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A new plan announced by Gov. Cuomo would convert the NRG power plant in Dunkirk, NY to natural gas. Photo: Kate O'Connell
A new plan announced by Gov. Cuomo would convert the NRG power plant in Dunkirk, NY to natural gas. Photo: Kate O'Connell

Advocates: Deal for power plant "undermined" PSC

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Earlier this week, we reported on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's role in pushing sometimes conflicting sides to agreement on a new wilderness area in the central Adirondacks.

Now the governor's had a hand in a $150-million deal that will see a coal-fired power plant on Lake Erie converted to burn natural gas.

Many of New York's power stations are reaching the end of their operating lives. The Public Service Commission has been assessing options for the future of the Dunkirk power station for months.

The deal that announced by the governor this week wasn't actually one of them, even though the agreement is supposed to be contingent upon PSC approval.

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“To have this process sort of come to a screeching halt by an outside agreement that’s been announced publicly, it really does circumvent the process that they had set up,” says Peter Iwanowicz, executive director of the Environmental Advocates of New York.

He says the Governor’s undermined his Public Service Commission, “One does have to question how independent the decision making will be when an announcement like this appears on the face to be a fait accompli. We hope that’s not the case, but it’s hard for me to sit here today and determine that an alternative result would come from a body that is appointed by the Governor.”

The deal came out of talks, encouraged by the PSC, between the owner of the plant, NRG energy, and the distribution company, National Grid.

Both say it’s a compromise between their original—and opposing—solutions for the plant.

Tony Ingraffea, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University, says the plan  doesn’t fit with the Cuomo administration’s stated energy policies, “Clearly the Governor has been very outspoken and a leader on greening New York state, moving New York state more rapidly than most other states towards a green, renewable energy future. So I’m somewhat surprised by how this particular decision with respect to Dunkirk was announced.”

NRG says the project will create jobs, reduce costs for consumers, stabilize the local tax base, and benefit the environment.

Tony Ingraffea  says only some of that is true, “It certainly will create some jobs in the short term and it certainly will stabilize the local property tax base, and that’s good for the people of Dunkirk. But it certainly is not going to produce a cleaner power plant when viewed from the point of view of all greenhouse gases.”

Ingraffea says it’s a common misconception that natural gas is a cleaner fossil fuel because it produces lower carbon dioxide emissions. He says it still produces high levels of other greenhouse gases.

Many details of the plan, including costs and impact on consumers have yet to be finalized. In a written response, PSC officials say there’ll be a public comment period before a decision is made.

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