October 23, 2021

NYSEG may drop pipeline; alternatives mulled

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Signs like these have sprung up along West Dryden Road in the town of Dryden in opposition to the pipeline proposal.

DRYDEN — Matt Mitchell looked out over West Dryden Road and pondered.

The announcement Monday that NYSEG will consider abandoning plans to build a natural gas pipeline connecting Freeville to Lansing has its reason for cheer, but for concern, too.

“I’m a bigger supporter of alternative energy sources,” Mitchell said, and the agreement between New York State Electric and Gas Corp. and Tompkins County would divert future development around West Dryden to renewable energy sources.

“But natural gas is more efficient and less harmful than coal or oil,” Mitchell added.

Most of his neighbors heat using propane, said Freeville Mayor David Fogel.

Drive down the road and solar panels are a common sight, too, interspersed with yellow lawn signs opposing the 7-mile, $17.8 million Lansing/Freeville Reinforcement Gas Pipeline Project.

“One of the things I’m curious about is how much grass-roots opposition influenced NYSEG,” Fogel said, but he doesn’t expect a great deal of change, at least immediately, on his neighbors.

“Future growth? That’s the tough one. It’s not just your community, it’s the larger one.”

The Tompkins County Energy and Economic Development Task Force reported at a news conference Monday in Ithaca that NYSEG had agreed to consider altering the project, skipping the pipeline in favor of a compressor station to guarantee natural gas delivery along West Dryden Road and into Lansing.

“It’s really a turning point in a local issue that has implications far beyond Tompkins County,” said Martha Robertson, chairwoman of the Planning, Development and Environmental Quality Committee of that county’s legislature. “We would like to see a different approach.”

NYSEG had proposed the pipeline in 2013 to bolster supplies in the rapidly developing Lansing area, but neighbors objected, filling public meetings, posting signs along the road and collecting signatures on petitions.

Construction initially set for completion in 2015 was delayed.

Then delayed again. In August, the town of Dryden issued a six-month moratorium on utilities projects.

NYSEG spokesman Bob Pass referred comment to NYSEG’s parent, Avangrid of New Gloucester, Maine, which did not respond.

In a letter to the Public Service Commission dated Jan. 23, NYSEG President Mark Lynch outlined an alternative: Build a compressor station to guarantee gas for the existing residents, and perhaps enough capacity for property owners who want gas, but can’t get it because the line lacks pressure.

The problem is that won’t accommodate future growth.

Those people will have to rely on something else, preferably renewable energy, members of the task force said.

The county’s goal is to reduce fossil fuel emissions 80 percent by 2050 and reduce climate change.

“We’ve never seen a drought like we saw last summer. We used to have banks and banks of snow,” said Robertson (D-Dryden), and the fields were bare in Tompkins. “It (climate change) is not theoretical.”

NYSEG would also seek proposals for alternatives to gas, including efficiency improvements to reduce demand and electricity to provide heat, said Ed Marx of Tompkins County Area Development. He added that NYSEG told him the electrical infrastructure could handle increased demand.

The question remains, though, what increased electricity demand would do to the price.

Irene Weiser of Fossil Free Tompkins, an advocacy group and member of the task force, said she thinks improvements in technology and added efficiencies could mean ratepayers will see a drop in their bills, because even if increased demand raises rates, individual energy usage will go down.

But the reality is nobody really knows, task force members said, including the Public Service Commission, which would need to approve the projects. “They don’t know how that’s going to work,” Robertson said. “We are a test case — a lab — for them.”

As Mitchell watched his dogs play in a dog park, he went back and forth on the issues at play. “The reason I live outside of town was to get away from the hustle and bustle,” Mitchell said, so he’s not too worried about the change slowing growth.

At the same time, choosing not to add natural gas capacity could mean adding something else: power lines, solar panels, something. “You’re going to have something man-made going on.”

“Either way,” he added, “it’s good people are concerned and they’re being listened to.”