LSC Facts and Myths
Prepared by: Noel Kurtz, PE
MYTH: Lake Source Cooling (LSC) is Cornell's most cost-effective
FACT: Cornell's own numbers show conclusively that LSC is inferior to
Simple Chiller Replacement1.
CFC's, which are used in Cornell's present chillers as a refrigerant, were
banned for U.S. production and importation as of Jan. 1, 1996. Given that
supplies of CFC refrigerant are running out, Cornell must replace their
Cornell evaluated only two options for CFC phase-out: LSC and the
replacement of their old CFC chillers with new non-CFC chillers. Cornell
alleges that LSC is more cost-effective, despite it costing at least twice
as much Simple Chiller Replacement, because LSC energy cost savings make
the project attractive over the University's long-term planning horizon."
In other words, they believe that LSC is worth while as an energy
conserving project. However, Cornell's own numbers show that allegation to
be false; cost and energy savings estimates cited in the Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS) show that LSC would have a simple payback of 30
years relative to Simple Chiller Replacement. That means it would take 30
years before Cornell recouped the extra cost of LSC and even began to
generate any savings, which can hardly be considered
To get an idea of how poor an investment that is, consider that a 30
year payback is equivalent to a 3.3% return on investment (ROI). In
contrast, good energy conserving projects provide better than 20% ROI's,
with many exceeding 100%. Fair projects provide only 10% to 20% ROI, and
those with 5% to 10% ROI's are generally considered not worthwhile.
3.3% ROI for LSC means that it is worse than poor as an energy
FACT:LSC is also inferior to other conventional alternatives.
An independent comparison of LSC to conventional alternatives shows LSC to
be substantially inferior to all of them4.
This may explain why Cornell deliberately omitted economic analysis of
LSC from the EIS.
FACT: Cornell has publicly admitted ignoring important conventional
Cornell did not investigate Cogeneration Cooling and Ground-Source
Cooling, despite the fact that they represent proven, cost-effective
technology which many thousands of facilities have utilized worldwide. In
contrast, Cornell's proposed LSC system is unproven, experimental
technology - no similar project has been built, anywhere. And, while two
comparable projects have been examined for Lake Ontario, the EIS
significantly notes that "Economic factors are currently preventing either
Lake Ontario project from moving forward."
MYTH: Cornell wants LSC because it would help alleviate global
FACT: Energy conservation - key to curbing global warming - is best
achieved by cost effective energy conservation measures. LSC is not cost
Effective energy conservation requires intelligent investment in which
projects with anemic energy savings relative to capital cost, such as LSC,
are forgone in favor of those that provide more bang for the buck.
Cornell, like any large facility, undoubt edly has a multitude of
potential energy saving projects that would provide superior energy and
cost savings per dollar invested than LSC - including all conventional
alternatives to LSC. Thus, if Cornell were truly concerned about energy
conservation - and global warming - they would utilize conventional means
of CFC phase-out, and invest the many million dollars of capital savings
derived from forgoing LSC on more effective energy conserving projects.
This would provide far more energy savings than LSC, at the same cost -
thus doing much more to alleviate global warming.
FACT: Cornell continues to burn coal - the most harmful fossil fuel in
terms of global warming.
CO2 is the most significant pollutant affecting global warming.
Coal produces 22% more CO2 than oil, and 43% more than natural
gas. But Cornell continues to burn coal, despite the fact that they have
had the capacity to burn oil or gas for many years. Since coal is
considerably cheaper than oil and gas, we see that Cornell is more
concerned about the bottom line than the environment.
MYTH: Cornell wants lake source cooling because it would expedite CFC
FACT: LSC would leave Cornell's CFC chillers in place.
The EIS makes it clear that CFC chiller decommissioning is not part of the
LSC project, and would not be accomplished until after the LSC plant comes
on line - exactly when is not specified5.
That can hardly be considered expediting.
In contrast, all alternatives to LSC would require removal of the
existing CFC chillers, and thus would expedite CFC phase-out.
MYTH: Lake Source Cooling would be environmentally benign to Cayuga
FACT: There are known detrimental consequences to the lake, and
unanticipated negative effects are likely.
Cornell's own Technical Review Committee "agreed that the LSC project will
not be without effects on Cayuga Lake..." For example, the EIS notes that
phosphorus loading would be significantly increased, which would cause
increased algae blooms and smell6. While the EIS diminishes the
significance of that impact, the fine print notes that estimated
phosphorus loading is based on assumptions, and that "changes in any of
these assumptions have the potential to alter the conclusion of the
relative impact of the LSC on Cayuga Lake's phosphorus budget."
In other words, they don't really know how bad the impact would be.
