For the first time since graduation in May, SUNY Fredonia was flooded with thousands of individuals - but this time it was to rally for repowering the NRG plant in Dunkirk.
Many of the 80 individuals who chose to voice their opinions during the Public Service Commission hearing spoke in support of the repowering of NRG and building of a new natural gas plant.
Among those speaking out in favor were Dunkirk City Mayor Anthony J. Dolce and Dunkirk City Schools Superintendent Gary Cerne. Dolce spoke out in favor of repowering the plant and urged the PSC to support NRG's proposal.
"The NRG facility is a critical component of the Dunkirk and Chautauqua County landscape; its presence has been, and under a repowering will be, a significant contributor to the local and regional economy," Dolce said.
Dolce said if the plant is mothballed, Chautauqua County would suffer a "countywide economic collapse." NRG contributes more than 18 percent to the city's general fund budget each year. The loss of the facility will impact city services, resulting in cuts.
"The loss of employees and the elimination of vendor spending in the local economy will be immediately devastating to so many men, women and their families; the loss of in-lieu-of-tax payments will have an immediate and escalating negative impact on the city, as well as the school district and county," he said. "Simply put, the city of Dunkirk, our school district and the entire county needs the repowering of NRG. We need the stability it would provide now and the positive possibilities it brings for our future."
Cerne spoke also in support of repowering NRG. Currently, NRG has a PILOT with the school district which accounts for 10 percent of the district's operating revenue.
"How do I make up 10 percent in lost revenue?" Cerne asked. "Here's a way, I can raise taxes 42.2 percent. ... I could eliminate 58 teaching positions. Could you imagine a school district eliminating 58 positions, especially a district of our size? I can't do that to our teachers. We have high quality teachers that care about teaching and they deserve to have jobs."
Those tax increases on a home with an assessed valuation of $50,000, according to Cerne, would be $486 in the city of Dunkirk, $543 in the town of Dunkirk and $570 in the town of Sheridan. Cerne also said that over the past several years, funding from the state has decreased significantly. Over the past four years the district has lost about $2.5 million in funding and 38 teachers have been laid off over that same period. He said the district cannot afford to lose the PILOT funding.
Many Dunkirk teachers also attended the hearing to show their support for repowering Dunkirk. Annette Morgan, a teacher at School 4 in Dunkirk, said she showed up to support her fellow teachers and Cerne for repowering. She said if the National Grid proposal is accepted, she could potentially lose her job. While Morgan currently lives in Arkwright, she grew up in Dunkirk.
"I was born and raised in Dunkirk. I would hate to see (NRG) close," Morgan said.
Kevin O'Neil, an employee of NRG, said he is in support of repowering NRG. He said while there may be an increase in electric rates due to the repowering, a 40 percent tax increase will be the result if the facility is completely shut down.
"I guarantee people would choose the 3 percent (over 40 percent increase)," he said.
Mayville resident Michael McCoy said that he had concerns about the reliability of National Grid's service. McCoy said he considered moving out of the area and researched homes. He found that all homes had a backup generator, which residents relied on during the frequent blackouts in the area. He said through NRG, blackouts rarely occur and are usually caused by a transmission problem.
"They sure must have (generators) for a reason - the power goes out," McCoy said. "A lot of Chautauqua homes do not have a backup generator."
A couple of the speakers, however, said they did not support either a coal or a natural gas plant and instead challenged the PSC to look at alternative energy sources.
For those who did not attend the hearing or chose not to speak, public comment will be accepted to the PSC through Aug. 16. Information can be found online at www.dps.ny.gov by searching case number 12-E-0577. Comments may be submitted online, by mail or by calling the PSC at 1-800-335-2120.