Any way it's looked at, NRG Energy, Inc.'s plan for its Dunkirk power plant operation is ambitious.
Currently a coal-fired facility, the plant underwent over $200 million in backend control updates that were finished before natural gas became a low-cost generating fuel - putting the Dunkirk operation at a disadvantage. NRG has since filed for a reliability study with the state's Public Service Commission to see how much of its current output is needed. The results of that study are due in September.
In addition, New York State Sen. Catharine Young has spearheaded efforts to have the New York Power Authority purchase power from NRG Dunkirk as a means to help the plant survive. Now, another effort is under way that may eventually eliminate the coal pile that decorates the Dunkirk harbor.
A repowering project has been proposed by NRG to convert the Dunkirk plant to a natural gas-powered operation with the building of a new generating plant on the same property the current plant sits on. If approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's New York Energy Highway Task Force, the plan calls for a natural gas pipeline to be built to the site. At first, the pipeline would allow for the current facility to become a combined coal and gas-fired facility while the new plant is built.
After the new plant is online, current plans call for the existing structure to be taken down.
According to PowerUp Western New York, the coalition chaired by Young, the project would finish with a 600 megawatt natural gas-fired facility that would drastically cut emissions. Figures provided by the coalition state that pollutant emissions would be reduced by varying percentages, including mercury (100 percent), sulfur dioxide (99 percent), nitrogen oxides (98 percent), particulates (80 percent) and greenhouse gases (69 percent).
OBSERVER Photo by Matt Panebianco
State and area officials line up with workers from the NRG plant, in the background, to announce the company’s plans.
"Our children and families need and deserve clean air to breathe," Young stated. " ... The repowering project would improve reliability by alleviating the need for many costly transmission upgrades and create a best-in-class energy generation resource for western New York. Efficiency would be enhanced by using state-of-the-art combined-cycle units that can ramp up quickly ... as demand rises and falls in the system. This new plant would provide support for other renewable generation assets, especially wind power, which I know many of us are interested in, too.
"Wind power is intermittent and having this plant on line would help balance the variability of wind resources for grid operators. ... The first stage could be completed by 2013 and would see NRG build a natural gas infrastructure to the plant, allowing it to operate on either coal or natural gas. Stage II would see NRG build the Combined Cycle Gas Turbine units which will take the place of the coal units, operate solely on gas and become operational by 2017."
NRG's Director of Development for New York state is Jon Baylor. He was present at the coalition's Thursday press conference on the city pier and thanked all involved. He said the combined cycle gas turbine project is the bridge to the future of energy in western New York.
"We believe this project is beneficial to the region for a number of different reasons. Number one is the reliability of the grid that's going to be key to making sure that everybody in western New York can turn the lights on everyday," Baylor explained. "The second thing and also very important to the region is significant emission reductions. It diversifies the energy portfolio of New York state but it also supports renewable infrastructure investment, that means allowing wind projects to be built."
Baylor answered questions from the crowd, including who was going to pay for the project.
"NRG pays for the investment, this is our own money that we would invest into the project. In order to build a project like this, why a process like the Energy Highway is important, is because it provides opportunities for a long-term contract, just like when you go to buy a house, you have to prove your income," Baylor explained. "When we go to borrow several hundred million dollars to build a power plant, we have to prove to the banks where that money is coming from. So the process of the Energy Highway is really to put in place a contract that will allow us to get financing to help build the plant. But it's all our money. ... It's all our debt we're taking on to build this project so it would be NRG's investment."
Baylor was asked about the timeline for the project, given the urgency and the state's historic slowness to respond to upstate issues. He replied the proposal was submitted May 30 to the Energy Highway Task Force.
"Early fall is when they expect to have their recommendations to the governor and then shortly after that the governor is supposed to take any recommendations and then act on them. I don't have a definitive timeline as of year end, but that's the process that's been laid out," he explained. "I would hope to see action by the end of this year."
Young said the Energy Highway is one of Cuomo's top priorities.
"It's a centerpiece of his economic revitalization effort and he's very committed to the energy highway so I anticipate that they will probably stay pretty much to the timeline and we'll be seeing some action later this year," she stated.
If the project does proceed, up to 500 jobs will be provided during the 36-month construction cycle with more than 24 long-term jobs after the plant is commissioned, according to the coalition.
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