the communities and workers impacted by coal plant retirements. There are many ways to help ensure these communities receive the critical funds, job opportunities and support they need to protect hard-working families without building unnecessary and expensive new plants.
Possible ways Governor Cuomo could address this include:
- New York could provide affected workers with workforce development and training programs through NYSERDA’s Energy, Education and Workforce Development programs[ii].
- New York could provide short-term community transition assistance to support communities as they move away from their current electricity customer-funded PILOT payments. These funds could come from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
- Community transition and job retraining funding could be established by Governor Cuomo’s successful New York Regional Economic Development Councils. The Regional Economic Development Councils have been awarded over $1.5 billion over the last two years for job creation programs and community development[iii].
Converting these outdated plants from one dirty fuel to another will mean higher costs for families and businesses while missing out on opportunities to invest in a clean, renewable energy future. Instead, transmission upgrades will mean lower bills and reliable power while the state moves toward building a more prosperous renewable energy economy.
We urge you editorialize in favor of transmission upgrades, which are the most affordable and reliable long-term option to power our homes and businesses.
Expert analysis and formal comments to the PSC are available upon request. For more information, contact Kim Teplitzky at 412-802-6161 or email@example.com
[i] Review of Cayuga Repowering Options, Pinewood Power Solutions, LLS, Expert Comments on PSC Docket 12-E-0577
Response to Case # 12‐E‐0577
Proposal to Repower the Cayuga Power Plant with Natural Gas
From the League of Women Voters of Tompkins County
The League of Women Voters of Tompkins County is writing to respond to the repowering proposal for the Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing, New York (Case # 12‐E‐0577). We understand that the key issue of concern is that of the reliability of power during peak periods. We are seriously concerned about the proposal to repower the plant with natural gas in order to address this problem and believe that the plans submitted by NYSEG and the Sierra Club provide a much better solution.
The LWVTC believes that decisions about energy supplies in New York State should be made by thinking about the long‐range preservation of the environment and the health and well‐being of the residents. The national League has positions supporting the promotion of an environment beneficial to life through the protection and wise management of natural resources in the public interest. Thus, the LWVUS supports:
• the environmentally sound use of energy resources, with consideration of the entire cycle of energy production;
• predominant reliance on renewable resources;
• policies to reduce energy demand and minimize the need for new generating capacity through techniques such as marginal cost or peak‐load pricing or demand‐management programs;
Governor Cuomo has proposed a plan called the New York State Energy Highway Blueprint. This blueprint calls for a significant portion of 5.7 billion dollars to be invested in the development of renewable energy resources while only a fraction of another 500 million is for repowering existing plants. The decision about the future of the Cayuga Power Plant would seem to be an ideal time to move ahead on this highway and see if it is possible to turn the plant into a showcase for what we can do with regard to renewable energy resources in New York State instead of making a further investment in dependence on fossil fuels.
We want to bring to your attention the recent work by Professors Jacobson of Stanford University, Professors Howarth and Ingraffea of Cornell University, economist Janette Barth, and others on the viability of moving NYS totally to renewable energy resources by 2050. This work is titled “Examining the Feasibility of Converting New York State’s All‐purpose Energy Infrastructure To One Using Wind, Water, and Sunlight”, to be found in Energy Policy 57 (2013) 585‐601 (located at www.elsevier.com/locate/enpol). The study offers meaningful suggestions for solutions to energy issues and ways to implement the Energy Highway.
The Sierra Club has submitted to the PSC for this case a carefully researched analysis and a proposal for a solution to the issue of ensuring a reliable source of power to the region, including the steel plant in Auburn, without repowering the Cayuga Plant. It has done this study with the assistance of two highly qualified energy consultants. The paper they have submitted contains a thorough and deep analysis of the two competing proposals before the PSC. There are some gaps in the cost analysis due to the fact that key information was redacted by the PSC, but they have been able to produce a clear picture of the issues involved. Their proposal has the following positive features and supports the proposal made by NYSEG to upgrade the electric grid instead of converting the plant to using natural gas:
1. If New York State is to move to renewable energy resources in the future, the electrical grid will require major upgrades. The addition of a new transmission line and the upgrade of an old one between NYSEG’s State Street Substation and National Grid’s Elbridge Substation, as proposed by NYSEG, would be a start in the right direction. In the long run a smart grid will be needed, but, in general, we will need a grid that is designed to easily move power from one source to another to meet demand.
2. The 25 MW demand‐response measures recommended in this proposal could be key to reducing the peak demands. With peak demands being better managed, the need for high capacity plants to be ready for quick start‐ups could be dramatically reduced.
