It was a wonderful night, seeing all the local people show up in support of the repowering of Dunkirk's steam station at the Public Service Commission hearing July 15. It was a positive feeling, hearing what the people want. The community members really came together.
There was a little confusion, though, when speakers from the Sierra Club got up to speak. Many people in the room couldn't understand how replacing the steam station with windmills would balance out the losses we would see if the station were to close its doors. We are teetering on the edge of a major financial loss, and a few windmills are definitely not the answer that the people and National Grid were looking for that night. Many attended the meeting not to find cleaner ways to produce power, but to lend their support for the repowering of the Dunkirk station.
I worked at the Dunkirk steam station for over 30 years. I had the honor of being elected as the executive board member and was assigned to the Union System Council U-11. On my first day as executive member I was taken by the plant superintendent, Mr. Steger, to the company's main bulletin board. Here I was shown a certificate stating that the Dunkirk steam station was a national security facility. The reason he showed me this was that Mr. Steger wanted me to know that the generation station was to be kept running 24/7 at 100 percent. If I had any union issues, it was understood that the plant needed to keep running and the issue would be solved later.
As time went on there was talk of LEGS (Lake Erie Generation Station). This was another power station near Portland. A plant back then was much needed to support the grid. As time passed I was then involved with the PSC hearing on generating electricity and delivering it. The Public Service Commission determined that any company could no longer both produce AND deliver electricity; it would start a monopoly and be unfair to the customers. Niagara Mohawk had to make a decision - produce electricity or distribute it. The decision was made to split the company.
It was decided that the company would sell its power generating facilities. NRG Energy purchased the Dunkirk and Huntley stations. But this led to more questions. There were 213 employees who had to make a choice: remain employees of Niagara Mohawk and be placed in the line department or stay at the new NRG generation station and keep the jobs they had.
In order to be licensed to operate a steam generation station, the PSC required that NRG have enough people qualified in each job classification. In May of 1999, NRG requested that along with management from Niagara Mohawk, two executive members from both the Huntley and Dunkirk stations be involved with the sale negotiations. While sitting in on the sale discussions between the two companies, I spent many nights in Syracuse. NRG was so detailed in its proceedings; they wanted only the best for their new employees. The negotiations took almost two months.
NRG came in as a highly recommended company, and during negotiations they did whatever it took to obtain a qualified work force. Sitting in on all 213 interviews, I only witnessed seven employees decide that they wanted to go with Niagara Mohawk. NRG, having many non-union facilities, still lived up to all union practices. Working with them until my retirement was a pleasure.
I needed to let people know that NRG is the real thing - they constantly donate to local charities and worthy causes. They listen to and care about their community. They are not a small company. The Dunkirk facility, in the total consideration of all NRG facilities, amounts to a pin-prick on someone's hand. They could have easily written off the plant, locked the doors in Dunkirk, and moved on. Yet, they didn't do that.
In listening to the National Grid representative at the hearing for 30 minutes, no one in the crowd heard one word about what they would do to help repower the Dunkirk plant. All National Grid talked about was how they were going to make THEIR company better.
I started work at the plant as a lineman. It was the early '70s and most line crews were doing distribution line rebuilding. All the distribution lines on most streets were being revamped with new state-of-the-art line equipment. The revamping in the '70s paid off; most of those lines are still intact, leaving National Grid in great shape. We did such a great job in the '70s with those lines that unless there is a major storm, there really isn't a lot of money needed to keep those lines in running order.
Look at your electric bill. You now see two charges. One from National Grid tells you your charges for the delivery of power. That is adjusted according to how much you use. The more power you use, the more you pay them for the delivery, yet you don't see them bringing out bigger wires to your house for that increase. They do nothing but make you pay more. As you note your delivery fee, keep in mind that National Grid is using the same wire from the pole to your house, no matter how much power you use. Then National Grid uses your service entrance cable, (yet they don't pay you for using your wire) to get the power to your meter. Then, regarding the meter, you will see that in your delivery fee you actually pay for your meter! Then you pay again to have your meter read, and for some people, they have to pay more if the meter is located in their homes or basements. Every month you pay National Grid over and over again just to be able to purchase the power you need.
Then, the second part of your bill is your home's actual usage of power. So when you get your bill look at it two ways: There's the National Grid part, for doing NOTHING in most cases, and then there's the part from NRG, billing you for the actual power you need and use.
Well now, National Grid wants NRG out of the picture. With NRG out of the way, National Grid can get you cheaper electricity. But since it's cheaper, you will probably use more; but here's the catch. If you use more power, guess what? That means more money for the delivery man - in this case, that's National Grid. Remember that first part of your bill?
All those lines that were actually built in the 1970s were built with Niagara Mohawk's money and work force. That money came from the profits of their power generating plants. If given a choice between losing NRG or paying a higher price for the actual electricity with NRG, most would agree to keep NRG.
The truth is that all of this could work, except for this. If we agree to pay more for NRG power, most people will cut back some on their power consumption - they will use less electricity. If they use less, less will be delivered, which means National Grid would lose a few pennies on their delivery charges.
We need to let the PSC know that letting the delivery company decide who can use their lines IS a monopoly. As I saw things on July 15, the fate of all of Dunkirk is in the hands of National Grid. Things are in a sad state if the Public Service Commission can let a delivery company decide who can and can't use their lines.
Let's all keep this drive going. We need to keep a close eye on National Grid and who they are purchasing their power from. There is not much we can do if they buy from the non-regulated dirty coal-fired plants in Pennsylvania. If they start using low-cost Canadian power, we may have a say on that. We need to keep this "Repower Dunkirk" campaign going until we see new construction crews at the plant starting to make our Dunkirk station the cleanest generating plant in New York.
A special thanks goes to Sen. Cathy Young for her input and representation at the public meeting. Let's all give her the support and help she needs.
John Fedyszyn is a Fredonia resident and contributes a weekly OBSERVER column honoring veterans.