Waiting for a decision

By GIB SNYDER

OBSERVER City Editor

It has been well over a year since NRG Dunkirk announced it was going to close its plant due to the low cost of natural gas making the coal-burning electric producer non-competitive in the open market. At that time, the PSC ordered NRG and transmission lines owner National Grid to submit information on the best solution to meet electric system reliability needs.

That process, although a lengthy one by necessity, continues to drag on as National Grid requested an extension until Sept. 4 to file the results of its Western Area Transmission System Reliability Report. On Aug. 23, the PSC directed Grid to final its final results by Aug. 30. The plan was to have a technical conference by Oct. 15 to review the results.

“Such an extension will promote the fair, orderly and efficient conduct of this matter,” National Grid wrote.

The PSC also had an Aug. 16 deadline to accept public comments on the issue, but it would seem the PSC has adopted a “keep those cards and letters coming in” approach as far as that deadline.

On Friday, two weeks after the Aug. 16 deadline, three more comments were added to the PSC website, adding to the more than 520 comments received after Aug. 16. In all, there are now 6,596 comments posted, although more that a few contain multiple writers.

Many, if not most, of the comments opposing the repowering of the two plants appear to be a form letter, as they contained similar wording beginning with a salutation of Dear Hon. Cohen.

“Don’t raise my electric bill to pay for expensive and unnecessary natural gas plants and infrastructure that we don’t need. It’s time for the PSC to protect bill-payers and for New York State to deliver on its clean energy promises. Spending millions of dollars to convert dirty and uneconomical coal plants to gas power will not solve system reliability problems, because future transmission upgrades would still be necessary,” the form letters state. “Furthermore, NYISO has determined that there is enough power in New York State to safely take the Cayuga and Dunkirk coal plants offline without replacement fossil fuel generation. What we need are cost-effective transmission improvements, demand response solutions and a real commitment to a 21st century clean energy economy.”

The letters go on to state the writers support the NYSEG and National Grid transmission proposals. Many of those opposed appear to reside in the eastern part of the state and New York City.

Assemblyman Andy Goodell, along with state Sen. Cathy Young have been in the forefront of the fight to repower the Dunkirk plant. Goodell was asked about the PSC deadline.

“I think in order to comply with rules they needed to set a deadline. Are they required to consider those submitted after the deadline? No. In other words it’s a soft deadline,” he explained. “They’ll look at the ones that come on or before the deadline. They may, but don’t have to, look at the ones that come in after the deadline.

“My recommendation to local residents would be to keep sending the comments in. I don’t think the PSC gives as much weight to a form letter as they do to individual letters. You’ll see the ones that support it are all individual letters.”

While Goodell said the plant would cost more than the upgrades, National Grid ignores the energy savings a new plant would bring.

“National Grid is doing its best to convince the PSC that you should only look at the construction costs and should completely ignore the fact that the power that’s going to be produced is going to be using one of the lowest-cost fuel sources in the nation, natural gas,” Goodell explained. “The bottom line is this, PA Consulting, National Grid’s own consultants, estimated that the power savings would be in the range of $59 million a year, which is a savings that far exceeds National Grid’s estimates of the capital costs of $33 million a year. So if PA Consulting is correct the ratepayer would see a reduction in cost in the range of $26 million per year.

“The second consultant for National Grid, Atlantic Economics, they estimated there would be no energy savings, in which case you would have a $33 million increase in electric bills. NRG estimates that electric savings would be substantially higher than PA Consultants. It’s the job of the PSC to figure out who is accurate, most likely correct, and that involves an assessment not only of the cost of the NRG power but the projected cost of the alternative power.”

James Denn is a spokesman for the PSC and was asked about the volume of response in the NRG-Grid issue.

“There is significant interest and robust public participation in this proceeding, as is often the case in proceedings before the PSC,” he replied.

Apparently the PSC will be accepting the public’s offerings until further notice on the case. To find all the filings on the case, go to www.dps.ny.gov, then click on the box marked commission documents and enter 12-E-0577 in the search by case number box. Viewers can then pick from filed documents, public comments, party list or a calendar listing.

Send comments to gsnyder@observertoday.com.