ALBANY - A group of central and western New York officials and utility ratepayers presented a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office Thursday outlining their opposition to a proposal to convert an unprofitable old coal-burning power plant in Tompkins County to natural gas.
The group supports an alternate proposal to mothball the 300 megawatt Cayuga generating station and make up for the lost generating power through upgrades to the transmission grid, which would cost ratepayers less and establish needed infrastructure for renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectricity.
The proposal to convert the plant is before the utility-regulating Public Service Commission.
"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," said Tompkins County legislator Carol Chock, speaking for the Ratepayer and Community Intervenors group, which includes residents and officials from an eight-county region.
The governor's office hadn't reviewed the letter Thursday afternoon and had no immediate comment.
The group, which is represented before the Public Service Commission by the environmental group Earthjustice, views the Cayuga decision as precedent-setting as other coal-fired plants in the state consider switching to natural gas, a nationwide trend that has been fueled partly by the huge surge in supply due to advances in shale gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing.
The Public Service Commission may make a decision as early as next month. The agency will choose between a transmission upgrade proposed by New York State Electric & Gas and four options for repowering the plant with natural gas, which is cleaner-burning and currently less expensive than coal.
"We believe we can produce the power more economically, more efficiently, and way more environmentally friendly by switching to natural gas," said Jerry Goodenough, chief operating officer of Cayuga Operating Co., the plant's owner.
The PSC is also considering a similar proposal by another power producer, NRG Energy, to convert its coal-fired plant along Lake Erie in the Chautauqua County city of Dunkirk to natural gas. National Grid has made an alternate proposal to upgrade the region's transmission system and mothball the Dunkirk plan.
A group of independent power producers that operate 13 natural gas plants across upstate New York opposes converting the Dunkirk and Cayuga plants from coal to natural gas, saying there's already 2,000 megawatts of excess capacity in the region.
Earthjustice and other environmental groups support upgrading the transmission grid to more efficiently deliver electricity from existing plants to consumers, rather than switching outdated plants from one fossil fuel to another.