Last week, writer Jim Shultz made a persuasive case for New York state to provide solutions and funding for communities that are facing the closure of coal plants. These closures follow important regulations that have put the state on the path to a clean energy future. But these plants have long faced a dire future due to economics and massive, statewide public pressure seeking to end taxpayer bailouts of the coal industry.
However, Shultz goes awry in his attempt to argue the community and workers in Somerset aren’t on the radar of environmental groups. In fact, the solution in Somerset he champions -- the conversion of the Kintigh Generating Station to a high-tech data center -- is one that environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, have been fighting for all year.
We’ve partnered with the New York State Building and Construction Trades to advocate for the Empire State Data Hub proposal in both Somerset and Tompkins County, where the Cayuga coal plant is located.
We advocated for it in the press, and even joined an announcement alongside town Supervisor Dan Engert, Sen. Robert Ortt and others demanding the same in June.
The plan would create high paying jobs, deliver a transition package for workers, build grid-scale solar using union labor on site, and operate on clean Niagara hydro-power instead of fossil fuels.
It should be noted that a day before Shultz’s article was published, the New York Power Authority approved a 10-year allocation of low-cost hydropower for the data center, an important step in making this transition a reality.
This work is not new for us. The Sierra Club has been advocating for a just transition for the communities and workers impacted by retiring coal-fired power plants for years.
In 2015 we joined nearly one-third of the state legislature when they called on Governor Cuomo to develop strong community transition plans that would help tackle the loss of tax base and jobs caused by coal retirements.
The establishment of the Fossil Fuel Mitigation Fund, which the Sierra Club fought for, has already provided assistance to the communities of Tonawanda and Dunkirk when they faced tax losses due to coal plant retirements. These funds are available for Somerset and Lansing when those plants retire. We have also helped secure tens of millions of dollars in workforce training in the renewable energy economy.
No community should have to choose between clean air, water and a healthy climate and a vibrant local economy. Finding solutions to ensure that all New Yorkers have a share in the clean energy economy is a top priority for the Sierra Club.
Our members and supporters across the state will continue advocating for the Somerset data-center project and believe that once it’s built, it will serve as a national model for coal transition.
Ellen Banks is the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Chair