3. NYSEG has stated in its proposal that “The company’s risk assessment demonstrates that the transmission option would have a lower risk level for ratepayers than the Cayuga repowering options.” The local ratepayers are already being assessed money to cover the 30 million dollar subsidy for the plant as part of its one‐year contract with NYSEG. When we look to the future we need to keep the ratepayers in mind and not burden them with the risk of unnecessarily high costs for electricity in the future.
In addition to the proposal to upgrade the grid, the Sierra Club’s analysis recommends using one of the coal‐run units at the Cayuga Plant until the transmission line upgrade is completed in 2017. This, together with the implementation of demand‐response measures, would solve the short‐term reliability issues that are at the center of the debate without committing the state to future heavy use of fossil fuels.
The statement submitted to the PSC by the Cayuga Plant contains a proposal to convert the Cayuga Power Plant from coal to natural gas in order to produce 150 ‐ 300 MW of electricity. Four options are presented. These four options consist of different ways in which the repowering can be done. The most efficient of these options is estimated to cost 370 million dollars. All will require the construction of a new pipeline that would bring natural gas to the plant.
LWVTC is seriously concerned about this proposal for repowering the plant. A conversion of the plant to natural gas could contribute to a delay in the move to renewable resources while at the same time possibly adding to the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the transmission upgrade will likely be needed in the future whether or not the Cayuga Plant continues to exist.
Specifically, we are concerned about the following problems associated with a conversion of the plant to natural gas:
1. The conversion of this plant to run on natural gas will further our commitment to the use of fossil fuels.
2. The cost of the most efficient system is estimated at 370 million dollars. This cost will inevitably be added to the bills of local ratepayers, some of whom will find this increase to be a hardship. In addition, once this large amount is spent on the conversion, there will be little incentive to switch from the use of natural gas to renewable energy resources at the plant in the near future. The other three options are less expensive but also less efficient.
3. It is unclear what the future cost of natural gas will be. At the present time the price in the United States is quite low. But the current drive to liquefy the gas and ship the LNG abroad where the price is considerably higher will inevitably lead to increased prices domestically. Estimates of the future price vary and will depend on global markets as well as the fact that it is unclear how accurate the industry estimates are concerning the amount of natural gas that can be extracted economically here and abroad.
4. The conversion will require the building of an 18 mile pipeline from the Dominion pipeline in Freeville to the plant. We understand that another possible route would run from Auburn to the plant. The addition of this pipeline to the infrastructure will be costly to ratepayers as well as disruptive to residents. It is unclear whose property will be affected, whether eminent domain will be used, and what effect it will have on those property values.
5. New York State Electric and Gas has stated that the conversion of this plant will not be needed if their transmission lines are upgraded. They have stated that there is currently a surplus in the supply of electricity within the state and the problem of reliability is caused instead by transmission issues.
It would seem that repowering with natural gas is not a good solution. Most importantly, it is like driving the wrong way on Cuomo’s highway. It will result in a significant increase in the development of the gas infrastructure, including pipelines and turbines. The result is likely to be a stronger commercial opposition to the use of renewable energy resources and a slower transition to a future without fossil fuels.
The LWV of Tompkins County requests that the PSC ask whether it has presented an unnecessarily limited choice, i.e. the plant must be repowered with natural gas or the transmission lines must be upgraded. We urge the PSC to give serious consideration to a third option, namely, upgrading the transmission lines in the manner recommended by the Sierra Club study while beginning to analyze the possible conversion of the Cayuga Plant to a major source of clean, renewable energy. This option would fit in naturally with the Energy Highway plan outlined by Governor Cuomo and could be a showcase for the future of New York State. At the same time, it would help support the tax base in the Town of Lansing and bring jobs to the region.
There is much discussion going on informally in this region about the possibility of using a combination of biomass, solar panels and pump hydro‐storage at the plant to produce a significant amount of electricity. These kinds of options need to be looked at with care if we are to move to a new energy future. With this goal in mind, we recommend that the PSC and Governor Cuomo do a careful study of the recent work by Professors Jacobson and others that we refer to above.
It is urgent that we find ways to dramatically reduce and eventually eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels. We are concerned that a conversion of the Cayuga Plant to natural gas may move us in the wrong direction and that other options that are better for the long term are not being considered.
With regard to the two options being debated at this time, namely, repowering the Cayuga Plant with natural gas or upgrading the transmission lines, we believe that the transmission upgrade is the far better choice. This upgrade will be a better investment for both the long term and the short term. The use of one unit of the Cayuga Plant coupled with a system of demand‐response as proposed by the Sierra Club provides a practical and cost‐efficient way to respond to the need for a reliable source of energy.
Kay Sharp, President, League of Women Voters of Tompkins County
Catherine Wagner, Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, LWVTC
The Essential Information about repowering Cayuga Power Plant hidden from Public by Cris McConkey, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.