by David Giambusso, Capital Magazine
Even as Governor Andrew Cuomo was touting the proposed reform of the state’s power grid, his administration shepherded deals to rescue two aging coal-fired plants from the scrap heap and turn them into gas-burning facilities, despite the fact that utility companies said they weren’t needed at all.
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Families and businesses to pay for expensive, unnecessary plant upgrade
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 29, 2014

Contact: Kim Teplitzky, 267-307-4707,
Shannon Fisk, 215-717-4522,


Albany - Late Friday, the Sierra Club and Ratepayer and Community Intervenors, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit in the New York Supreme Court in Albany challenging a Public Service Commission (PSC) ruling that would slap $150 million in subsidies on New Yorkers’ electricity bills to repower the uneconomical Dunkirk coal plant.

The expensive bailout would result in a plant three times larger than necessary to maintain reliable operation of the region’s power grid. The plant would be allowed to burn both coal and gas, increasing unhealthy air pollution in the region and contributing to dangerous climate disruption.

“It’s not fair to make our families pay for more dirty fuels when there are better solutions available. Governor Cuomo should be helping communities and workers in the transition away from coal, not allowing companies to continue burning coal indefinitely at the expense of our families’ health,” said Lisa Dix, Senior New York Representative for the Beyond Coal Campaign.

Ratepayer advocates are concerned that the decision could start a cascade of similarly expensive proposals from the other coal plants in the state facing their own economic problems.

"We can’t afford more dangerous fossil fuel pollution or the higher bills that come with it. We need Governor Cuomo to support our communities and workers in a responsible transition away from coal and gas and toward truly renewable energy sources,” said Carol Chock, Legislator from Tompkins County and President of Ratepayer and Community Intervenors.

The owners of the Dunkirk coal plant requested authorization to mothball the uneconomical facility in 2012. However, the local utility identified a reliability need for one unit of the plant, so it was granted a temporary Reliability Support Services Agreement (RSSA), a ratepayer-funded subsidy for continued operation of that unit through June 1, 2015.

As the expiration neared, Governor Cuomo pushed the PSC to approve additional ratepayer subsidies to reopen the other three units and allow them to burn both coal and gas. This was after National Grid had already shown that a much smaller fix would solve the reliability issue. The PSC, under direction from the Governor, improperly accepted the expensive, oversized plan. They failed to stand up for the families and businesses that will be forced to foot the bill for a dirty energy plant that’s much larger than necessary.

“The PSC is supposed to protect consumers, not blindly follow Governor Cuomo’s misguided attempt to subsidize the profits of out-of-state energy companies,” saidShannon Fisk, lead counsel for Earthjustice on this case. “It’s not right to make New York’s families pay for continued dangerous pollution in their communities.”

The challenge is the latest action in more than a year of opposition from groups including the New York Business Council and Independent Power Producers of New York.

Dear Governor Cuomo and PSC Commissioners:
I oppose repowering the Cayuga Power Plant with natural gas. Instead the State should upgrade the transmission lines - a solution that will cost much less on my electric bill and is better for the environment.
Please invest in renewable energy, not in fossil fuel infrastructure.
Further, please provide economic development funds and other transition assistance to support the workers, the Lansing school district and municipalities affected by local tax losses when the plant is closed.
Thank you.
Submit comments to the Governor here
Submit comments to the Public Service Commission here

By Carol Chock and Irene Weiser

The investors in the obsolete, coal-burning Cayuga power plant are getting a pretty sweet deal at the expense of NYSEG customers. Thanks to the state, NYSEG customers will guarantee that the owners of this inefficient, money-losing facility won’t suffer operating losses for the next three years. But should they make a profit, they get to keep it.The agreement — negotiated by NYSEG and Cayuga, then approved by the state Public Service Commission — requires NYSEG customers to pay up to $154 million over the next 3.5 years ($112 million in operating costs, plus up to $42 million in capital improvements) to keep the unprofitable power plant operating.

This agreement is not a decision about whether to convert the plant to burn gas. Rather, this agreement keeps the plant burning dirty coal for the next 3.5 years to meet a “reliability need” during 500 hours per year of peak demand until a decision to convert or upgrade the transmission lines is made and implemented.

However, this reliability services agreement does not restrict Cayuga to operating during the 500 peak demand hours. They can operate every day and sell their power on the open market while NYSEG customers — not J.P. Morgan and other Cayuga bondholders — foot the bill for Cayuga’s labor, materials, local taxes, depreciation and capital improvements costs.

