County Executive: Bringing power generation top priority

OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy Mark Geise, Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency chief executive officer, discusses a grant application for a feasibility study on potential uses for NRG’s Dunkirk power plant during Tuesday’s IDA Board of Directors meeting at the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield. Pictured left is Rich Dixon, IDA chief financial officer, and pictured right is Michael Metzger, IDA Board of Directors chairman.

WESTFIELD — NRG gave its answer over a month ago regarding its intent to forgo repowering the plant in Dunkirk from coal to a cleaner option in natural gas. Now, officials from various government branches are taking steps to figure out what the future might hold for the property.

Mark Geise, Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency chief executive officer, told the IDA Board of Directors during a Tuesday meeting in Westfield that a grant application to conduct a feasibility study on the plant was sent out. Geise said they’ve been working jointly with the city of Dunkirk.

As for the study, Geise said it’ll examine the plant’s assets and future projects that would fit the area and the plant. He said they’re requesting $60,000 in the grant application through the Appalachian Regional Commission.

“It’s going to look at all possibilities what that plant could potentially be,” Geise said. “We have some ideas on where that might lead, but we don’t want to predetermine what the outcomes will be.”

Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello was in attendance for the IDA’s board meeting at the Grape Discovery Center. Borrello told board members he believes there’s opportunity to potentially bring in another power generation company, and that’s the first choice to repurposing the plant.

OBSERVER Photo by Jimmy McCarthy Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello visits the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency Board of Directors during a Tuesday meeting at the Grape Discovery Center in Westfield to discuss possibilities for the power plant in Dunkirk.

“We need natural gas power in Western New York, and that still needs to be the priority No. 1,” he said.

With obstacles that NRG faced in repowering the plant, Dennis Rak, board vice chairman, wondered if it would be the same scenario for other power generators. Borrello responded by saying there’s potential for a microgrid.

“The concept of creating a microgrid, which people have talked about, would be different because you’d be supplying power directly to homes within the area… very much similar to what the BPU (Board of Public Utilities) does in Jamestown,” Borrello said.

Instead of putting power into the grid and being subject to all the issues involved including wholesale price of electricity, Borrello said power could be generated for a specific geographic area.

“This is still in the infancy stage,” Borrello said. “We’ll look at this comprehensively, which is why this study would be appropriate.”

In early July, top elected officials were made aware of NRG’s decision to end the repowering efforts. NRG officials say it was due to potential costs associated with interconnecting power generated to the regional grid.

NRG said the New York Independent System Operator informed them that costs could rise to nearly $114 million. NRG said that was unanticipated.

In addition, NRG officials said the time schedule to conduct interconnection upgrades would delay the project.

On Aug. 13, the OBSERVER reached out to NRG to inquire about its plan for the Dunkirk power plant with the repowering out of the picture. Then-spokesman Dave Gaier stated that it was far too early and that it would be irresponsible to speculate.

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