NRG project said to be still in play

The proposed conversion of the NRG Energy Inc.’s Dunkirk coal-fired power plant to a natural-gas powered plant is still a possibility being pursued by the company.

That was the word from Jon Baylor, Director of De-velopment for NRG Energy’s East region when he spoke before a luncheon gathering of some 60 people Wednesday at Shorewood Country Club sponsored by the League of Women Vot-ers of Chautauqua County.

“Dunkirk, as you all are aware, is a 600 megawatt coal station that’s been there since the 1950s. It’s been challenged in recent years. I’m sure as the League you are very well aware of the challenges it’s been facing. … As we’ve been looking at the facility we’ve been looking at opportunities,” Baylor began. “How do we keep the station going and what is the next iteration of power generation here at Dunkirk and across NRG’s fleet?

“The solution that we’ve come to as we look at this is that building a natural-gas fired combined-cycle plant at the Dunkirk facility makes the most sense.”

Baylor then reviewed the events to date, including the submission to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Energy Highway Task Force initiative and the role overwhelming local support has played.

“The project we propose is to replace the existing coal facility with 440 megawatts of natural-gas fired high efficiency combined-cycle. … What that means is we’re going to take an old Cadillac and replace it with a Prius. That’s what you need to think about it as,” Baylor explained. “A combined cycle just means it’s a much more efficient unit and it uses much less fuel to produce a similar amount of power and it can do it in a cost effective way.”

Baylor said the project has gotten some traction at the state level as it accomplishes a number of Cuomo’s policy objectives, including clean reliable power and enhancing the reliability of the power grid. Baylor said the project would be a $500 million investment taking about three years to build. He added it would create about 500 construction jobs and about 22 long-term permanent jobs at the facility.

“When you look at the benefits of this project beyond the investment in the community … you get big emission reductions when you go from burning coal to burning natural gas,” he added. ” … Rather than retiring equipment and have another plant go, … we’re reinvesting in the community which helps preserve the tax base.”

Baylor said officials are concerned about grid reliability and moving power where it needs to go as efficiently and cheaply as possible.

“It’s a critical factor and most people don’t think about it until it’s not there,” he explained. “A project like this can enhance the reliability in western New York. … “You’re using an existing site in an existing community and saying we can preserve the site, we can preserve the infrastructure there and maintain jobs and tax base while improving the environment in and around the plant. So using that we’ve gotten a lot of traction with the state. As we’ve gone forward the last year we’ve seen a significant groundswell of support.”

Baylor cited PowerUpWNY for helping drive the project forward and said the petitions sent a message that the local people want the investment.

“The level of support we see in Chautauqua County, this is unusual for power plants. Typically, when I go to town meetings or when I go to speak to groups like this about our power projects, the reception is not warm,” he explained. “But when you have such enormous benefits and you’re able to bring such large benefits to a community like a project like this can, and reduce environmental impact, I think that’s a win-win.”

Baylor said the project will be presented to the state, National Grid and other stakeholders, adding NRG needs the support and a contract to secure funding for the project.

Baylor then answered questions about environmental impacts; the source of the natural gas to run the plant; existing barriers to the project; the chance of success; what people and groups could still do to help and what the site will look like if the project is completed.

Baylor said the 440 megawatt project would provide 2 percent of the state’s total needs, powering the equivalent of 350,000 homes.

After the presentation, Baylor was asked with the coal-fired plant to remain after a gas-fired facility is built, could it be reactivated if prices flip-flop between coal and natural gas.

‘”No, likely not,” he replied. “What we would do is we would convert the station because we would be using the existing electrical interconnections.”

In the meantime it depends on the needs of National Grid as to whether the two smaller units currently running are kept online. Baylor said the Public Service Commission wants the response in March followed by an evaluation process.

“I don’t know how long that evaluation process is going to take but National Grid has 90 days to run their process and say what’s going to be best for ratepayers,” he replied. “Is it a combined-cycle unit? Is it a transmission fix or something like that? They’ve already been out there talking about what they want to do and so one of the things the PSC is asking is to look at not just the overall cost of the projects, but also what really benefits ratepayers and part of that that they want to evaluate is also the local economy as well.

“We’re trying to look at this in a holistic way and say we believe that combined-cycle benefits ratepayers long term and the economy, and that it’s a preferential project to transmission solutions.”

Baylor said he has given between six and 12 presentations on the project.

“This is really the first one where there’s been a larger group like the League of Women Voters,” he added. “When they called and asked if we’d be willing to come and talk about it we said absolutely, this is a great opportunity.”

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