Hopes rekindled

ALBANY – Plans to build a combined-cycle gas turbine electricity generating plant in Dunkirk remain a possibility as details of the proposed New York state budget come out.

Calling it a “major step forward,” Sen. Catharine Young (R-Olean) announced Monday that language is included in this year’s state budget that focuses on the benefits of repowering existing electric generation facilities, a development that could have a positive impact on a future of clean, reliable and affordable power for Dunkirk and all of western New York.

“Governor Cuomo and the Assembly deserve a great deal of credit for working with the Senate to achieve this positive result. A priority of the Senate is to repower existing plants to the cleanest, and most efficient standards for the sake of our environment and our economy, and we truly appreciate the governor’s leadership in moving us toward this greener and more prosperous future,” Young stated. “This new development makes progress toward repowering the Dunkirk plant because it requires the Public Service Commission to consider the overall benefits of keeping power production in New York state. We recognize that the PSC still has to complete an objective evaluation process, which I hope will be finalized in April.”

Young, who is leading a coalition to repower the Dunkirk plant, explained the progress.

“The budget language codifies into law factors currently being considered by the PSC in studying whether to repower mothballed coal plants, namely our Dunkirk facility and a similar plant in Cayuga. The language recognizes the legislature’s intent that in some cases, repowering existing power generation facilities produces significant benefits, including enhanced system reliability, electric market competitiveness and emissions reductions, over and above alternative scenarios such as power importation or local transmission upgrades,” Young said. “The legislature acknowledges that electric generation plants that are going out of business and not being repowered will leave behind abandoned or underutilized land that would negatively affect surrounding communities and impede economic development. Of course, we know full well the devastating consequences of losing the NRG plant. We would suffer a terrible loss of revenues for the Dunkirk School District, our city and county, and a permanent total loss of career and family sustaining jobs.”

Young added the budget language specifically states the public interest is served by developing clean power generation “to meet the needs of ratepayers, support local and state tax revenue stability, promote economic opportunity, and enhance the state’s environment. By having these considerations put into law, it guarantees that balanced consideration will be given during the PSC’s evaluation process of NRG’s proposed repowering.”

NRG Energy Inc. is proposing to convert its existing Dunkirk coal facility to an advanced combined-cycle natural gas plant with a generating capacity of at least 440 MW – enough to power approximately 350,000 average homes.

“I sincerely thank everyone who is supporting our efforts for repowering, including the more than 4,000 citizens who signed our petition. Our voices are being heard in Albany,” Young said. “We’re pushing as hard as we can and we’re not there yet. (This language) is a step in the right direction.”

Property taxpayers in the city of Dunkirk would take the biggest hit if the repowering plan does not happen and the coal-fired operation is completely shut down. Currently, just one of the four generators will be needed to meet National Grid’s current reliability needs through May 2015.

Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce said the language in the state budget was a great place to start the repowering effort.

“Only time will tell how far it gets us, but this is a great initial step and one that needed to happen before what we hope to be the next step,” he added.

Dolce said there has been no discussion of the payment in lieu of taxes program payments that NRG makes.

“I think everyone’s focus is strictly on getting the conversion process to take place,” he explained.

That conversion process, if successful, would be completed in 2017, according to current timetables.

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