What’s more, Cayuga is allowed to keep the first $5 million they make in profits each year plus 50 percent of all profits thereafter; the other 50 percent is paid to NYSEG. While there will be some ratepayer reimbursement, the details about the amount and timing are not specified. With a deal like this, is it any wonder that Cayuga and NYSEG keep asking for extensions rather than reaching a decision to repower with gas or upgrade transmission lines?

NYSEG has known since 1998 that the transmission lines needed to be upgraded. During deregulation proceedings, they estimated the cost at $35 million to $40 million and promised upgrades within the next 10 years. Had they kept that promise, there would not be reliability problems today and Cayuga would be able to retire at no cost to ratepayers.

Instead, 15 years later, NYSEG finally held the first public hearing about the proposed transmission upgrades this past December. They say it will take two to three years to complete the work, which is needed whether or not the Cayuga plant is converted to burn gas. The estimated cost for the upgrade is now $55 million, plus the $154 million in the reliability services agreement.The promise of deregulation was that by separating electricity generation from transmission, market competition would be increased such that industry would hold itself accountable and customers would benefit from lower costs.

Yet now, when market competition has rendered a 55-year-old power plant unprofitable, NYSEG customers are required to pay — on top of their regular electric bill — an additional $154 million over the next 3.5 years to keep the lights on at the Cayuga plant, while Cayuga investors pocket the profits and NYSEG finally begins the work it should have finished years ago. No wonder New York’s electric rates are the second highest in the nation.

Chock is a Tompkins County legislator; Weiser is a council member in the Town of Caroline. Together, they lead the Ratepayers and Community Intervenors group:
ALBANY, NY —  Following an announcement Sunday from Governor Andrew Cuomo, a group of ratepayers, elected officials and environmental groups are filing a lawsuit in state Supreme Court demanding access to documents related to backroom deals over the fate of a pair of controversial power plants: the Dunkirk plant in Chautauqua County and the Cayuga plant in Tompkins County.

On Sunday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $650 million backroom deal to convert the uneconomic coal plant in Dunkirk to natural gas—foregoing a far cheaper and cleaner option to invest in transmission line upgrades that would make New York’s electric grid more efficient and better able to accommodate renewable energy.

The Public Service Commission—the agency charged with reviewing the conversion proposal for the Dunkirk and Cayuga plants—has yet to receive a final written proposal from plant operators, let alone review it, accept public comment, or issue a decision. Moreover, critical documents related to the conversion plans have been withheld from the public, despite repeated requests from the groups involved in the lawsuit announced today.

"The Governor’s announcement that a deal has been made before the proposal has even been written and reviewed by the Public Service Commission demonstrates a flagrant abuse of authority, and is the latest example of the flawed public process that our lawsuit aims to challenge said Tompkins County Legislator Carol Chock. “Converting these plants to natural gas would lock the region into continued use of fossil fuels and could hike electricity bills for people and businesses across a 20-county region in western and central New York.”

The groups are suing PSC for access to documents believed to detail the environmental impacts and rate hikes associated with the conversion of the Dunkirk and Cayuga plants—including records of meetings between PSC staff and plant operators that led to the $650 million Dunkirk plant deal.

Chock, along with Town of Caroline councilmember Irene Weiser, are representatives of Ratepayer and Community Intervenors—a group of ratepayers and elected and public officials from an eight-county region. The group, along with Citizens Campaign for the Environment is filing the lawsuit, with help from the nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice.

“Instead of leading the way toward New York’s clean energy future, Governor Cuomo appears stuck in the past,” said Earthjustice Attorney Christopher Amato. “The decision-making process surrounding these fossil fuel plants has been characterized by secrecy and backroom dealing. Even as the Governor pronounced this project a done deal, the public has yet to see basic information about the rate hikes and the environmental impacts associated with this massive fossil fuel investment.”

The cost of converting the two plants could reach a skyrocketing $1.5 billion—a cost that would ultimately fall to ratepayers. An alternate proposal to upgrade regional transmission lines is believed to cost under $100 million—and represents an important investment for future renewable energy projects.

“The public stands to suffer from decades more of fossil fuel addiction and the detrimental environmental impacts that go along with dirty energy, yet they are unjustly being shut out of the decision-making process,” said CCE Program & Communications Director Brian Smith. “Governor Cuomo’s mantra has been that these types of decisions must be made with all the facts. It’s unfortunate, but necessary, that those representing the public must go to court to get the facts.”

Today’s announced lawsuit appears to be the first time in more than 20 years that residential ratepayers have banded together to sue the state PSC. But it’s not the first time the agency has come under fire for backroom dealing. Earlier this year, the PSC was criticized by the Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response for locking the public out of its decision-making process.

