Upstate coal plants set to go in new directions

Two coal-powered plants in upstate New York are looking at new futures, according to recent reports by the Ithaca Voice and the Lockport Union Sun & Journal. The plants, located in Lansing in the Finger Lakes and Somerset in Niagara County, are slated to become data centers powered by renewable energy.

“Closing the Somerset and Cayuga Power plants and repurposing those sites as data centers powered by renewable energy would constitute an almost 10-to-1 replacement ratio of fossil fuel to clean energy (996 MWs coal to 125 MWs renewable energy) and would fulfill governor’s pledge to shut down coal in New York ahead of his December 2020 timeline,” reads a memo from Jerry Goodenough, vice president of development for Cayuga Operating Co. in the Ithaca Voice. Cayuga Operating Co currently oversees both plants.

Reaction to the proposal has been mixed. In Lansing, the plan has been met mostly with applause, while Daniel Engert, town supervisor of Somerset, is critical of the state.

In a commentary in the Lockport Union Sun & Journal, Engert notes state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to ban coal-fired generation that dates back to 2016. “Since the concoction of this ‘bold climate action’ three years ago, the state has not committed a single staffer or any single resource to work with Somerset, the local community or the plant owners to offer any solutions,” Engert wrote recently. “Moreover, not a single meeting with the affected workers and their families, not a single phone call or meeting with the affected community and school districts, no outreach whatsoever from the governor’s office, the DEC or any other state agency during this whole ordeal.”

How this decision by Cayuga Operating Co. affects Dunkirk’s shuttered waterfront coal-powered plant remains to be seen. NRG Energy Inc., which backed away from repowering with natural gas in 2016, has said it is open to any potential use of the site and recently the county and city announced funds were acquired for a study to repurpose the site.

The Huntley Plant in Tonawanda, also owned by NRG, was said to have a potential buyer in April. However, there has been no further word on plans for that site since then.

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