Imported power doomed Dunkirk’s NRG

In New York and elsewhere, when a power plant operator seeks to stop putting power on the grid for economic or whatever reason, they must first be evaluated by the system operator to determine if the power is needed for reliability.

When NRG announced that the Dunkirk plant would be “mothballed” for economic reasons, the NYISO determined that the plant was needed for reliability and a “Reliability Support Services Agreement” RSSA was entered between the utility (National Grid) and NRG.

A permanent solution is mandated, and the state Public Service Commission authorized National Grid to build a massive substation near the Pennsylvania border that “transforms” electricity from 345,00 volts to the 115,000 volts provided by Dunkirk into the 115,000-volt system that supports the greater Dunkirk, SW NY region.

Isn’t the PSC supposed to be concerned about climate change and cleaner air in setting policy for New York state? Approving a multi-million dollar substation that has its primary source one of the largest coal burning facilities in the country would seem to indicate otherwise.

The 345,000-volt system extends into Pennsylvania and is fed in part from the 2000 MW Homer City coal generating complex. While the 345,000-volt system also extends north into New York, retirement of the Huntley power plant exacerbated existing transmission constraints, making it regularly observable on the NYISO interactive map that power primarily flows into Southwestern New York from Pennsylvania, not the opposite. NYISO has in fact awarded a transmission project to Nextera to address the Northwestern New York flow congestion problems.

The substation was completed and energized on New Year’s Eve, 2015, and on New Year’s Day 2016 the RSSA with agreement with the Dunkirk plant was torn up.

Imports primarily from Pennsylvania replaced the Dunkirk output. The plant went silent. Dozens of jobs were lost as well as tax revenues that supported vital community and school services.

After an aggressive grassroots campaign concerned with state energy independence, jobs and local tax stability was launched, the governor facilitated a contract to repower Dunkirk with natural gas. When that occurred, it would seem that the substation construction should have been halted, but it was not.

Sadly, litigation over the repowering contract led to NRG hitting the pause button in pursuit of this repowering for over two years, and lengthy permitting after the litigation was cleared seems to have placed the repowering into a costly and onerous new transmission evaluation process.

Logic would say that the plant put power on the existing grid for decades and intends to put even less on now through the repowering than what the original system was designed and built for.

However the newest circumstances occurred, the fact of the matter is it appears policy favors imports over state-made power generation, and it matters not that these imports have significantly higher emissions than what would come out of a Dunkirk repowering.

Environmentalists rejoiced when Dunkirk closed, yet they look the other way as dirtier power replaces it and their claims of a “just transition” for commensurate green jobs replacing lost fossil power jobs is as absurd as their thinking something cleaner is keeping the lights on in Southwestern New York.

Gus Potkovick retired from Local IBEW.