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.