‘Doing everything possible’ at hearing

Almost lost in the details of the more than 2,500 people in attendance on Monday during the Public Service Commission hearing were the numerous individuals who came forward to speak regarding the future of the NRG Energy Inc. plant in Dunkirk.

NRG, which is the largest taxpayer in Chautauqua County, has proposed the repowering of its Dunkirk facility – a $500 million project. National Grid, which supplies power to customers, says it does not need the Dunkirk plant. If NRG is to close, that lost tax revenue is a major concern.

The commission, which ran the hearing, will make the final decision in the coming monts.

One by one, nearly 80 residents came forward with passion and reasons to repower NRG until just after 11:30 p.m. They came as residents, students, labor leaders and teachers.

Here are some of the comments worth noting:

Robert Dando of Fredonia – “All the businesses that are presently in Dunkirk, are they going to take this 40 percent tax increase (if NRG closes) and keep their business here? Not likely. I worked at Carriage House for all those years and we have slowed down our plant in Dunkirk. Fortunately, our new owners aren’t doing too much toward getting rid of jobs as much as we could have. In fact, we still have hopes they will regenerate the work at our other plant in Dunkirk. But if taxes go up, what incentive do they have? They don’t.”

Rafael Muller Jr., Dunkirk High Class of 2013 salutatorian – “NRG is a vital, essential necessity to our community. Without it, our city will suffer more than it has already. … I still believe in this city and county I once grew up in and I want to one day come back and help make it prosper once again. That is why we need to repower NRG.”

Ellen Ditonto, DFT Communications employee and Jamestown resident – “Resilience … is part of the culture here in Chautauqua County. We have high performing students and high performing schools. … As a small business in Chautauqua County, DFT Communications would not be able to sustain a double-digit tax increase in local taxes if the Dunkirk generating plant is mothballed.”

Michael McCoy, Mayville resident – “With the NRG generating station in Dunkirk, the supply of electrical power has historically been very reliable in this region of the state and outages that have occurred have mostly been related to transmission system failures, such as heavy snow, windstorms and tornado-related causes of downed wires, poles or transformer failures.”

Phil Julian, Dunkirk resident – “Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo and state leaders have been very vocal in their pursuit of bringing new industry to the state. Shouldn’t we be doing everything possible to preserve the jobs and industry we already have?”

Carson Leikam, NRG plant manager in Dunkirk and Tonawanda – “If National Grid does not know where the next megawatt is coming from, but by their admission would be the most efficient megawatt, let’s build the most efficient plant in the state right here in Dunkirk; then we’ll know where the next most efficient megawatt comes from.”

Nancy Baker, Dunkirk Teachers Association president – “The loss of over $4 million in revenue that NRG provides to the Dunkirk city school system would be devastating. The loss of revenue equates to 58 teaching positions that may be cut in a district that already struggles with economic issues, transiency and low student performance.”

Besides the speakers, hundreds of comments were left with the commission as well when audience members walked in the door.

Since Tuesday, my “In our neighborhood” blog at www.observertoday.com has included audio of state Sen. Catharine Young, state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell and Dunkirk schools Superintendent Gary Cerne. More audio will be added in the coming days.

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.