Our community has a once in a lifetime opportunity to come together like never before to save our future.
A 6 p.m. public hearing to be held by the Public Service Commission on Monday at SUNY Fredonia' s Williams Center in the heart of campus is our last chance to convince the Public Service Commission to choose repowering the NRG coal plant into a state-of-the-art clean natural gas generating facility. A strong public show of support will make the difference.
So much hangs in the balance.
OBSERVER file photo
State Sen. Catharine Young, as chair of the Power Up Western New York team, made the announcement on NRG’s plans last July.
What will Dunkirk and Chautauqua County's destiny be?
Massive property tax hikes, annihilation of the school, deep cuts in city services like police and fire, private sector job losses, higher electricity bills, reliance on out-of-state power those are the very real consequences of the NRG plant closing.
Or a stable tax base, teachers kept on the job and our children receiving the education they need and deserve, city services protected, existing jobs secured and 500 new construction jobs added for three years while the plant is built, cleaner air to breathe, lower electricity bills, and the expansion of our economy those are the shining outcomes of repowering the NRG plant.
Every day I am reminded of the compelling reasons why folks need to show their enthusiastic support for repowering the NRG plant. As I walked up to the Dunkirk Clarion Hotel's front door recently to take part in a panel discussion, I noticed someone behind me slowly struggling up the sidewalk.
I realized it was a sweet senior citizen whom I have met several times. As I turned around and gave her a hug, she urgently said she had to talk to me.
Her story was sad and unfortunately, one that far too many seniors on fixed incomes tell. Her property taxes are $5,000 per year. There's not enough money left over to buy groceries, so she is forced to go to the food pantry to survive. She began to sob, her shoulders shaking in despair as she told me she didn't know where to turn.
Hers is just one of the multitudes of faces who will suffer even more if the NRG power plant is shuttered for good.
Children would lose the opportunity for the quality education they need and deserve. Mothers and fathers would lose the jobs they need to support their families. And already overburdened taxpayers would be suffocated with an even heavier load.
NRG is the largest property taxpayer in Chautauqua County. The elimination of that tax base has serious consequences for every county property taxpayer, and particularly for those who live in Dunkirk.
Imagine school property taxes exploding by 47 percent and city property taxes skyrocketing by 42 percent in Dunkirk. Add a countywide property tax hike on top, and it is a recipe for disaster.
Without the stable tax base provided by NRG, taxes on the average value home would have to spike by more than another $1,000 annually to make up the difference.
Families and the elderly already are struggling to pay their bills. People simply cannot afford such a draconian tax hike.
The alternative is for the school to lay off 58 teachers, decimating our children's education. The city also would have to make drastic cuts, severely affecting services. The county may have to curtail vital programs for veterans or the aging.
All the jobs at the NRG plant would be lost, putting our economy further behind. We would lose our ability to generate electricity in our region, kneecapping future job growth, and making us dependent on power generated in another state.
The solution in fact, the salvation - is to repower NRG to a clean natural gas plant.
The Public Service Commission (PSC) is conducting an evaluation process to decide whether to repower NRG and keep electricity generation in our state, or close it down in favor of a competing proposal by National Grid.
Unlike NRG, National Grid does not generate power it only transmits it. National Grid is aiming to close down our plant by installing new transmission lines. It would replace electricity generated by NRG by importing power from dirty coal plants in Pennsylvania that are far less regulated than New York's.
If their plan is approved, National Grid would make a huge profit at the consumers' expense. It is projected they would make a 9.2 percent return on transmission lines capital improvements for 40 years. The ratepayers would be stuck with the bill, saddling residential consumers and businesses alike with increased energy costs.
The community must tell the PSC that we want and need NRG to be repowered.
We have the power to have our voices heard.
The PSC puts a lot of stock into what people who are directly affected have to say. If the community turns out with one loud and strong voice, we have a chance to save the NRG plant and secure a much brighter future.
That means the public needs to show up in force. Folks will have the opportunity to tell the PSC why repowering the NRG plant is important to them. Whether you decide to speak, fill out a card in support, wave a sign, or just show up, your presence is very much needed.
You can make the difference. You have the power. Now, it is our community's chance to shine. Come to the hearing and tell the PSC to repower NRG.
State Sen. Catharine Young has offices in Jamestown, Olean and Albany.