Controversial Power Plant Decision Seen As Bellwether for State Energy Policy

Local elected officials, concerned ratepayers speak out in Albany


Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 384-7157


Carol Chock, Tompkins County Legislator, (607) 227-0006

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 (Read both documents.)

“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 cost as much as $1.5 billion—a cost 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 massively 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.”

Additional Resources

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people's health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.