By AARON RESLINK
We are asking for a savior in natural gas - an angel to visit Dunkirk and not only repower our insufficient coal plant, but also to repower our economy. We rely on our coal plant already for many reasons, most importantly the tax benefits for our school district.
NRG's plan to repower Dunkirk's coal plant to natural gas is understandable: it appeals to state Gov. Andrew Cuomo's New York State Energy highway plan for increasing energy and could mean a full wallet for NRG. But as we ready ourselves for change and the promises of security from the new plant, there is one important question to address: how long can this fix last us?
OBSERVER file photo
NRG has a proposal for a $500 million project to convert the plant from coal to natural gas.
Natural gas won't last
Natural gas is a band-aid. Although scientists estimate a large amount of natural gas in America, the NRG CEO David Crane says, "It is the best short-term solution." It makes no sense to invest $500 million and three years into building a "short-term solution." If we have those kinds of resources, we can use the money for long-term answers. We have a voice in the plant's further decisions. As the consumer, we show energy companies how we want to use our energy and how we want it made ("NRG CEO: Natural gas not a long-term energy fix," Hartford Business).
Despite the current shale gas boom, natural gas may not be around for very long, and it even might not be very reliable economically. Nobody knows what the energy market holds, and investing in any kind of fuel comes at a large risk. Since hydrofracking, we've seen a drop in the price of natural gas because companies drill in places never imagined. Now these companies extract gas from very deep in the ground. This process is very dangerous and destructive for everyone involved in the community. Because of this irresponsible method, many communities and individuals are becoming aware of the facts about hydrofracking and do not want to make the mistake of drilling. We can expect as a result of New York initiatives, including the recent star-studded documentary Dear Governor Cuomo, that amount of available hydrofracked land will be little. So if price fluctuations continue as seen in the past, we can bet our plant will become just as unimportant to the grid as it is now. The plant's purpose is to add another reliable energy source to WNY's grid; however, if the price fluctuations of natural gas reach the turn they likely will, we can expect that reliability to go right out the window.
Another key aspect of the plan's proposal includes the plant's ability to power wind farms. Wind farms can provide a lot of energy for windy areas, but need help getting going when the wind dies down. If we are going to use that as a key reason for building the plant, perhaps we should get some wind farms going in Chautauqua County! Unfortunately, the gas-repowering project proposal lacks essential information on how to expand or even kick off local wind farms. Building wind farms is a matter of public choice, and we can decide to add these clean energy machines to our community regardless of NRG's decisions with the plant.
How can we blindly put our energy future into a company who toys with us? One minute, we wonder whether the plant will stay with us, and the next we are excited to hear NRG's repowering plans. Not to mention the recent use of coal-ash on local roads. Coal-ash is a proven health issue, and the plant failed to acknowledge the legitimate safety concerns of the public.
How are we keeping up in the energy game? We rely on a humongous multi-million dollar company to provide tax dollars for our schools. We cannot afford to wait on a plant that finds nothing about Dunkirk appealing but the already existing plant. With the new two year agreement, the plant has sworn to stay alive at the same low-producing level for two years. In 2015, we will have our true test to determine our commitment to the community. Luckily, that is two years away and we have plenty of time to start the implementation of change. Right now, we can know where we stand on the world stage - are we committed to clean energy? Do we have a responsibility to future generations? We cannot leave our children with the legacy of dirty, unsustainable energy. We must create an initiative to make our energy and our economy sustainable and less dependent on corporate entities like NRG.
What can you do?
Make your voice heard. Email or call your representative and urge them to make change. Consider the suggested message:
I oppose the repowering of the Dunkirk coal plant. Our county needs to consider responsible alternative energy solutions, and stop focusing on short-term fixes. We should put our efforts towards sustainability. I believe sustainable energy is achievable
Or, contact your local representatives and make your voice heard.
Aaron Reslink is a Fredonia State University student.