By Greg Fox
DUNKIRK - In his first visit to the city of Dunkirk as New York state governor, Andrew Cuomo brought with him an early Christmas present for residents: The official announcement that the NRG Energy Inc. facility will convert from coal to natural gas in the near future.
New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes the announcement to repower the NRG Energy Inc. facility on Sunday in Dunkirk.
Cuomo spoke to a packed audience Sunday morning at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center, where he was joined by numerous city, county and state officials, along with hundreds of local supporters for the repowering initiative.
"I am here to tell you today that the state has decided that the plant will remain open and it will be modernized," he said, which incited wild cheering and applause. "NRG is going to invest $150 million into the plant. We will be converting all three units from coal to natural gas. The output will go from 75 megawatts now to 435 megawatts. We will keep the jobs we have there now; we believe there's going to be an addition of 50 construction jobs to do the conversion. The conversion should be done by the fall of 2015. And, importantly, this is going to be a 10-year contract, so we don't have to worry about this every year."
Originally, NRG had proposed investing $500 million into a brand new facility, but Cuomo, in a press release, said a deal was reached between NRG and National Grid and was facilitated by the state Public Service Commission.
"This agreement will result in a larger, cleaner power plant at Dunkirk that will meet reliability needs, reduce costs for consumers, create jobs and stabilize the local property tax base," Cuomo stated in the press release. "Thanks to the Dunkirk community, which brought the information and facts to the table and worked with the state and local governments, and the PSC staff who directed NRG and National Grid to develop a more cost-effective project, we have arrived at a win-win solution."
Cuomo went on to say at the Clarion that the repowering initiative is also a win-win for both New York state's overall comprehensive energy policy, as well as for the Dunkirk, Chautauqua County and Western New York communities.
The state will assist in the project's cost by putting in $15 million through the New York Power Authority in order to help make the facility possible.
"(This plant) adds to the reliability of the overall system," Cuomo said. "As governor, I'm proud to support this because it will help the state overall. God forbid, if we were to lose the plant, that would have been devastating, but I believe this is part of Western New York's rebirth and I believe it starts here with this optimism in the room."
With the repowering plan, tax payments to local governments will be restored to their previous level of approximately $8 million annually, according to the press release. The plan will also double the number of permanent jobs in the proposal endorsed by local labor groups.
Cuomo praised state Sen. Catharine Young and Assemblyman Andrew Goodell for their leadership and determination in the repowering initiative. He even called them "the dynamic duo."
"They are emblematic of the difference that's been in Albany," he added. "We don't always see eye-to-eye on everything, ... but, we're there to do what's right for the people of the state, we're there to get the job done, ... and that's what we've done."
Cuomo also applauded the residents who stood up to make their voice heard on the issue.
"Democracy works when we exercise it, and democracy works when you use it, when you show the effort, and you did that, time and time again," he said. "It wasn't a short road; it was a long road, and you did what you had to do."
The governor's comments concluded with linking NRG to what the state is facing as a whole.
"Nobody has what we have in the state of New York. This is a gem. Nobody 'wants' to leave because people are rational, and they see New York and they know the beauty and they know the geography and they know the countryside and the schools and the health care system and history, and there is no better place to live and raise a family than the state of New York," he said. "We are turning around Western New York and you can feel it turning around. You can feel the attitude changing, the energy changing. You can see the growth starting, and this step is another big, big step to opening up a new Western New York."
The terms of the project agreement are still awaiting final approval by the PSC, which is scheduled to meet next on Thursday in Albany.