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Officials express concerns over closing Huntley plant

New York State should look closer at other options before NRG Energy shutters the Huntley Station power plant in the Town of Tonawanda, local officials told the state Public Service Commission.

NRG plans to shut down the plant in March.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and other officials wrote a joint letter to the commission this week “to express our concerns about NRG’s action.”

“We know that often decisions are rendered, especially by New York State, without as much local impact and involvement as we’d like to see,” Poloncarz said Friday during a news conference at the Rath Building. “We certainly don’t want bureaucrats in Albany rendering a decision that’s going to have a negative impact for all of Western New York.”

Poloncarz signed the letter along with Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony F. Caruana, Ken-Ton Schools Superintendent Dawn F. Mirand and Steve Weathers, the CEO of the Erie County Industrial Development Agency.

The letter said municipal officials want “to better understand the process under which NRG can retire the Huntley units and what options exist to forestall, prevent or ameliorate this eventuality or allow for potential repowering.”

Repowering, officials said, was an option that was supposed to be considered under state law before any decision to allow Huntley to be shuttered.

Switching from coal to natural gas or biofuels could then be weighed against the cost of transmission upgrades to the local electric system.

That process took place in Dunkirk two years ago, but officials said it was not followed with Huntley.

“There are enormous opportunities to re-power Huntley and dramatically reduce carbon emissions while preserving jobs and essential tax revenues,” said Ted Skerpon of International Brotherhood for Electrical Workers Local 97.

Besides failing to fully investigate repowering Huntley, the letter from Poloncarz and the other officials also expressed concerns about the ramifications of shutting down the Huntley plant, including:

• the loss of nearly 70 local jobs.

• elimination of nearly $6 million in revenue to the county, town and school district paid by NRG.

• an expected importation of coal-fired power from Ontario and Pennsylvania after Huntley’s closing to ensure reliability of the electrical grid.

• environmental concerns over the toxic legacy that could be left behind by NRG at the site.

“They’re saying that closing will be dependent upon the importation of power from Canada as well as Pennsylvania,” Poloncarz said. “And we question how the reliability of our own network cannot be impacted … if they’re requiring the importation of power from outside of our area.

“It leads us to believe that there are many questions that need to be answered,” he said.

The officials asked the commission for answers to more than a dozen questions about Huntley’s planned closure and also for the inclusion of affected municipal officials in any “deliberations on the next steps regarding Huntley.”

The Clean Air Coalition, a grassroots environmental organization that spearheaded the “Just Transition” movement in the Town of Tonawanda, is treading cautiously in light of Friday’s gathering by municipal officials.

“Workers and residents of Tonawanda should not be made to pay for Huntley’s retirement,” according to a statement from Rebecca R. Newberry, Clean Air’s executive director.

Newberry lauded state officials for creating the Fossil Fuel Closure Fund in the days leading up to the end of the legislative session last June. A $19 million pool of money was allocated to help communities like Tonawanda transition following the closure of a power plant.

“As the governor considers his executive budget for 2016, we hope that he prioritizes Tonawanda and Erie County and increases funding to the established fund,” Newberry said.

Poloncarz said he was not concerned that any delays prompted by local officials would jeopardize the area’s ability to tap into that state fund.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com