JAMESTOWN - "Let the PSC have their hearings and have their forum. Let's hear from the public."
These were Gov. Andrew Cuomo's parting remarks following his Start-Up NY presentation Wednesday at Jamestown Community College, regarding the proposed NRG power plant project.
NRG has made a proposal to the tune of $500 million to build a natural gas-fired plant to replace its current coal-powered facility to produce electricity. The plan was opposed by the Business Council of New York state. The other option, if the project is not approved, would be to possibly upgrade the transmission lines, which are owned by National Grid.
"The Business Council joins with the environmental advocacy community in calling upon the Public Service Commission to place an emphasis on the most efficient and cost-effective solutions when planning for the retirements of Cayuga and Dunkirk power plants," said Heather Briccetti, president and CEO of The Business Council of New York state. "The commission should consider the following alternatives including transmission upgrades and clean energy alternatives such as energy efficiency and demand response that will reduce overall demand, cut waste, reduce energy costs and limit the need for new generation."
A public hearing on the issue will be held Monday in the Multi-Purpose Room at the Williams Center on the SUNY Fredonia campus. Presentations by National Grid and NRG, with a question and answer period, will be held from 6-7 p.m. Public testimony will follow, beginning at 7 p.m., with an administrative law judge presiding.
"The governor made a very good suggestion just now, with regard to the NRG challenge," said County Executive Greg Edwards. "We have an opportunity Monday to do what the governor just suggested. The governor suggested that we let the process unfold with regard to the PSC. We have an opportunity to fill the Williams Center to beyond capacity Monday night."
Edwards said CARTS buses will be providing transportation the evening of the public hearing, which will help with parking. Additionally, the bus will be running in and around the SUNY campus, offering a free ride to the event.
"The governor just said the most important part. He wants to hear from the public," Edwards said. "Each and every citizen. Each and every business. Each and every person who is involved at all with Chautauqua County should find some way to migrate toward the SUNY campus Monday night."
The best way to secure the $500 million investment in Chautauqua County, Edwards said, is to overwhelm the public hearing with people who are concerned about the project.
"That will answer the governor's question," Edwards said. "That will put him in a position of having to support us, and support the repowering on this very important plant. Support the largest property tax payer by far in Chautauqua County, and that is NRG."
Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, has been working to set up the public meeting. As chair of the Power Up Western New York (PowerUpWNY) coalition - which supports efficient, long-term energy projects in Western New York - Young wrote a letter dated June 17 to PSC Chairman Garry Brown asking that local residents be given the chance to voice their concerns in person about the impact of shutting down the plant.
"The residents of the City of Dunkirk and the surrounding region will be significantly affected by the PSC's decision in this case," Young wrote in her letter. "It is only right that the members of the community that are directly impacted by these proposals be given a voice in this critical matter, and granted a hearing with those making the decisions."
Following the governor's comments Wednesday, Young, too, urged Chautauqua County residents to have their voices heard and be a part of the conversation Monday.
"Repowering the NRG plant is probably one of the most critical issues ever faced by the citizens of Chautauqua County," Young said. "We can go either from devastation to salvation. Salvation is repowering that plant into a clean natural gas plant. If we don't have it repowered, it's going to cost the taxpayers an enormous amount of money."
Young acknowledged that not everyone is in favor of the NRG conversion project.
"What's great about America is everybody has the right to express their opinion," Young said. "There are some people who are environmentalists who have come out in opposition to the NRG plan. ... I'm hoping when they come to the hearing, if they do show up to the hearing, that they'll start to understand the real impact to the environment of the National Grid plan."
Young said the Public Service Commission has expressed that it hopes to make a decision on the project sometime in September or October.