NRG opposition all about bottom line

I read with great interest the recent spin written by executives from National Grid who oppose repowering the NRG electricity generation plant in Dunkirk from coal to clean, efficient natural gas.

The truth is that repowering NRG is an incredibly positive project because it would reduce energy costs, put people back to work by creating 500 construction jobs for our region for the next three years, maintain existing jobs, ensure a reliable source of power in Western New York for residential customers and employers, greatly improve the environment so we have cleaner air to breathe, and stabilize the tax base.

Yet National Grid expresses alleged concern about the costs of repowering NRG.

Those tears are crocodile tears.

What they are not telling you is that National Grid is trying to kill the NRG project because they want to increase their own company’s profits by building more transmission instead. The more transmission National Grid constructs, the more money they make, because costs are charged back to customers, plus a 9.3 percent return on investment. You will pay for every nickel of that enormous corporate profit in your monthly electricity bills as a “delivery charge” for at least the next 20 to 30 years.

And those delivery charges don’t even include the cost of electricity, which will be added on top. National Grid’s proposals would have a severe impact on all 1.6 million upstate New York customers.

National Grid says it “is ready to do its part.”

Boy, are they. National Grid states in its proposal to the regulatory agency Public Service Commission that its goal is to put New York state power producers out of business. They are aiming to eliminate dependence on generation in the southwestern region. Not only are they targeting NRG in Dunkirk for extinction, but they also are looking to hurt Indeck in Olean.

Despite their claims to the contrary, National Grid indeed is proposing additional projects to construct a substation and transmission lines in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties that tie directly into the PJM system out of Pennsylvania.

The costs of these projects are not included in the same Public Service Commission filing as NRG’s, even though they should be. In National Grid’s own words, in an Oct. 24, 2012 presentation to the New York Independent System Operator, which oversees the electricity system, “completion of the work described should eliminate dependence of the transmission system on Dunkirk generation.”

It is astounding that National Grid wants to put our power producers out of business, New Yorkers permanently out of work and make us dependent on imported power from other states all to line its own pockets.

Pennsylvania does not have the same high air quality standards that New York has, and their coal plants have not been required to have the same emission controls. Forty-one percent of the PJM system’s power is produced by some of the dirtiest coal plants in the country. These plants, such as the one in Homer City, spew toxic pollution that increases asthma, lung disease and even death.

The Homer City facility is located 45 miles from Pittsburgh and has been sued repeatedly by environmental groups and several states, including New York. It produces 100,000 tons of sulfur dioxide every year double the emissions of all of the power plants in New York combined. Sulfur dioxide is the primary source of acid rain that causes harm to our lakes, forests and wildlife. We are upwind of this plant, and it is one of the largest sources of air pollution in New York state.

Any further reliance by New York state on PJM produced power is a big mistake. The PJM system experienced major problems during heat waves in July and September when it was not able to keep up with demand for the customers they already service. With the Obama administration’s “war on coal,” it is likely that many of Pennsylvania’s coal plants will have to be retired, making their power situation worse.

In New York, new issues also emerged during the heat wave. The New York Independent System Operator identified an additional and costly congestion problem due to the loss of 445 megawatts of power generated at NRG that must be solved.

The congestion caused electricity prices to spike repeatedly during the heat wave, hurting our residential customers and businesses. The problem also severely affected the ability of hydropower to flow from the New York Power Authority. As a result, employers who depend on lower cost electricity through the state’s economic development program ReChargeNY to retain and grow jobs were impacted. Left unaddressed, this issue will cost New York consumers and our economy millions of dollars every year. It is appropriate that the Public Service Commission has scheduled a technical conference to address this problem. Repowering NRG is part of the solution.

If we are ever going to regrow manufacturing jobs and have a vibrant economy in Western New York, we need to be able to produce our own power.

Repowering the NRG plant has gained widespread, bipartisan support from local, state and federal officials for good reason. Labor, civic and community groups, and business organizations are united in their enthusiasm. All of our state will benefit from the creation of good-paying jobs, renewed economic vitality, reliable electricity, energy independence, cleaner air and a stable tax base.

Catharine Young is a New York state senator representing Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Allegany and a portion of Livingston counties.