Furthermore, there is the very real possibility of unintended
consequences, which no amount of study can rule out. Given the magnitude
of disruption that would be caused by LSC - it would suck up millions of
gallons of water every day from the depths of the lake, thermally pollute
it, and then discharge it into the shallow, environmentally sensitive
southern end of Cayuga Lake - it is virtually inevitable that there would
be unforeseen environmental consequences.
FACT: The Tompkins County Environmental Management Council (EMC)
passed a Resolution recommending that the LSC Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS) not be accepted by the Tompkins County Board of
The EMC cited inadequate study of the present conditions of Cayuga Lake's
ecology, inadequate study of potential effects of LSC on Cayuga Lake's
ecology, inadequate provision for monitoring of ecological effects on
Cayuga Lake, and inadequate provision for remediation of deleterious
effects on Cayuga Lake - among other reasons - as the basis of their
FACT: LSC would thermally pollute Cayuga Lake.
As the EIS notes, the only significant heat loss from the lake is from the
surface. Since the LSC outfall diffuser is designed to efficiently mix LSC
effluent with lake water, and since the lake naturally mixes throughout
much of the year, thermal pollution from LSC would therefore be
thoroughly blended into the depths of the lake. The result would be that
the majority of heat discharged into the lake would have no means of
escape, and would therefore be retained in the lake. Considering that the
average retention time of water which enters from the south end and exits
at the north is about 13 years8, the cumulative effect of that
warming could be considerable9.
This effect was not thoroughly investigated, nor were the potential
ecological consequences - one of which is the possibility of disruption of
spawning of temperature-sensitive fish, such as salmon and trout.
The EIS used a computer model to explain the effects of the added heat
from LSC. The computer model was "verified" using temperature data from a
single location (S11) at several different depths in the lake. This
"verification" was done using data from less than one year. While the
heat added by LSC would be very small in comparison to other sources,
such as Milliken Station, the statement that "all of the heat is lost to
the atmosphere does not ring true and has not been explained at all
except by pointing to the results of the computer model and saying that
the overall temperature changes in the lake would be small.
- The EIS cites a capital cost for LSC of $55 million-$60 million, a
capital cost for replacement of the existing CFC chillers with non-CFC
chillers of "$25 to 30 million." Thus, the cost difference between the two
systems is about $30 million. The EIS cites an energy cost savings of LSC
relative to Simple Chiller Replacement of approximately $1 million per
year. Dividing the latter by the former results in a 30 year payback.
- Note that Cornell has withheld all supporting data for their
estimates, and they have not been independently reviewed - which makes
them suspect. My own ballpark calculations indicate that the payback of
LSC relative to Simple Chiller Replacement exceeds 60 years.
- For comparison, consider the returns on common household energy
conserving projects. For example, motion detectors on outdoor lights and
weather-stripping often achieve paybacks of several months - which equates
to an ROI of about 300%. Installing night-setback thermostats and
replacing frequently used incandescent lamps with compact fluorescent
lamps provides 20% to 100% ROI (or paybacks of only one to five years).
Replacing old, inefficient refrigerators, furnaces, boilers, water heaters
and air cond itioners often provide ROI's of 10% to 20% (paybacks of five
to ten years). Even very expensive projects that are not normally done on
the basis of energy conservation alone, such as replacing windows or
upgrading insulation, generally have ROI's in the range of 5% to 10% (ten
to twenty year payback).
- Because they provide far better energy conservation per dollar than
LSC. While Cornell deserves some credit for having pursued energy
conservation for some time, there undoubtedly remains hundreds of millions
of dollars worth of such projects that would provide more bang for the
buck in energy savings than LSC (On a per unit heat basis. Data is from
the DOE, Page 6 of the Executive Summary.
- Indeed, it raises the question of whether Cornell truly intends to
decommission the CFC chillers. Given that Cornell anticipates growth of
chilled water demand due to continuing campus growth, and given that LSC
could not meet that increased cooling load without expansion of the Heat
Exchange Facility at significant expense, (EIS Page 1-10, emphasis added),
Cornell might just decide to turn those CFC chillers back on rather than
spend even more money on LSC.
- The reason LSC would increase phosphorus loading is that phosphorus
that would normally filter to the bottom of the lake would be brought back
up and discharged into shallow waters. This recycled phosphorus would
therefore increase phosphorus levels in Cayuga Lake's surface water.
- EMC members voted 13 in favor and 0 against the Resolution, with one
- EIS Page 2.3.1-6. 12.8 years was rounded to 13.
- Indeed, the EIS makes the ludicrous assertion that the small amount of
heat added to the lake each year will be lost to the atmosphere during the
winter period of complete mixing. (therefore) There will be no cumulative
addition from year to year. (page 32, Responses) No explanation was
provided for any mechanism whereby heat uniformly distributed through
depths approaching 500 feet could escape through the lake surface.
Prepared by the
Cayuga Lake Defense Fund (CLDF).
For more information, Call: 275-9054 or 272-7914