ALBANY – It’s not looking good for the future of the NRG power plant in Dunkirk.
A recently released study shows the NRG plant, along with another in Tonawanda, can be shut down without affecting energy reliability to the region’s businesses, homes and other customers.
The report by the New York Independent System Operator, done with National Grid, would appear to all but seal the closure of the Huntley Station power plant in the Town of Tonawanda. According to the report, the Huntley power plant can be replaced by transmission system upgrades. That key finding could pave the way for the plant to be shuttered by March, as NRG announced would happen.
The report also found the NRG plant in Dunkirk could be mothballed as early as January after some transmission updates, despite the state committing millions of dollars in investment to help convert the plant from a coal burning facility to one that uses natural gas.
“Based upon the expectation of the timely completion of the National Grid upgrades and that no other changes occur to the current and planned status of the New York electric system, reliability will be maintained through at least the year 2020 if Dunkirk is mothballed January 1, 2016, and Huntley is retired March 1, 2016,” wrote Richard Dewey, executive vice president of NYISO.
Huntley is considered by environmentalists to be the state’s most polluting power plant. In general, coal plants cause the most air pollution. Nationwide, a number have closed or will in the next few years.
Supporters of the two power plants say the logic behind the study is flawed because it is based on an assumption that National Grid will bring into New York additional power from coal-burning Pennsylvania plants – which they say is far more hazardous to the environment than the NRG plant in Dunkirk. They add that the state sponsored study encourages an energy policy that helps out-of-state jobs and utilities at the expense of New York energy industry workers and local tax revenues.
“This news is extremely disappointing but there are other factors to consider in addition to reliability,” Said Senator Cathy Young (R-Olean), who’s spearheaded the effort to keep the NRG plant in Dunkirk open. “Jobs, economic impact, emissions reductions and tax revenue are required under law to be determining elements in a solution.”
Both facilities have been important drivers of tax revenues for their host municipalities, with the NRG plant generating $1.5 million in tax revenue just for Chautauqua County, with large payments also made to the city of Dunkirk and Dunkirk school district.
“My highest concern is for the well-being of the community. I am going to do everything I can to ensure the economic vitality of the region,” Young said.
A recent lawsuit against the conversion of the NRG plan has halted the transition from coal to natural gas, although Senator Young said the repowering agreement is still in place and NRG still can go ahead with the project in spite of the lawsuit.
“Our people have been very clear on the need to repower and I have been fighting for this project for three years. I am going to continue to fight for it because the decision for repowering was made for all the right reasons,” Young said. “There also are congestion problems on the electricity grid that need to be resolved. NRG can be part of that solution.”
Critics have said Dunkirk should be allowed to close, as NRG originally proposed, because it is both uneconomical and that the money required to shift its operations from coal to natural gas can be better spent improving the state’s troubled and aging electric transmission system.