Alternative to West Dryden Pipeline considered

ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins County officials are exploring a possible alternative to the proposed $17.8 million West Dryden Road natural gas pipeline.

The pipeline has sparked debate for more than two years, and while a solution is needed to meet the local demand for gas, officials have tried to find a way to balance Tompkins County's need and economic development goals with its priority to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

"It's really a turning point in a local issue that has implications far beyond Tompkins County," Legislator Martha Robertson said Monday at a press briefing. "How do we support economic development and growth while at the same time curb our greenhouse gas emissions?"

From left, Irene Weiser, Ed Marx, Martha Robertson, Jennifer Tavares at a media briefing Monday morning. Kelsey O'Connor/Ithaca Voice

Instead of the pipeline, New York State Electric and Gas has created a two-part proposal. The first part is a "compressor-based solution," which would meet immediate gas reliability needs in the Lansing area. The project would involve building a small compressor station in the Lansing area to address occasional instances of very low pressure.

The West Dryden Road Pipeline was proposed several years ago as a 10-inch diameter steel pipeline that would carry natural gas seven miles from Freeville along West Dryden Road to Warren Road in Lansing. It is also called the Lansing/Freeville Reinforcement Gas Pipeline Project. Either a pipeline or some solution is needed because the demand for gas has increased over the years and has created low-pressure situations, especially out at the end of the gas supply system in Lansing, officials said. NYSEG is most concerned about "peak demand days" when it gets very cold in winter and people crank up the heat and the pressure in the gas system is at risk of dropping to very low levels, a news release said.

NYSEG also anticipates future growth in northern Lansing over the next 20 years.

In a letter to the Public Service Commission, NYSEG said there is currently a backlog of requests for gas service that cannot be addressed because the low-pressure situation "creates reliability risks for NYSEG's existing gas customers."

Last summer, the Tompkins County Energy and Economic Development Task Force released a report that recommended looking into alternatives for a pipeline and reducing dependence on natural gas.

Michael Stamm, TCAD president, said the task force was created because there was an apparent conflict between economic development and the interest of the private sector, building, expanding and creating employment opportunities and on the other hand, the greenhouse gas reduction goals of the county.

The second part of NYSEG's proposal, outlined in the letter below, is to solicit creative solutions to reduce the demand for gas and transition to electric heating systems countywide so available gas could be targeted to "end-users" that need the energy qualities of gas, such as industrial operations.

The proposal is the result of discussions over the past few months with NYSEG and the New York State Public Service Commission, initiated by the Tompkins County Energy and Economic Development Task Force.

In its letter to PSC, NYSEG said it does not have prior experience with applying compressors to a low-pressure situation but is studying it.

Ed Marx, Tompkins County commissioner of planning and sustainability, said the real significance of this project is finding a way to move forward, foster economic development in the community while also recognizing the need to move away from fossil fuels.

"It is an attempt to really move toward a future where we're less reliant on fossil fuels, but still can support economic growth and development," Marx said.

The proposal fits into a larger state initiative through the Public Service Commission, called Reforming the Energy Vision or REV. The vision is to reduce energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions, Irene Weiser, task force member, said.

"There's been a recognition by the state that we can't get by on incentives for everything we need to do in terms of moving to a new energy economy and so instead they've been looking to create market conditions that will encourage new technologies, job growth and to really mobilize the private sector to come and fill the gaps that are created," Weiser said.

Weiser said NYSEG's initiative fits into REV's mission but is also "groundbreaking" because REV has mostly focused on the electricity power sector. Weiser said NYSEG is taking REV's methods for reducing electric power by energy efficiency or by shifting loads and applying it to thermal energy.

The West Dryden Road Pipeline is not completely off the table, Robertson said. But, if the compressor station is approved, the plan is for it to be in place by late 2018.

Read the letter from NYSEG to the Public Service Commission below.