Our staff and Board of Directors have followed the debate around the repowering of the Cayuga Power Plant and filed the following comment with the Public Service Commission on August 16:

Sustainable Tompkins is a local citizen-based nonprofit organization working to create a more just and sustainable community.  We are local leaders in protecting our climate and supporting the transition to clean energy through programs such as our Finger Lakes Climate Fund, Finger Lakes Energy Challenge, and the Climate Smart & Climate Ready conference.

Cayuga Power Plant in Town of Lansing. Photo by Bill Hecht

Cayuga Power Plant in Town of Lansing. Photo by Bill Hecht

First, we want to note our support for the people of Lansing as they struggle with the economic impacts of having relied upon the coal plant to support many of their schools’ programs.  Certainly the State should be increasing their school aid and providing the promised Community Support Fund to help local taxpayers deal with the closing of outdated coal power plants.

Second, we add our voices to those protesting the limited scope of the PSC proceedings.  The proposals offered thus far present a false and narrow choice and an incomplete analysis of the full costs and risks that Lansing residents and regional ratepayers are facing.  We support the proposals by Martha Robertson and several others who are calling for a feasibility study of a range of renewable energy sources that could be combined at the Cayuga facility in order to wean ourselves off all fossil fuels.  We also support the idea that if public funds are used to build a new array of generating facilities based on renewables (whatever combinations of biomass, waste, solar, and stored hydro that might be) that the public become an owner and share in the profits.

Lastly, we strongly urge the PSC (and every citizen debating this issue) to look at the entire cost of each proposal over the long run.  We have to factor in the immense costs to public health and our economy from the environmental damage caused by extreme methods of fossil carbon extraction.  No analysis is complete without looking at all the costs as well as the disparities between who benefits and who suffers from our choices.

And we must factor in the cost of climate disruption.  Last April, Sustainable Tompkins coordinated a regional conference on climate impacts on our region, which featured the far-sighted and creative local government efforts across upstate NY to both reduce carbon emissions and prepare for unavoidable impacts.

One of our featured speakers was Lansing resident Dave Ferris of Wood Insurance.  You can watch the video of Dave’s talk from the Climate Smart & Climate Ready website.  He speaks to the plain truth of the changes already underway in the insurance industry in the form of higher premiums and deductibles and lots of exclusions for coverage of business and residential losses from extreme weather.  Climate disruption is expensive and growing more so every year.  We have a shared responsibility to fully understand ALL the costs along with the distribution of positive and negative impacts from further investment in fossil carbon energy sources.

We support a solution that helps Lansing make a transition to a more diversified tax base and robust local economy without creating large environmental, public health, and climate disruption costs that must be borne by everyone now and in the future.  We have a healthy trend in our local economy around creating new jobs in clean energy and local food.  We would like to see Lansing receive funding to diversify and localize their economy so that they are less vulnerable to decisions made by the coal plant’s bondholders.

We would also like to see if a case can be made for converting the Cayuga plant to a mix of renewables to take advantage of existing infrastructure and create a new mix of local jobs with fewer environmental and climate costs than the current proposals. If coal has to end up remaining in the mix at first, we support setting up a process to phase it out over as short a time period as possible to be replaced by renewables.

Most people want a sustainable future and long, healthy lives.  In our complex world, we need to learn to work together and ask “and then what happens?” if we are going to chart a path that brings both justice and shared prosperity to our community.  We have to move beyond ratepayer vs. taxpayer debates and consider the entire environmental, social and economic systems under review.