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Debate over Cayuga Power Plant intensifies the fight on fracking

Opponents of hydrofracking are lining up against plans to convert a Tompkins County power plant from coal to natural gas, making it the newest front line in the fight against gas drilling in New York.The state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) is considering a proposal to convert the Cayuga Power Plant or shut it down, while the proposal’s opponents are calling the process too secretive.

At a press conference in Ithaca on Monday, Dryden resident Joe Wilson held up the version of the repowering proposal that was made public.

“This is Cayuga Power’s offering. It is redacted, redacted, redacted, redacted and redacted.”

The proposal to the PSC lays out four options for converting the plant to natural gas. The cheapest plan would cost about $60 million. The most expensive option would cost about $370 million.

The redactions in the public documents include the timeline for finishing the work, the estimated cost of the power produced by each option and how much it would cost ratepayers.

In response, Wilson is trying a tactic that has worked to keep fracking out of New York state: delay, delay, delay.

“I call on the PSC to extend its comment deadline so that we can review and digest the unredacted information,” he said.

Ithaca lawyer Helen Slottje says the choice laid out by the state between repowering the plant and upgrading transmission is not the real issue.

“The governor is attempting to deflect public attention from the real issue here – how to best meet our energy needs and are we going to solve a transmission/reliability issue with the construction of a fossil-fuel generation station?”

Slottje is a co-founder of the Community Environmental Defense Council, which helped spread municipal fracking bans across upstate New York. She says they plan to fight the PSC for more public disclosure in court if it comes to that.

Matt Richmond comes to Binghamton's WSKG, a WRVO partner station in the Innovation Trail consortium, from South Sudan, where he worked as a stringer for Bloomberg, and freelanced for Radio France International, Voice of America, and German Press Agency dpa. He has worked with KQED in Los Angeles, Cape Times in Cape Town, South Africa, and served in the Peace Corps in Cameroon. Matt's masters in journalism is from the Annenberg School for Communication at USC.