EditorialAn offhand comment by Tompkins County Legislator Mike Sigler about two weeks ago has become stuck in my mind.  Referring to the moratorium on new natural gas customers in Lansing, Sigler asked, "Isn't it the power company's job to provide power to customers?"  He was talking about the stalled West Dryden Road pipeline, saying that if they couldn't get the variances they need along that route they should simply find a route they could build on.  The question is, in a county where many people are anxious to get on with eliminating fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy, is it up to the power company to say no when there is demand for fossil fuels?

The name of our power company is New York State Electric & Gas Corporation, so you would think NYSEG would be anxious for new natural gas customers.  Natural gas is clearly a core product that they deliver.  At the same time the company is venturing into alternative energy solutions. It's parent company Avangrid has a major division that owns wind and solar power facilities, hydroelectric and thermal generation plants.  Their Energy Smart Community initiative that is in the process of launching in Lansing, Dryden and Ithaca has everything to do with incorporating energy from alternative sources into the grid.

But timing is everything.  The Tompkins County Legislature voted last week to demand our representatives in Washington fight to keep the Affordable Care Act in place until a better alternative is ready.  They are not saying the act should remain forever.  All they are saying is keep it while coming up with a better alternative and then make a transition to the new program.

That makes logical sense.  So it is a little strange that the same county legislature wants to block new natural gas as an energy source in its fastest growing municipality before a better alternative is available.  The approach seems more political than progressive.  Or, in a less cynical view, the folks who have convinced NYSEG to take this approach are so anxious to get on with the business of eliminating fossil fuel use that they don't care about the real world consequences to the citizens of one of its nine towns.  They just want to get on with it.

For several years it has appeared that the other communities have been piling on Lansing, trying to push their own energy agendas at the expense of Lansing taxpayers' wallets.  Most people in Lansing want renewable energy solutions that are affordable and practical.  There is a cadre of Lansing residents who have embraced solar power, and I haven't heard anyone -- even Lansing officials who oppose the natural gas moratorium -- say they don't want renewables.  But even if there is a hurry, isn't it worth waiting a little bit to get the alternatives lined up, technically viable and affordable?  Affordable, in this case, means as inexpensive or less expensive than natural gas.

We do seem to be close to that point.  Solar expert Chris Santospirito explained to the school board this week that natural gas is so inexpensive in the United States, as opposed to the rest of the world, that the export market is growing quickly.  That is increasing demand, which, in turn, is making natural gas more expensive for Americans.  Meanwhile, technology, being what it is, gets better and better, and the price of new technology goes down as it becomes widely adopted.  Those two lines on the chart are coming close, so doesn't it make sense to wait a little bit for them to cross, making the alternative energy solutions more attractive to developers than natural gas?

The power company should do what it does -- deliver power.  There is only one company that delivers natural gas in Tompkins County, so there are no other choices for developers who want natural gas.  The flaw in the company's current proposal is that while it does provide better natural gas service for existing customers, it leaves new customers flapping in the wind -- merely providing suggestions for alternative power instead of actual alternative power.  If NYSEG wanted to offer solar or wind-generated electricity that is cheaper than natural gas to Lansing developers I don't think anyone would complain.