‘A very critical issue’

Along the shores of Lake Erie in Dunkirk Friday, with NRG as a backdrop, officials from federal, state, county and local governments gathered at the Clarion Hotel for a press conference to support the repowering of NRG.

Congressman Tom Reed was joined by County Executive Greg Edwards, Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce as he spoke out in support of repowering NRG. Reed said the potential closing of NRG is a “very critical issue” to the county, but also important to western New York and the rest of the state.

A state Public Service Commission public hearing will be held Monday in the multi-purpose room of the Williams Center at SUNY Fredonia. National Grid will make a presentation from 6-7 p.m. with public comment starting at 7. Residents were encouraged to voice their opinions so Albany and the PSC will take them into consideration when they make a decision in regard to NRG.

Both NRG and National Grid have submitted proposals to the PSC. NRG’s repowering proposal would invest money into the county with the construction of a natural gas-fired plant. National Grid’s proposal would create transmission lines in addition to working on current lines to transport power from Pennsylvania and Ohio.

“I think the NRG repowering project has the most long-term viability and also makes sure the community is protected. It’s not just about the rate payers but it’s also about the community and the impact on services, and the residents of this community that are going to be impacted as a result of having to pay those significantly higher taxes as a result,” Reed said.

NRG’s proposal is calling for a highly efficient natural gas-fired plant which will bring jobs to the area and will be between 60 and 98 percent efficient depending on which element is involved, according to Goodell. The plant would create 500 construction jobs over three years and lower electric rates across the state. In addition to employing and maintaining highly qualified long-term employees, Goodell said. Reed said he is in support of natural gas and believes it will push the “manufacturing renaissance” that America is on the precipice of.

“I’m a firm believer in natural gas development. I think it can be done safely and responsibly and this is an example of utilizing that natural gas from domestic sources in a way that is productive and will lead us to the manufacturing renaissance,” Reed added.

The National Grid proposal would have a transmission facility built in Cattaraugus County and have power shipped in to Chautauqua County, according to Edwards, and would not create revenue for the county. The proposal may also lead to an increase in pollution locally. New York state is part of a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a partnership of states which has vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Goodell said both Ohio and Pennsylvania are not members of the RGGI and their plants will not meet the standards set forth by New York state. The plants that would be producing the power are also coal-powered. Goodell said there is no guarantee that what is happening to NRG will not happen there.

“National Grid is proposing to increase pollution production on the plants that are upwind from us, – so that all New Yorkers can breathe that pollution the next day – in order to shut down a plant that is the most efficient and capable plant that will back the green energy that we are looking for in the future,” Goodell said.

Edwards said it is important for residents to come out to the public hearing so others won’t make decisions on behalf of the county. Other groups such as the Sierra Club, an environmental organization, is opposing the repowering of NRG and the construction of a natural gas-fired plant. Edwards said, while they do have viable positions, he does not want an outsider making decisions for the county.

“The Sierra Club has been out there hitting the airwaves and hitting the emails, hitting people out there. Granted they have viable positions they can make but I don’t want somebody from California and the Sierra Club determining the future of Chautauqua County. I want the people who live here, who work here, who rely on the services that we provide and the futures that they want for their children making this decision,” Edwards said.

If the repowering plan were to be denied, a tax base loss of approximately $1,000 per average homeowner in the city would be experienced, Goodell said. Edwards said the closure would be a loss of revenue to the cities of Dunkirk and Jamestown, in addition to the county.

“If we secure this investment, it’s additional revenue and additional support to help us do the type of things that everyone wants us to do and provide the critical services that people in the city, the school students in the schools and people in the county really need,” Edwards said.

Dolce said the efforts to repower NRG have been both a bipartisan and a community-wide effort. He noted the various community leaders and members represented at the press conference and said that’s what is needed Monday evening but multiplied by 100.

“This is our opportunity, let’s take advantage of it and show up Monday night and let our voices be heard,” said Dolce. “We need people to show up, and again if you’re not comfortable speaking, your presence alone will speak volumes. This is our opportunity, let’s take advantage of it and show up Monday night and let our voices be heard.”

Reed commended Sen. Catharine Young for pushing to have the public hearing held in Dunkirk. Edwards commended Young’s efforts in trying to get buses to provide transportation to get to the public hearing on Monday. CARTS will be having a bus run along Ring Road to transport residents to the Williams Center.

“Take two hours out of your week, your month. Take two hours … to secure our future for the next few years. Show up at SUNY Fredonia and the Williams Center, it will make a difference,” Edwards said.

If you cannot make the meeting on Monday, Reed encouraged residents to submit their comments to Garry Brown of the PSC online or by mail. Public comment is being accepted until July 26. To submit comments online, visit documents.dps.ny.gov/public/Comments/PublicComments.aspx?MatterCaseNo=12-E-0577. Residents may also send in their comments by mail. Letters may be sent to: Chairman Garry A. Brown and Acting Secretary Jeffrey Cohen, NYS Public Service Commission Agency Bldg. 3, Empire State Plaza Albany, NY 12223. Letters should refer to case number 12-E-0577.

Comments on this article may be sent to smcdonnell@observertoday.com.