Area officials won't be getting a Christmas present they would love to have, but it might come later.
That is the word on plans to convert the coal-fired NRG Dunkirk power plant to a natural gas powered operation from state Sen. Cathy Young. Young has met with the governor's office and will be meeting with the state Public Service Commission, a key player in the implementation of the Energy Highway proposal.
Young, in a recent interview with the OBSERVER talked about several issues, including repowering NRG, about which she said there was no time frame.
"I assume the governor will start working on energy issues in January, after session begins. The repowering project is alive and well," she explained. "Our petition drive has been successful with more than 4,000 signatures so far. The big push is over but we're always ready to have new supporters."
Young was asked if an upgrade of transmission lines to New York City was a factor in the NRG repowering project.
"The NRG project doesn't depend on the upgrade of the transmission lines. First of all, there's a reliability need in Western New York for power so that we can keep the lights on," she replied. "We need to have a power producer in our region to grow our economy, especially manufacturing. If you lose your ability to produce power it limits your ability to grow the economy and that's one of the key reasons why we need to keep the NRG plant operating. The transmission lines upgrade is a longer-term goal and the governor has made that a priority."
One potential drawback to the NRG upgrade is National Grid's looking to upgrade its transmission lines so it would not need NRG Dunkirk to meet its reliability needs. The plant is currently operating at less than half of its capacity, the amount needed to be available if National Grid requires it.
"A (request for proposal) was issued so that National Grid could look at options that may or may not include a Dunkirk plant, but there's a larger issue here," Young stated. "National Grid is only responsible to ratepayers and shareholders, but we are looking at the broader issue of economic vitality and what's good for taxpayers and job growth so we're hoping that obviously, National Grid does need some transmission upgrade, but we're hoping that we can achieve both, the transmission upgrade and repowering the NRG plant."
Current plans to shut down coal plants may help NRG Dunkirk, according to Young.
"One of the issues is that if the Obama administration continues on its path of getting rid of coal plants all over the country, there are going to be a lot of power needs, not only in New York but other states, but all those issues would have to be determined in the future," she explained.
Carriage House operations in the local area were another concern for the senator, who was part of a meeting after news broke of possible local cutbacks. Since then, the proposed sale of Ralcorp, Carriage House's parent company, to ConAgra, was announced.
"We asked for a meeting because we wanted to let them know that we are ready to have discussions about possible partnerships with the state to make sure that we keep our jobs locally," she explained, "but since that time the big announcement came and right now they are in a period of transition. After the announcement was made, I contacted a person with the company and it will take a few months for the acquisition to be completed.
"In the meantime, the state is ready to discuss ways we can work together in the future with the company. What's great is we have a team, both in the state and the local level, that is ready to respond when the time is right."
SUPERSTORM SANDY AFFECTING STATE
Mother Nature threw a curveball when Superstorm Sandy hit, putting other things on hold.
"It certainly has diverted a lot of attention, especially from the governor, to deal with the devastation and consequences of Superstorm Sandy," Young said. "It's also unclear what will happen with the fiscal cliff in Washington, because a lot of our state funding that we get from the federal government is in the balance. So we need to see how events unfold and what impact it will have on the state budget."
The state's budget year begins April 1 with Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive proposal for the state budget expected at the end of January.
"We'll have a better idea because I believe the federal budget issues have to be resolved before the end of December because of the sequestration legislation passed earlier this year," Young explained. "They have to come to a conclusion before and that should be decided before the state's budget proposal is issued, but it's like dominoes, one thing will lead to the next."
The upcoming state senate session will have a different leadership setup and Young said the bipartisan coalition will be a positive development. Although the Independent Democratic Conference that will join Republicans in running the senate has some New York City representatives, Young said they take a more balanced view of the issues and the state.
"In 2009 and 2010 it was a disaster when New York City-centric politicians ruled the agenda. By forming this coalition we'll have more balance in the state so that upstate will remain at the table and have a voice," she explained. "There are a lot of things that emanate from New York City that hurt our economy."
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