NRG’S FUTURE: Reliability is major issue

Area residents have read and heard the economic reasons for the repowering of the NRG Energy Inc. plant in Dunkirk. Those points have included:

NRG is the largest taxpayer in the county and has a major impact on the city and its school system.

NRG would be making a $500 million investment in the project, which will bring jobs and outside dollars here.

And, NRG is a community partner in numerous events and non-profit activities.

There is, however, one more important reason the state’s Public Service Commission is going through this process. It comes down to this: reliability.

Will the repowering of the NRG facility from coal-powered to a natural gas plant offer reliability for customers who receive electricity?

National Grid, the power supplier, says no, it does not need the Dunkirk plant. Its plan, instead, is to import power from outside New York state.

But what happens when a problem, such as the major Northeast power outage in the summer of 2004, takes place? The incident that led to the massive outage happened in Ohio and was out of our control. This region, with NRG, was back on line within five to seven hours. Other consumers waited for days.

What control will Western New York have without reliability? Most likely, we could be in the dark.

Last week, a forest fire in Quebec left 500,000 customers in Canada without power for nearly two days. That power, provided by Hydro-Quebec, is proposed to supply the Champlain-Hudson Power Express that will go into New York City. If New York City was already part of the Express, millions more would have been in the dark – just like in 2004.

Reliability matters. Not only for our economics, but for our daily way of life and business.

Reliability even matters when you consider other “green options” for power, including wind and solar initiatives. Because users cannot fully rely on the wind and sun for 24 hours, the Dunkirk plant would offer the solution on days when there is barely a breeze and during the nighttime hours.

“The repowering will help integrate renewable resources … to make up for power fluctuations in intermittent resources,” said David Gaier, an NRG spokesman.

If the Public Service Commission approves moving forward with the NRG project, it will make the city plant the most modern in the state. It also will be even cleaner – in terms of emissions – than it already is.

Monday’s public hearing will be from 6 to 9 p.m. in the Williams Center at Fredonia State University. The community’s participation in this event matters – on Monday and for the future.