LSC Facts and Myths

Prepared by: Noel Kurtz, PE

MYTH: Lake Source Cooling (LSC) is Cornell's most cost-effective option.

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 CFC chillers.

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 cost-effective2.

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 conserving project3.

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 alternatives.

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 warming.

FACT: Energy conservation - key to curbing global warming - is best achieved by cost effective energy conservation measures. LSC is not cost effective.

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 phase-out.

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 Lake.

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 Representatives.

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 recommendation7.

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.


  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. EMC members voted 13 in favor and 0 against the Resolution, with one abstention.

  8. EIS Page 2.3.1-6. 12.8 years was rounded to 13.

  9. 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 or email

CLDF 1998