The waiting game

By GIB SNYDER

OBSERVER City Editor

At its September meeting the state Public Service Commission agreed to a repowering of the Cayuga coal-fired plant and sent instructions to Cayuga Operating Company LLC and New York State Electric and Gas to work out the details.

The PSC is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 17 but an agenda issued Oct. 11 does not list the NRG Energy repowering, according to the PSC website. Whether or not the NRG Dunkirk repowering issue will be discussed is not known. As part of the process, National Grid submitted transmission line solutions to what the PSC has identified as reliability issues when NRG announced its intent to mothball the coal-fired Dunkirk plant in March 2012, not that long after it had completed some $250 million of improvements to its pollution-control system at the plant.

State Sen. Catharine Young is a key player in the repowering effort and was hopeful “in the next couple of months we’ll have the go ahead to repower the NRG plant.”

“What’s going on now is, ironically, on the night we had the Public Service Commission in Fredonia on repowering NRG, it was the first day of an eight-day-long heat wave. Major congestion problems and disruptions occurred on the grid because the power flows were not flowing correctly and it had a severely negative impact on power that comes from (New York Power Authority),” she continued. “The Independent System Operator, the ISO, came out and said the problems were due to the mothballing of our Dunkirk plant. Clearly it shows that we need to keep electricity flowing from NRG in order for the system to work properly.

“The PSC is considering it too because during that time period, during the heat wave, there were spikes in the cost of electricity. Western New York had the highest cost of electricity in the entire country, even more than New York City. We can’t afford that, and traditionally, New York City has the highest electricity rates in the country other than Hawaii. Because of the heat wave it cost a lot of money to our economy in Western New York and we need to solve that problem.”

“The PSC is taking all the information into consideration. This proves why we need to repower the NRG plant. There’s technical review going on right now that I believe at the end of the day will show that we need to keep NRG in business. They’re evaluating a solution along with the ISO.”

While the issue is not on the agenda, Young said it may be discussed.

“I know there’s a deep concern because of the disruption and hopefully we can have a positive solution the next couple of months. I am not going to let up,” she added. “I’m pushing as hard as I can to repower NRG. We obviously need the power that is generated by them, but also this is so crucial to our local economy, jobs, reliabilities for our existing companies and our tax base.

“Also, NRG is a better solution from an environmental standpoint because it is so much cleaner than coal that is generated out of Pennsylvania,” Young said.

After the PSC’s directive to the principals in the Cayuga repowering to submit a joint revised repowering proposal within 30 days came a request for a rehearing and a call for withdrawing the notice. It was filed by the Sierra Club and Earthjustice, on behalf of the Ratepayer and Community Intervenors, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, and Environmental Advocates of New York. Many of these groups have also filed to force companies to reveal information about the companies involved that includes confidential information.

Young was asked about the position of environmental groups on repowering.

“It’s puzzling because they’re advocating to put NRG out of business so we can become more reliant on coal power that’s generated in Pennsylvania out of the PJM system,” she replied. “Forty-one percent of PJM’s power comes from dirty coal and they don’t have the same standards in Pennsylvania that New York has as far as clean air. PJM recently had an issue where they weren’t generating enough power for their existing customers and I think it’s sheer folly to import power from an unreliable source like PJM.

“We can incorporate wind and solar. We’d like to compliment the natural gas repowering at NRG with wind and solar. That’s the goal and it’s going to be compatible. Overall, this is just a great project and why it’s so important for our future.”

Young had one more thing to add on repowering NRG Dunkirk.

“We need to be energy independent in Western New York and generate our own power. If we can’t, and rely on power from other countries and states, then it’ll be very difficult down the road to regrow our economy, especially manufacturing. It truly is about a vibrant future.”

Send comments to gsnyder@observertoday.com