Local elected officials, concerned ratepayers speak out in Albany
Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 384-7157,
Carol Chock, Tompkins County Legislator, (607) 227-0006,

Thursday, November 14, 2013

ALBANY, NY – Will New York State be a leader on energy issues or revert to short-sighted, reactive policies? That’s what a group of elected officials and concerned ratepayers asked Governor Andrew Cuomo and regulators at the Public Service Commission (PSC) today in a visit to the state Capitol.

At issue is a controversial, precedent-setting decision: whether to repower the uneconomic coal-burning Cayuga and Dunkirk power plants with natural gas - a plan that would lock the region into continued use of fossil fuels and hike electricity bills for people and businesses across a 20-county region in western and central New York, or take the plants offline and instead upgrade the transmission lines - a cleaner and far less expensive option.

While in Albany today, the group attended the monthly PSC meeting and delivered a letter and list of recommendations calling on the Governor to set a wise precedent by steering his PSC toward transmission line upgrades. 

“New York State is facing an important decision,” said Tompkins County Legislator Carol Chock. “As Governor Cuomo defines his new energy policy, the PSC must not miss this opportunity to start us out on the right path to protect ratepayers, the environment, and future generations.”

Chock, along with Town of Caroline councilmember Irene Weiser, are representatives of a group of elected and public officials from an eight-county region that have officially intervened in the PSC repowering proceedings to register concerns about the proposal.

The cost of repowering the two plants could be as much as $1.5 billion – an expense that would fall to ratepayers. Upgrading transmission lines would accomplish the same goal for under $100 million.

“Repowering these uneconomic plants amounts to a corporate bailout that costs ratepayers, destabilizes the competitive market and misses an opportunity to set the state on a course for a  renewable energy future,” Weiser said.

Weiser, Chock, and a busload of their constituents attended today’s PSC meeting – which could be the final meeting before a decision is reached on whether to repower the Cayuga plant. The process has been marked with a troubling lack of transparency, starting with the PSC issuing heavily redacted documents for public comment.

It’s not the first time the agency has come under fire for backroom dealing. Earlier this year, the agency was criticized by the Moreland Commission on Utility Storm Preparation and Response for locking the public out of its decision-making process.

The decision comes amidst an increasing number of proposals before the state requiring investment in outdated fossil fuels and related infrastructure-- including the repowering of a coal-fired power plant in the Hudson Valley, a host of natural gas pipelines, and a controversial gas storage proposal in the Finger Lakes.

“In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Governor Cuomo spoke out swiftly and strongly about the need to combat climate change. A year later, it’s time for the deeds to match the words,” said Earthjustice attorney Christopher Amato, who is representing the group of elected officials in the repowering proceedings before PSC. “Judging from the current list of proposals before the state, it’s clear that without bold leadership from the top, New York will find itself painted into a corner and indefinitely locked into fossil fuels.”

New York’s Public Service Commission (PSC) will soon make the decision whether to repower the uneconomic coal-burning Cayuga Power Plant with natural gas, or instead upgrade the transmission lines to meet the region’s electric needs. 

Regrettably, their deliberations seem to be unreasonably weighted in favor of repowering.  At the September 19th PSC meeting, even while acknowledging that transmission upgrades were less expensive, PSC staff advised the Commissioners that “there could be a solution that would be in the interest of the ratepayers …and still accommodate repowering,” as if this is the a priori desired outcome.

As a result, the PSC has directed Cayuga Power Plant and NYSEG to submit, by October 24, “a revised proposal for the repowering of the Cayuga station that meets the reliability, economic development, and environmental benefits… at the least cost to ratepayers.”

The PSC’s directive is shortsighted and otherwise problematic.

1.  The PSC order implies that conversion to gas vs. upgrading the transmission lines are equally good outcomes as long as the cost to the ratepayer is approximately the same.

These options are not equivalent. While the price of gas as a commodity may be cheap, there are many externalized costs associated with gas drilling that make it a much more costly option. Gas drilling is costly to the health of the drilling workers, residents and municipalities where drilling occurs; to air, water and land resources on which we all depend; and to the planet in terms of global warming. In contrast, the externalized costs for transmission upgrades are minimal.

2.  The PSC order implies that the reduction in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions achieved by burning gas instead of coal is an admirable accomplishment.

There is nothing to celebrate here. Natural (methane) gas is approximately 85 times more potent than CO2 in creating a greenhouse gas effect over the critical next 20 years, and recent studies show the leakage of gas from drilling sites, pipelines and compressor stations contributes significantly to global warming. Further, while the CO2 emissions from burning gas are about half as much as burning coal, CO2 emissions from transmission upgrades are zero.  Why should we be generating any emissions at all, given that transmission upgrades alone are able to meet the region’s reliability needs? In this critical era of climate crisis, the PSC should seize every opportunity to reduce harmful emissions as much as possible.

