DUNKIRK - Congressional candidate Martha Robertson would like to see NRG Energy Inc. co-firing biomass with coal.
However, a spokesman for NRG says that's not possible. And, U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, and his campaign don't believe Robertson is taking a clear position on the issue.
Recently, Robertson testified at the Public Service Commission public hearing on her proposal she says will create more jobs by retrofitting the Lansing and Dunkirk power plants to co-fire coal with biomass. She called on the PSC to study the technical and economic feasibility of applying this solution, which she said is already being used throughout the U.S. and Europe, to the two New York facilities.
"Viable feedstocks are many and varied, including switch grass, forest by-products, textiles, woods scraps, packaging materials, agricultural waste and municipal solid waste," Robertson said. "With time and innovation, the percentage of biomass used could be increased further, replacing even more coal in the mix."
According to a press release from Robertson's campaign, Robertson's "third way" would create a new market and stimulate the supply chain for feedstocks produced in New York.
"We could become a leader in these technologies," Robertson said. "Cornell University and SUNY Fredonia could become hubs for biomass research, creating spinoff businesses and even more jobs, spurring the economy while benefiting the environment."
Robertson believes that her plan could bring business, labor, community groups and environmentalists together.
"The stakes are very high," she said. "This is a decision for the decades. We owe it to our children to take the time to explore all options and get it right."
Seth Wimer, Reed's campaign manager, isn't convinced Robertson's plan will work.
"Robertson is trying to avoid upsetting her liberal, environmental-fringe base in Ithaca by not taking a clear position on this issue," Wimer said. "There is only one solution to preserve the plants, jobs and the property tax base in the City of Dunkirk and Town of Lansing and that is to repower both of these plants with clean natural gas. That's why Congressman Reed has been working closely with local officials for months to convey the message to the Public Service Commission that these plants need to be allowed to proceed with their natural gas repowering proposals. If Martha can't grasp the importance of saving these plants, their jobs and their communities, then why is she running for Congress?"
David Gaier, spokesman for NRG, said the company appreciates Robertson's thoughtfulness, but it's a little late. According to Gaier, NRG has already looked at using biomass in Dunkirk, and received a 10-year contract from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority in 2010 to co-fire clean wood biomass for up to 15 megawatts of the station's total capacity.
"Based on a maximum of 15 megawatts, the economics of biomass co-firing at Dunkirk make the project impossible to implement," Gaier said. "That is why the company regrettably canceled the project in 2011."
Gaier went on to say the Dunkirk combined-cycle repowering project is the right option for NRG.
"It provides the required electrical system reliability called for by the PSC, as identified by National Grid," he said. "It allows NRG to shoulder the entire $500 million investment in a new plant, in return for price certainty on a power purchase agreement for a number of years ... We believe the choice is obvious."