The complete loss of the coal-fired NRG plant in Dunkirk would result in higher taxes and more unemployment. Congressional candidates U.S. Rep. Tom Reed and Nate Shinagawa agree to that much.
Reed and Shinagawa, both dueling for the new 23rd U.S. Congressional District, discussed the future of NRG in a debate Monday at The Post-Journal.
"This has been a critical issue to me," said Reed, a Republican. "It's in our top two priorities for Chautauqua County. NRG is our top priority, with the other being Chautauqua Lake."
Reed, Shinagawa Debate
Shinagawa, a Democratic Tompkins County legislator, echoed similar convictions.
"It's a major taxpayer in the area; it's a major employer in the area, and it's also a good community steward," Shinagawa said.
Local and state officials have looked at converting the mothballed power plant from coal power to natural gas. Reed has thrown his support behind a proposed $700 million conversion project, which is currently awaiting state approval.
U.S. Rep. Tom Reed and Nate Shinagawa debate options for the NRG power plant in Dunkirk, currently seeking state approval for a conversion to natural gas operations.
P-J photo by Liz Skoczylas
Specifically, local officials have touted PowerUpNY, an initiative to convert NRG into a natural gas power plant in two phases. If successful, the plant would provide 500 jobs for the 36-month conversion and would ensure dozens of jobs are retained in the county.
State Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean; Assemblyman Andy Goodell, R-Chautauqua; and County Executive Greg Edwards, a Republican, have all come out in favor of the project, which would require a power purchase agreement before implementation.
In the meantime, operations at NRG have been reduced.
"We're talking about 162 jobs right now that are on the line if we don't get this right," Reed said. "And that's why we've supported an all-of-the-above energy policy."
The incumbent congressman said he has supported hydraulic fracturing, a process in which water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to free and release natural gas.
"I think we can do this right," Reed said. "I think where there are issues ... I believe oversight makes sense."
Shinagawa said he would support the conversion of the NRG plant into a natural gas power plant.
"It's not that I'm opposed to natural gas, it's just that I'm opposed to this hydraulic slick water fracking in New York state," Shinagawa said. "I've never called for an outright ban on natural gas."
The county legislator said he favored strong regulation on fracking from the Environmental Protection Agency, alluding to the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act. Known as the Frac Act, the legislation would fully regulate fracking by the federal government under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
"Let's get it fully regulated by the EPA," Shinagawa said.
The legislation - co-sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. - also requires the energy industry to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process. No action has been taken on the bill, which Reed said he does not support.
"It's just too much regulation. You're having multiple layers of regulatory oversight," Reed said. "I believe we need to streamline. I believe reasonable oversight is something we could do, but you're pushing an agenda that is more regulation (and) more government."
Both candidates also touched base on a 2009 failed oxy-coal demonstration project by the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities. The proposed power plant would have combined a coal-fired power plant with a cutting edge carbon capture and storage system.
The multi-million project, which would have partnered the BPU with the University at Buffalo, failed to get funding from the U.S. Department of Energy.
Reed tied the failure to federal government oversight, which Shinagawa conceded changes with each new president.
"Different administrations take very different perspectives on it," Shinagawa said of decisions made by the federal government.