3.  The PSC order regards the economic development opportunities from construction of a gas-burning power plant as a bonus that should tip the balance in favor of converting the power plant, rather than upgrading the transmission lines.

Let’s be clear - adding hundreds of millions of dollars to our electric bill to build a gas-burning power plant when additional power supply isn’t needed is not economic development – it’s a corporate bailout.  

Further, it keeps us tied to using fossil fuels for the foreseeable future, and inheriting the market risks as gas prices rise. 

In contrast, upgrading the transmission lines is an investment in the future.  Upgraded transmission lines are what we need to enable our grid to accommodate energy from renewable sources and distribute it more efficiently.  

The PSC should direct its attention and our money toward investment in renewable energy installations and the infrastructure that is needed to support them.  The PSC should be promoting green energy jobs as well as a sustainable future.


For Immediate Release:
October 3, 2013

Sean Sarah, Sierra Club 202 548-4589
Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice 212 845-7380
Conor Bambrick, Environmental Advocates of New York 518 462 5526 x240
Carol Chock, Tompkins County Legislator  607 227-0006

Groups Push Back Against NY PSC Support for Unnecessary, Expensive New Gas Plant
Issue Call for Transparency and Public Input in Controversial Coal to Gas Plan

Albany, NY – On Wednesday, environmental, community groups, and local elected officials requested that the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) withdraw its request for a revised proposal to repower the Cayuga coal-fired power plant with gas. Sierra Club, Earthjustice, Citizens Campaign for the Environment and Environmental Advocates filed a motion with the PSC to request more information about the process noting that the PSC has not identified areas for public participation and that the process lacks transparency.

NEWS RELEASE FOR Sept. 16, 2013

Chris Amato, Earthjustice, 212-845-7390
Carol Chock, Tomkins County Legislator, 607-227-0006
Irene Weiser, Town of Caroline councilmember, 607-435-3010

Local Elected Officials Join in Legal Proceedings Over Secretive Utility Plans

In legal filing, officials push for release of hidden information on rate-hiking repowering plan

Albany, NY – A group of local elected officials and electricity customers concerned about the secrecy surrounding a plan to repower with natural gas a pair of coal-fired power plants scheduled for retirement, are filing papers today in a proceeding before the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) demanding full access to basic documents the PSC is relying on to make its decision about the controversial projects. The elected officials represent constituents from Cayuga, Cortland, Erie, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties.

Ratepayers and Community Intervenors are elected officials, organizations, and concerned citizens who have concerns about the Cayuga and Dunkirk "repwowering" proposals being considered by New York's Public Service Commission - proposals that will have economic and environmental impacts to a 24 county region in central and western New York.  (Regions A and C on the map above)  We invite you to join our efforts.

New York’s Public Service Commission is poised to make a decision regarding the future of two 50 year-old, non-profitable, coal-burning power plants – one in central and one in western NY.  It is up to the PSC to decide whether to shut down these power plants or convert them to burn "natural" gas. The cost to convert the 2 plants could be over $500,000 million each, to be paid by residents and businesses in the power districts A and C.  The conversion to burn gas would involve building new gas pipelines as well. Neither of these plants is needed for daily power supply; they will be used for merely 600 hours per year when electric demand is at its peak.

NYSEG and National Grid, the electric suppliers for the central and western NY region, say that there is no need to convert the plants - that instead transmission line upgrades will suffice to meet the region’s energy reliability needs, at one-fifth of the cost.  The Business Council of New York, along with Sierra Club and Earthjustice, agree with proposals to upgrade the transmission lines since this option is presumed to be less costly and to have less detrimental environmental impacts

Why do we say “presumed”?  Because the documents the Public Service Commission has provided for public review are so redacted that the environmental and economic impacts are completely obscured.  

Due to our concerns about the lack of transparency in this public process, and to ensure that the PSC adheres to its mandate to protect the ratepayer and consider the full environmental impact, we have formed the “Ratepayer and Community Intervenor” group, and secured pro-bono legal representation by Earthjustice. We will soon be initiating legal action to demand unredacted information for review and analysis.
"The Ratepayer and Community Intervenors represent the interests of individual ratepayers as well as local community residents and groups who are concerned about the lack of unredacted public access to crucial documentation in this proceeding and the potential rate and environmental impacts of the repowering proposals. Participation by the Ratepayer and Community Intervenors will serve the public interest and assist in development of a complete record by advocating for unredacted public disclosure of all relevant submissions in this proceeding and by providing evaluation, analysis and input on the economic and environmental issues in this proceeding from the perspective of the ratepayers and local residents who will bear the rate and environmental impacts of the repowering proposals."