DUNKIRK - The first statewide elected official has come on board in the effort to repower the Dunkirk NRG plant. Sen. Charles Schumer was joined at the city pier Tuesday afternoon by supporters of the repower proposal.
After introductory remarks, Schumer explained the reason for his visit.
"This is a win, win, win. I can't see anybody opposing what we want to do here," he began. "Win - more affordable. Win - more reliable. Win - more environmentally sound. The NRG power plant in Dunkirk is at a crossroads and for some time there have been major questions as to whether it could remain open."
Schumer cited the negative impact on jobs, electric rates and taxes the plant's closing would bring and the pending decision by the state's Public Service Commission on which of two system reliability solutions to choose.
"I want to affect that decision. I am here today to lend my voice to the chorus of those supporting repowering of the NRG plant to burn natural gas. It is the way to go," Schumer declared. "It will insure the economic viability of this plant for years and years to come. We have in this country an abundant supply of natural gas and it is cheap so it keeps our electricity rates low; our rates aren't going to go through the roof. Other commodities go up and down. We've been blessed with so much natural gas here that we know it will continue to create low-cost power for hundreds of thousands, millions of residents of Western New York.
"We know that natural gas burns cleanly and has been the choice of so many in the environmental movement as to how to create power. We know if the plant continues, it will continue to pay its taxes; keep the tax burden on the city of Dunkirk, the county of Chautauqua low. So like I said, it's a win-win-win. ... Who could say no? I'm sure the PSC wouldn't do that."
Schumer explained that National Grid's transmission update proposal was insufficient and did not account for factors affecting the energy market, such as the rising cost of coal, instability in Pennsylvania's coal plants due to environmental standards and the need to invest in New York's power plants, not Pennsylvania's.
"Who would recommend we rely on an investment outside our community. I'm saying to National Grid, you have a New York responsibility and you ought to be stepping up to the plate and joining us in this," he added, before citing another problem with Grid's proposal. "It leaves Chautauqua County residents in the dark, shutting the lights in our schools, crippling our local tax base, and placing a massive burden on families throughout the region. ... Estimates are that city taxes could double, county taxes could go up significantly. ... I hope the PSC is listening loud and clear, because they have a responsibility to the people here as well.
"Ronald Reagan said to Gorbachev, 'Tear down this wall.' We say to the PSC, power up this plant."
Schumer, as have officials all along, cited the bipartisan support for the repowering.
"Congressman (Tom) Reed, R-Corning, and I both support this proposal and so do almost all the local elected officials. I believe I'm the first statewide official to take a stand, but do you hear me other statewide officials, I hope you'll follow suit," he stated.
Schumer introduced state Sen. Catharine Young, R-C-I-Olean, as the person who spearheaded the effort and they both agreed, "We have the power to create a brighter future for the NRG plant and the residents of Dunkirk if we allow investments to repower the facility to move forward and today I am urging the PSC to join those standing with me in approving the plan for our future."
Young thanked Schumer for his efforts and the support he has provided in the county.
Young recounted the steps in the process and the stakes involved, saying it was about the economic future. She added there was a new development contained in a New York Independent Systems Operators report about the heat wave that was going on at the time of the PSC hearing at SUNY Fredonia. For possibly the first time ever, electricity prices in Western New York were the highest in the state. The NYISO report put the blame for the price spike on the mothballing of the Dunkirk plant.
Young added Schumer was correct on National Grid's plan to import power from a Homer City, Pa., coal plant through a Cattaraugus County connection.
"That's the dirtiest coal plant in the country. ... It has huge amounts of emissions, greenhouse gases, sulfur dioxide. ... those are the types of emissions the plant is putting out day after day after day. So why would we turn down an environmentally friendly, clean, efficient, natural gas-fired plant in Western New York to outsource our power production to a dirty coal plant in Homer City, Pa.? That's not something that New York state should do."
Schumer took questions after the formalities were done and said he would be sending a strong letter to the PSC.
"I intend to follow up. When I take up a cause I just don't send a letter and go on to something else. I am going to be at this, at this, at this, until we win," he stated. " ... The main problem is National Grid and their alternative plan, but I can't imagine the PSC, which is supposed to look at the overall sustainability of power as well as the environment, taking that other. I think I want to say this; if the PSC took the other plan I think it would be a disgrace and I am optimistic they will accept this plan. It makes so much sense on the merits."
Schumer said he would see what steps he could take if the PSC rules for National Grid.
"If there's any federal way to come I'd look at that. I'll look at anything because to me, a lot of times in politics and decisions that you have to make, they're close questions. You side with one side but the other side you say, well, they have some merit. This doesn't have any merit at all."
Young was happy Schumer was on board.
"I think it shows that people are paying attention, not just on the local level and the state level, but also on the national level. He has a lot of clout in Washington," she added. "I'm hoping that all of us at all levels of government, working together, we can get this project done and we can have the NRG plant repowered because that's what's so critical for the community. ... We have to continue to beat the drum to let the Public Service Commission to know of the economic benefits, the tax relief benefits, and all the job benefits, power benefits and also the cleaner air benefits. Hopefully we can get this done."
Mayor Anthony J. Dolce introduced Schumer and was asked later for his take on the visit.
"I'm very thrilled with his visit and comments and support for the cause," he replied. "His support gives another voice to the bipartisan cause that's been present from the get-go."
The PSC deadline for public comment on the issue is Aug. 16.