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Electric Substation

After a delegation of Tompkins County representatives led by Tompkins County Legislature Chair Martha Robertson met with NYS Public Service Commission and NYSEG representatives in May, Lansing representatives had their own meeting last week to advocate for 'energy equality for the Town and Village of Lansing.  Town Supervisor Ed LaVigne, Village of Lansing Mayor Donald Hartill, County Legislator (Town of Lansing) Mike Sigler, and Lansing Planning Consultant Michael Long went to Albany June 12 to make their case to NYSEG and the PSC that if Lansing has to be the only municipality in Tompkins County without access to new natural gas, it should be offered discounted electricity to bring it in line with communities that do have cheaper energy alternatives.

"I'm in favor of inexpensive, reliable, consistent power," LaVigne said in an interview Wednesday.  "That means that the grid has to be reliable.  That means that the power generated has to be at a low enough cost to make it desirable for businesses to come here. if natural gas is not an option I would like Lansing to be subsidized so we can offer electricity at the same price as natural gas. If the rest of the County doesn't have a moratorium, and we do, why should we be subject to that? After 28 months nothing has been accomplished."

Sigler was singing the same tune.  On Monday Sigler said he thought the meeting was good. 

“We are looking for energy equity for Lansing," Sigler said. "Lansing is at a disadvantage to every other community in our county, and almost in the state.  Without natural gas, we are at an economic disadvantage and in our meeting with NYSEG and the PSC, we made that known. If the PSC is saying, no new pipelines in New York, then be plain and say that, but Lansing should then be given cheaper electricity rates to compete with our neighbors. Otherwise, you are setting up Lansing to be a bedroom community for the city and other towns that have ample supplies of natural gas and are not afraid to utilize it. We want a town and village with residential and businesses moving in, not just multi-unit residential which is the position we are in today.”

At the time of the May delegation's meeting Robertson said that Westchester County and other communities face the same issue, so Lansing was in good company.

"Given the state's response with the Clean Energy Action Plan – moving away from gas to solve the energy demands of Westchester and Lansing – it is just not realistic to expect a new pipeline to be approved for Lansing," she said. "Instead, Lansing can lead the way into the future. It can and should serve as a pilot community for NYS to demonstrate how to succeed with 'non-pipes alternatives' if given full financial resources to incentivize conversion from gas to electric heating in our buildings."

But Sigler now says he is not asking for natural gas, at least not if the State or the power company can provide a reasonably affordable, reliable alternative.

"How do we get energy equity," Sigler said at Wednesday's Town Board meeting. "If you're not going to give us natural gas, then is there a way for you to give us cheaper electricity?  I don't mind going electric if I'm paying half or a third of what everybody else is paying.  Otherwise Lansing is going to be a bedroom community with a lot of multi-unit apartments like you are seeing on Warren Road, because heat pumps price out right when you heat multi-unit buildings.  Single family homes, it doesn't price out."

Hartill has said publicly that proponents of heat pump technology are overstating savings, even when you factor in state incentives available to Lansing homeowners who install heat pumps because of the moratorium.  He has also derided the idea of relying on one source of energy (electricity), especially in light of an aging and sometimes failing power grid.

"When you talk to the Mayor of the Village of Lansing he brings up how Macom had 120 jobs and wanted to expand," LaVigne says. "They couldn't get natural gas (in the Village business park near the airport) and they took 220 jobs elsewhere. For every one job three other ones are generated... now you're talking 880 jobs in this area. That's a huge game changer."

LaVigne says he can't predict the outcome, but it was a good meeting.  Nevertheless he is unsatisfied with the current situation.  LaVigne says he worries that the Lansing Schools are vulnerable to unreliable power delivery when temperatures go below freezing, as they did two winters ago.  And he complains that the power grid has caused many recent blackouts in Lansing that has caused thousands of dollars of damage to electric and electronic devices.

"We stated our concerns," LaVigne said. "The fact that we're a growing community.  The fact that this January and February we had unreliable power, because, in my opinion, the grid wasn't reliable.  There were lots of power outages.  People were suffering when their computers were burned out.  The airport had a $20,000 HVAC unit burn out.  So this is not fantasy.  This is reality."

This new approach has actually aligned opponents in the natural gas controversy.  Robertson has long advocated for renewable energy and energy-efficient alternatives to oil and gas heating such as heat pumps.  Two months ago Robertson told the Lansing Star that she thought the two points of view were closer than they appeared, arguing that both sides wanted to see Lansing grow.

"We see this as a huge opportunity," she said. "I've spoken at length with Mike Sigler and I agree with his characterization that the various parties are not that far apart in our goals. We want to see economic development and growth to support good-paying jobs in the Village and Town of Lansing, but that development is now being stymied by the lack of natural gas."

Sigler, LaVigne and Hartill were advocating for natural gas as an 'interim' solution while heat pumps, solar, storage battery technologies catch up in capacity, reliability, and price. Sigler and LaVigne, at least, now say that the kind of energy is not the issue.  As long as there is reliable and affordable power available they don't care if it's not natural gas.  It's a matter of making Lansing competitive in attracting developers, new business, and new jobs.

"If it's not going to be natural gas, OK, New York State, what are you going to do for Lansing in the way of electricity?" Sigler asked. "That was the message we got across to them.  We want to work with them, but we're also not going to be the lacky for the rest of the state.  Come on, we could be your golden goose, so start investing a little bit of money in our electricity and we may be able to do some things.  That was our message.  I thought it was a good meeting."

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