DUNKIRK - The long battle to keep NRG's Dunkirk power plant open appears to be a success as the state Public Service Commission voted unanimously Thursday to approve the repowering of the facility from coal to natural gas.
At a hearing held in Albany, the PSC heard from staff members who studied the repowering proposal, PSC Case 12-E-0577, and found it to be the right answer to several concerns. Both companies involved in the agreement, National Grid and NRG, were happy with the decision.
"Obviously, we're very pleased that the PSC unanimously voted to approve the Dunkirk project," NRG spokesman David Gaier stated. "We believe that the system reliability, system congestion relief, environmental, economic, tax and jobs benefits made themselves evident to the PSC Commissioners after careful research and investigation by the PSC staff."
"National Grid supports the action taken today by the New York Public Service Commission as it allows the benefits of repowering to move forward while assuring a reasonable and timely approach to cost recovery," National Grid Media Relations Manager Steve Brady stated.
Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce, who took office in Jan. 1, 2012, has been working on the repowering since it was announced in March of that year that NRG wanted to mothball the plant.
"We could not be more excited. Today's PSC vote finalizes what took every stakeholder working together to make happen," Dolce stated. "The city appreciates the bi-partisan and workman-like manner put forth by the public, as well as the business and labor communities, to support the repowering efforts. I would also like to express my sincere thanks to Gov. Cuomo for making this a reality."
County Executive Vince Horrigan, who took office in January, has been working on the repowering project ever since.
"I think this is terrific news which will now formally pave the way for the energy reliability and economic benefits for Chautauqua County and Western New York. We will be working closely with NRG with a new PILOT agreement and we're excited about this final development in the process," Horrigan stated. "The county's perspective primarily has to do with the PILOT agreement for the repowering, and actually we've been involved with that, but now we'll be able to move forward with the final pieces.
"I just have to again congratulate the team approach under the leadership of Sen. (Catharine) Young and Assemblyman (Andy) Goodell and our friends in business, industry and labor that all came together to be able to accomplish this great development for Chautauqua County. You look at how many people came together for a single cause and worked together, and of course the benefit especially to the Dunkirk area, our schools, and the taxpayers of Chautauqua County is just very significant."
Congressman Tom Reed has also been involved in the effort to repower NRG.
"The decision to repower NRG with natural gas is the right decision for protecting jobs, lowering utility rates for taxpayers and caring for the well-being of the entire community," Reed said. "As the county's largest single taxpayer, the plant's impact on the city of Dunkirk, the Dunkirk school district and Chautauqua County as a whole cannot be overstated. The community's successful team effort deserves all the credit. Repowering is the right and fair path."
Goodell has been involved from the beginning of the effort to keep the plant open and said it was "tremendous good news for Chautauqua County and the city of Dunkirk, in particular."
"This project was a bi-partisan team effort and Gov. Cuomo is the one that made sure this project crossed the finish line," Goodell said. "A special thanks to Gov. Cuomo, Sen. Young of course, Congressman Tom Reed, A.J. Dolce and the thousands and thousands of residents that turned out at the PSC hearing, wrote letters of support, emailed the PSC and otherwise supported this project. It's great news."
Part of that bi-partisan effort included two trips Goodell and Dolce took together to Albany to garner support with the governor's staff.
Young led the fight in Albany to keep the plant open from the beginning as chair of PowerUpWNY, a coalition of labor, business, governmental and community leaders who banded together to fight for the project. She passed several bills in the state Senate to advance repowering, and in the 2012-13 state budget, she successfully inserted language that would require the PSC to consider the economic, jobs, environmental and tax base impact of repowering, in addition to the effects on ratepayers and the reliability of electricity supply.
"This outcome is fantastic, one that many said would never happen. It shows that if a goal is worth achieving, it is worth fighting for," Young said. "When Gov. Cuomo came to Dunkirk to announce his support last December people were crying with joy. It was our Christmas miracle. Now that miracle has officially come to pass. The community has always understood that repowering will save and create hundreds of jobs, lower energy costs, ensure a reliable electricity source to power our homes and businesses, and reduce harmful emissions, all while stabilizing our tax base for years to come.
"To everyone who sent an email or letter, made a telephone call, attended a rally, put up a sign, or told a friend or neighbor about the importance of repowering, I cannot thank you enough. It was your dedicated support that made this happen and has given us bright hopes for the future."
The project is underway, including permitting of the pipeline - a major element in getting the project built, which had a target date for commercial operation of September 2015.
As for the parties who have objected to the repowering in numerous filings with the PSC, there is a 30-day period in which to file a petition with the PSC for rehearing.
The PSC is scheduled to meet again June 26.