The time is now, south county folks, to take up the cause of saving the NRG electric generating station in Dunkirk.
Not the old plant, which will likely be mothballed piece by piece.
Rather, a petition drive is under way to support NRG Energy's proposal to convert the Dunkirk 625-megawatt coal facility to a natural gas-powered, combined-cycle plant, with the generating capacity of approximately 600 megawatts. The $700 million project will be funded by NRG - not its rate-payers nor local taxpayers.
The project would progress in two stages. First, infrastructure would be added to the existing plant to use natural gas as well as coal. At the same time, the second phase would get under way to build a new plant that uses natural gas as well as exhaust heat to produce electricity.
The whole thing is dependent on NRG having a market for the electricity - 600 megawatts is enough to power 480,000 homes. That means also supporting Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plan to build an "Energy Highway" to connect the energy generating capacity of Western New York with downstate communities in need of reliable energy sources.
As we read it, it also means guaranteeing a market locally until the transmission lines are built. A utility - National Grid, for example - or the New York Power Authority needs to agree to buy the power for a certain amount of time, even if the power is priced higher than the current market.
Why should you sign an online petition to support a project in the north county?
Because it affects everyone in the county.
If NRG closes its plant altogether, Chautauqua County, the city of Dunkirk and its school district will lose nearly $8.5 million in a payment in lieu of taxes agreement. The loss will be made up every year, year after year, by property owners across the county.
NRG has an economic impact of $40 million annually in our area.
The new combined-cycle power plant could be brought online quickly - making it a perfect partner for expansion of the more unreliable but environmentally friendly wind energy. The new Dunkirk plant would help stabilize the grid when wind resources are unpredictable.
PowerUp WNY, a Western New York coalition to support reliable power, jobs and the governor's proposed energy highway hopes to have 3,000 people sign a petition online.
If you have not done that yet, please do. The web address is www.powerupwny.org. You will find a link to the petition in the box on that home page.