Editor's note: This is the third of a four-part series previewing Monday's public hearing with the Public Service Commission on NRG.
Sometimes it pays to be attentive?
County Executive Greg Edwards was present when Gov. Andrew Cuomo was in Jamestown on Wednesday. Edwards said the governor was clear on the NRG repowering project when asked about it.
OBSERVER Photo by Gib Snyder
Union members and concerned citizens met Saturday morning at the United Steelworkers Local 2693 hall on Fourth Street to put together the RePower Dunkirk signs and distribute them throughout the local area. They were joined by State Assemblyman Andy Goodell, far right, who has been working with Sen. Catharine Young, local officials and the concerned citizens to get the state's Public Service Commission to approve the repowering of NRG Dunkirk to a natural gas combined-cycle facility. NRG would invest some $550 million in the project.
"His answer was, very clearly, 'Let's wait and let the PSC process take place and get the public response to the proposals, with some emphasis on public participation.' ... I had an opportunity to speak with the press immediately after that and I stressed that now the governor has clearly stated what we need to do, and that is we need every person in Chautauqua County that can find their way to the Williams Center on Monday to be there," Edwards said. "My desire is to see every man, woman and child; every business owner, every employee, anyone who has interest in Chautauqua County there at the Williams Center on Monday night because the message needs to be loud and clear that the people of Chautauqua County, and for that matter the people of Western New York, support the repowering of that plant because the governor stated that public opinion is going to have a significant role and that it is obviously part of the process."
Edwards added his observations and conversations around the county have lead him to believe there is unanimous support for the repowering project.
"From all of the significant positives that result from that there is virtually no negative to repowering that plant as far as Chautauqua County is concerned and our residents and our businesses," he stated. "Now we just need to do the most important part. We need to get people up off their chair, out of their house, to spend just a very limited amount of time, it's just two hours, helping us preserve this essential component of our economy here in Chautauqua County. I'm hoping we're going to have a good representative sample from our seniors, our businesses, all of our taxpayers, our youth, that really have a chance here to voice their opinion about the future of the county."
The PILOT payment is set to drop after the first scheduled payment for 2014 due to just one of the four generators currently running - and that is for reliability purposes. That reliability is something NRG says the new plant will address, otherwise there would be no reason to build it.
"The potential increase in property taxes on the people of Dunkirk region is astronomical if this plant is not repowered," Edwards stated. "There is a reverse opportunity here, as is true with any significant industrial development in Chautauqua County or any other place. If that adds to the tax base, which it will by the hundreds of millions of dollars, the reverse is also true. That increases their contribution of taxes to the city, school and county and then opens the door for the city, school and county to reduce taxes on others, maintain essential services and invest in other economic development initiatives.
"So the reverse is almost as important as the negative, because certainly we're looking to preserve our tax base, but if this repowering is supported it has the direct result of increasing the tax base."
The current PILOT was negotiated with the full involvement of the city, school and county, according to Edwards.
"We did that very successfully and we were successful in getting NRG to invest $250 million six years ago," Edwards added. "That would most likely be the same process we would engage in this; and that's all the municipalities at the table with the investor, NRG, negotiating a PILOT going forward. So there certainly is a tremendous potential negative impact without the investment but the corresponding is also true.
"If people come out and support this then that opens the doors for hundreds of millions of investment. ... This is a tremendous opportunity for us and we see none of this benefit if it is not repowered. Even if National Grid invests in their transmission lines we see none of this benefit as we would see if NRG does their investment. That's a bricks and mortar investment in our community that maintains jobs and grows our tax base."
An administrative law judge will manage the process, according to Edwards.
"It will be very orderly, it will be very succinct. It will be completed within the time frame so people don't need to worry about it going on until the wee hours of the morning," Edwards added. "People will know that it will come to an end at the appropriate time and they will be able to catch a ride to the parking lot."
Edwards was asked about people who are uncomfortable speaking in public.
"The best thing they could do would be to show up because their presence speaks volumes. It's precisely what the PSC and the governor need to see because the head count is as, or potentially is, more important than the comments that will be made," he replied. "A dramatic showing of significant numbers of people is precisely what drives the support, or lack thereof, with the PSC. The formal comments will not in any way be a surprise to the PSC because they've heard virtually all these arguments before in other venues.
"This will be the first opportunity for the people who matter; and that's the people who pay the bills, to show up and by their presence send the message loud and clear that Chautauqua County supports the repowering of the NRG project. I firmly believe this will be one of the largest gatherings of people with regard to a specific issue that we've had in Chautauqua County."
Monday's public hearing will include presentations by National Grid and NRG, with a question and answer period from 6 to 7 p.m., and the hearing will begin at 7 p.m. An administrative law judge will preside over the hearing, and people from the audience will be allowed to testify.
Parking will be available in both the Dods and Steele hall parking lots, along with the Ring Road lots. A CARTS bus will be circulating to provide rides to the Williams Center, which is handicapped accessible.
Coming Monday: Chamber discusses importance of NRG. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org