"Thank you, Governor Cuomo!"
That was the message that resonated clearly after New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced to hundreds of local residents at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Center Sunday that the repowering of NRG Energy Inc. would be going forward.
Audience members cheered wildly after hearing the announcement and held up signs thanking the governor, as well as the trademark green "RePower Dunkirk" signs, while local officials had nothing but praise for Cuomo.
OBSERVER Photo by Greg Fox
State Sen. Catharine Young and state Assemblyman Andrew Goodell high-five after being termed the “dynamic duo” by state Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
"I have three words: We did it!" state Sen. Catharine Young said to the audience. "This is the best Christmas present Dunkirk could ever dream of. Thank you, Governor. Thank you so much for what you've done. You see the spark that you have ignited in this community. We are eternally grateful for this commitment today."
Young, who worked for the repowering initiative, said she wanted to "speak from the heart."
"This has been a long, very tough battle," she said. "Everyone said from the beginning, 'This was an impossible dream. It was dead on arrival and it would never happen.' And we proved them wrong. The community knew the consequences. We would lose our tax base, we would lose our jobs. It would be like a nuclear explosion because losing this plant would have killed this community and our future. I'm proud this community came together and dug deep, because you have to believe."
Young said the attendance at the Public Service Commission's public hearing on the repowering initiative at SUNY Fredonia's Williams Center in July "shattered every record of attendance at their hearings (in state history)."
"I think the rallies had huge impacts," she told the OBSERVER afterward, referencing a second rally held on the Dunkirk Pier on Dec. 7 that drew hundreds. "People really took notice in Albany. (The PSC) was shocked when more than 2,000 people showed up, and I talked to one of the commissioners who was there that night, and he said, 'You know, this really moves the needle for me.' He said, 'I've never seen anything like this.' That got it noticed, and I believe that truly was one of the turning points."
"This is your day. Thank you for what you've done because everyone across the state heard your voice, and the governor has responded," Assemblyman Andrew Goodell said to the audience. "It wasn't always clear we were going to win. There were dark days. Governor, thank you so much that there's no coal in our stockings this Christmas. This governor does work for the people, and he listens and he heard you."
"Today, we are proving what we can accomplish when local and state governments not only work together, but in conjunction with strong public-private partnerships, like the one that was formed between organized labor and the business community throughout this process," Dunkirk Mayor Anthony J. Dolce, who said he found out about the announcement Friday evening, said.
"This means everything to the city. It's what we needed. It brings us the stability that we needed to allow our city to grow and develop," he later added in a press conference. "This is something that we now have to take. It's on us. Gov. Cuomo gave us this momentum, now we need to keep going with it."
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, who was one of the first major elected officials to come out in support of the repowering initiative, called the OBSERVER to express his approval of the announcement.
"It's such a good-news day for Dunkirk and Chautauqua County, and it's a win-win-win," he said. "And I've always felt that way, which is why I pushed so hard for this. It's a win for jobs in the county. It's a win for the taxpayers of Dunkirk and the school. And it's a win for clean energy. The alternative would have been dirty, coal-powered energy from Pennsylvania. I'm glad this is finally happening; we've worked long and hard on it. And it will bode well for Dunkirk's and Chautauqua County's economies."
U.S. Congressman Tom Reed released the following statement regarding the NRG announcement:
"The local community won a huge victory with the news that NRG will stay in Dunkirk. ... We have worked hard with state legislators, local officials and the governor's office to make this a reality. But the credit for this victory goes to all the Chautauqua residents who spoke out by writing letters, making calls, circulating petitions and using their voice to get this decision."
Both NRG and National Grid (which offered a competing energy plan to the PSC) appear to be satisfied with the agreement, as seen in a press release from Cuomo's office.
"We are proud of the high performance of our Dunkirk employees during this uncertain period and are extremely happy to continue to be part of the Dunkirk community," Lee Davis, NRG executive vice president and president of the East Region, stated. "NRG thanks Gov. Cuomo for his leadership and the entire Western New York community for their support of this important initiative."
"Our goal from the beginning of this process was a balanced outcome and this agreement allows us to deliver electricity to this region at a much, much lower cost than earlier electric generation proposals," Ken Daly, president of National Grid New York, stated.
"Today, Gov. Cuomo has answered our need," Dave Wilkinson, president of the Chautauqua County Labor Coalition, said. "Supporting the Dunkirk Power Plant means supporting Western New Yorkers, and we are grateful for the governor's involvement and making this plant an institution in our community for years to come."
Jim Murty, assistant business manager for IBEW Local 97 (representing employees of the Dunkirk Power Plant), said in an email, "We are delighted to see this issue resolved in a way that preserves and grows jobs and the regional economy, while offering critical fuel diversity and system reliability. This is one of the first of many major chapters emerging from Gov. Cuomo's Energy Highway Blueprint."
"At the end of the day, it was the relentless voice of the workers, employers and residents of this great county that resonated all across the state of New York," James Pullan Jr., Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce board chair, said.
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