‘Say A Prayer’ For Dunkirk NRG Power Plant

You might want to “say a prayer” for the Dunkirk NRG Plant because things are looking pretty bleak as to its reopening.

We all remember the December 2013 “Christmas miracle” event in Dunkirk when the Governor, surrounded by plant workers and elected officials, came to town and promised that the plant would reopen. It is now halfway through 2018, we are looking at another gubernatorial election and we are still waiting.

The governor’s action in 2013 pre-empted the State’s own regulatory agencies. The Public Service Commission, the DEC and other state agencies usually “weigh-in” before such executive actions are announced. When state agencies subsequently began to implement the Governor’s decision, Entergy, a competing large electricity producer in the State, brought a lawsuit alleging that New York had “jumped the gun” and that such a repowering decision was under the jurisdiction of the federal government.

Throughout this whole process, we didn’t hear a lot from NRG. It is a big company home-based in Houston and owns 47,000 megawatts of electrical generating capacity in the country. The Dunkirk plant only generated 435 megawatts. It seems probable that such a small plant, under a legal cloud located in a state known for its anti-energy bias … probably was not on the front-burner at NRG. No notice was given to the State within three years that the company intended to restart the plant, and now the New York State Independent System Operator (which coordinates the grid much like the old New York Power Pool,) says that new costs will likely be placed on NRG if it repowers and reopens the plant.

Of course, during the five years we have been waiting for the Dunkirk Power Plant to reopen, things have changed dramatically on the grid. Millions of dollars have been spent to improve the efficiency of electrical transmission lines and substations thus reducing the number of required generating plants. Interconnections with Pennsylvania and other states have been or are being strengthened so that electricity can more easily flow across state lines. So, the delay on repowering has likely reduced Dunkirk’s chances for reopening the power plant. In addition, the governor has become involved in denying permits for new natural gas pipelines which could also kill any repowering efforts.

I remain in favor of repowering the Dunkirk plant and believe that its conversion to natural gas would be a net gain for the environment. Natural gas is much cleaner than coal, and natural gas generation is needed to back up the renewable (yet interruptible) generation now coming online from wind and solar. I also believe that reliability on the grid is better if you are situated closer to the generation creating the electricity that feeds your house.

However, the future of the Dunkirk generating plant is now under a dark cloud. It may well turn out to be another example of being stuck out here at the western terminus of a big urban state like New York where what may be a priority for you, is not the priority of the powers that be in Albany or Houston.

Rolland Kidder is a Stow resident.