By GREG EDWARDS
On July 15, I joined state and local officials and more than 2,000 residents who filled the Williams Center at SUNY Fredonia to overflowing capacity for the Public Service Commission's public hearing on the future of the electric generation facility owned by NRG on the shore of Lake Erie in Dunkirk.
From 7 to well past 11:30 p.m., a diverse group of citizens approached the microphone at the front of the room to express their position on the repowering of this business, which would create more than 300 construction jobs, preserve countless others, provide essential tax payments and continue NRG's significant support to our local communities.
OBSERVER file photo
County Executive Greg Edwards was in attendance with Superintendent Gary Cerne, left, Matt Hanlon, city firefighter, and U.S. Rep. Tom Reed to discuss the future of NRG.
The officials from the state heard from our elected officials, county leaders, the mayor, and members of the city school district. However, I believe the most powerful message was sent by the citizens of our county who took the time and effort to physically come to this meeting, some who carried signs, some who signed up to speak, and all who stood and cheered each time they were asked to express their support for this critical investment.
When I was given a chance to address the panel it was after 11 pm. The panel had already heard from representatives of National Grid, who want the PSC to support their plan to address state's electric generation and transmission issues by improving the electric transmission lines, and from NRG who wants to invest $500 million to transform the coal plant into a state of the art natural gas powered electric generator.
Following these presentations, Sen. Catharine Young, Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, and Mayor Anthony J. Dolce presented their positions to the panel, and these leaders were followed by approximately 50 other speakers with over 90 percent of them adamantly supporting NRG.
I was impressed with the passion and the effort that each of the speakers put into their presentations from a wide cross section of our community in support of the investment by NRG. A few, most of who were from well outside our county, spoke in support of National Grid primarily because of their opposition to high volume hydro-fracking in the natural gas industry. Throughout this long meeting my strong sense of pride for our county and the people who make it such a unique place to live was strengthened over and over.
Clearly the vast majority of the crowd favored NRG, but when someone spoke in opposition, they were greeted with just a minimum amount of grumbling, but in each case they had the chance to be heard. Having attended a number of emotional meetings in locations across our state, I know that in many if not most locations, if a small minority were given the microphone in such a situation they would have been shouted down, subjected to vilification, or worse. Here in Chautauqua County we carried on our tradition of tolerance for differing opinions focusing on a factual debate.
To say I was impressed is a significant understatement and all who attended deserve our collective thanks.
It was after 11:15 p.m. when I approached the microphone in the Williams Center, and I was certain that the officials from the PSC had heard virtually all of the pros and cons of the matter, but I was concerned that they did not possess the background necessary to properly measure what they were experiencing, and the realities of what these two offers meant to our county.
In short order I attempted to give the panel essential context for them to analyze that meeting and the choice in front of them. I told those assembled that I have worked with both National Grid and NRG over the last eight years. They had heard what a great partner NRG is, but I also told them that I had worked with the National Grid Regional Director Dennis Elsenbeck and that many times he had committed his company's resources to us in advance, during, and after weather events, and he had been a good partner in addressing economic development challenges where we needed more electricity for our businesses.
I explained that the thought that this was an either or decision, National Grid-or-NRG was a false decision. National Grid is and will be delivering electricity and investing in our county whether or not NRG is producing electricity. The question is really will the PSC support the investment of NRG of approximately $500 million, the jobs, and economic benefit.
After that qualification, I told the panel that they were experiencing a once in a lifetime event in Chautauqua County. While other locations, mostly heavily populated urban areas, regularly have large meetings with 2,000 attendees, from my lifetime in Chautauqua County and eight years as County Executive I had never before ever seen this large of a crowd for any event dealing with a public issue.
Secondly, I told them the proposed investment of $500 million by NRG is by far the largest single investment by any company, at any time ever before in the history of Chautauqua County.
I informed the panel that they were part of the largest assembly of people, overwhelmingly supporting the largest investment that has ever been proposed. I reminded them that Governor Cuomo had said to let the PSC process unfold and that he wanted to hear from the people! The message that they received from us was unmistakable, and the choice was clear; therefore their decision should be to recommend and promote the proposal of NRG.
Now we need to keep up the pressure, keep emailing the PSC, and Governor Cuomo and remind each of them that the position of our County is perfectly clear - Repower NRG.
Greg Edwards is the Chautauqua County executive.