WASHINGTON – Congressman Tom Reed (R-Corning) and State Sen. Cathy Young (R-Olean) are expressing their concern and disappointment with the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) after learning it plans to terminate a contract involving the repowering of the NRG Power Plant in Dunkirk.
Reed and Young both made a statement on Tuesday regarding the expected cancellation of the 10-year agreement that was made in 2014 between NRG and National Grid. Under the terms of the 2014 contract, the NRG coal-burning power plant would have be converted to a natural gas-burning power plant. The move would have allowed the plant to remain operational, preserving dozens of jobs in the north county while also maintaining property tax payments for the city of Dunkirk, the Dunkirk School District, and Chautauqua County.
However, the PSC now plans to terminate the agreement and is seeking public input on the matter.
According to the PSC, the likely termination is based on NRG’s decision to mothball the facility rather than meet the required September 2015 deadline to add natural gas-firing capabilities to the plant. The PSC also cites the decision by NRG to go with other transmission upgrades that would make the conversion of the plant in Dunkirk obsolete. Moreover, the PSC has cited an April 19, 2016 Supreme Court decision (Hughes v. Talen Energy Marketing, LLC) that could be used to nullify any state-ordered contract for the sale of electric generation capacity – including the one that was approved in 2014 between NRG and National Grid.
Because of the reasons provided, the PSC is now requesting public comment on the impending contract termination, with a deadline set for June 3, 2016. Any filings should refer to “Case 12-E-0577.”
The power plant was mothballed by NRG as it worked to fight a lawsuit challenging the conversion, as well as focus on other projects not involving the Dunkirk facility.
REED, YOUNG BLAME STATE’S ‘ANTI-NATURAL GAS AGENDA’
On Tuesday Congressman Reed politicized the PSC decision by putting the blame on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other state lawmakers who’ve pushed for a an energy policy that focuses more on renewable sources, rather than those from fossil fuels.
“It’s very frustrating that this NRG plant will close due to the extreme anti-natural gas agenda in Albany,” Reed stated. “The result is jobs lost, higher electric rates, and higher property taxes – directly harming our community. Our entire region will suffer the negative consequences of a weaker economy – all because of extremists in Albany who are opposed to natural gas telling those of us in places like Dunkirk and Chautauqua County that they know better than we do.”
Senator Young also released a statement on Tuesday, which also pointed the finger at state policy for failing to keep the conversion from moving forward, instead supporting out-of-state interests.
“I condemn the state’s new found policy to destroy our power generators, and thus our jobs and tax base, by relying on importing power from Canada and dirty coal plants in neighboring states, including Pennsylvania and Ohio,” Young said. “Most notably, the PSC previously approved a huge transmission project so that National Grid now draws power into Western New York from Pennsylvania’s Homer City, one of the hugest, filthiest coal plants in the country. The substation that was completed last December has a 345,000 volt line coming from Homer City into a substation in Cattaraugus County, reducing the voltage to 115,000 volts, the same voltage that was generated by Dunkirk NRG’s power station. There also is transmission construction south of Dunkirk by Pennsylvania’s First Energy power company, which also is replacing Western New York’s power generators.
“These out-of-state imports have replaced NRG’s power that is needed to maintain system reliability,” Young continued. “Pennsylvania’s grid power has triple the greenhouse gas emissions than New York State power sources, and Pennsylvania does not belong to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). All of those toxic pollutants spewing from these neighboring coal plants and the acid rain generated by them drifts into New York State, negatively impacting our people’s health and our environment.”
Despite the latest developments and the odds being staked against the Dunkirk plant, Sen. Young said she would still fight to keep the project moving forward.
“As long as the contract between NRG and National Grid is in place, there is hope to repower the NRG plant into a clean, efficient natural gas facility that would provide jobs and stabilize the tax base,” Young said. “Now the PSC is pushing to discontinue the contract based on the fact that NRG has failed to begin the construction, the PSC and the Independent System Operator (ISO) have instituted policies to make New York State dependent on out-of-state generators and transmission, and the fact that there is a Supreme Court decision which holds that state regulators cannot interfere with wholesale interstate power markets.
“Killing New York jobs and taking away our power generation hurts our economy, and dooms Western New York’s ability to expand manufacturing opportunities… The PSC and ISO policy of exporting our jobs and power generation is a catastrophe.” Young added. “New York State government should be held accountable for these terrible decisions. The madness of wiping out our power generation has to end… That is why I am introducing legislation to require an analysis of imported power, a comparison of pollution from out-of-state generation to our power plants, and an analysis of its effect on our state’s power industry.”
While a contract termination by the PSC could spell major economic problems for Dunkirk and even the entire county, Young also reminded residents that there will be financial assistance during the short-term.
“Our regional taxpayers will not be hurt because we successfully fought to include the power plant mitigation fund in this year’s state budget, so the tax loss from the NRG pilot payment will be offset to the Dunkirk School District, the City of Dunkirk, and Chautauqua County,” Young said. “But we need long term solutions. If the PSC does discontinue the contract between NRG and National Grid, I will work as hard as I can to effectuate alternate solutions that will grow jobs, the economy, and the tax base.”
Congressman Reed said he will also work to find alternative solutions, should the contract termination take place.
“Our office will continue working with them and other local leaders to ensure that we can bring quality, family-sustaining jobs our region. We will continue exploring new options to obtain federal help for communities directly impacted by coal plant closures and to encourage use of our domestic energy resources such as wind, solar, natural gas and clean coal rather than depending on Middle East oil.”