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Environmental groups seek secret cost information on Dunkirk power plant plan

A coalition of environmental groups is asking the state Public Service Commission to release previously withheld details about the costs and projected impact of a proposal to convert a coal-fired power plant in Dunkirk to natural gas.

Earthjustice filed a request Tuesday with the commission seeking the public release of unedited versions of a pair of cost analyses completed earlier this year on the Dunkirk conversion proposal, along with 10 other documents that have only been disclosed publicly in redacted form.

Earthjustice said the publicly available documents omitted key information that is essential for the public to evaluate and make informed comments on the merits of the repowering proposal.

“The massive redactions of critical information and lack of public access to key documents have transformed this proceeding into one characterized by secrecy, concealment and exclusion of public participation,” Earthjustice said in its request to the commission. “The public interest requires nothing less.”

NRG Energy has proposed a $506 million plan to convert its coal-fired power plant in Dunkirk to natural gas, arguing that it would be lower power costs for ratepayers, be better for the environment and give a big boost to the Chautauqua County economy. Without the upgrade, the Dunkirk plant would shut down.

National Grid countered with its own study that recommended spending $63 million on five transmission system upgrade projects that the utility said would maintain the reliability of the region’s power grid even without the Dunkirk plant’s electricity. National Grid’s study said NRG’s plan would raise rates for customers, while its plan also would increase costs for ratepayers, but by far less.

National Grid and NRG have each criticized the methodology – and the conclusion – of the other’s study.

Both studies were heavily edited under the guise of preventing the disclosure of trade secrets, Earthjustice, said, and entire tables were blacked out in some of the reports.

“The redacted portions of the requested filed documents contain critical cost and environmental information that is indispensable to evaluating and commenting on the various transmission and repowering options under consideration,” said Earthjustice, which was joined in its request by Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates of New York and Community Intervenors.

David Gaier, an NRG spokesman, said the information that was blacked out in the publicly released versions of the documents was highly sensitive. He also noted that the documents have been refiled, with some of the redactions of the original documents eliminated. Those revisions were made in response to earlier requests for additional information and public disclosure.

“The suggestion that NRG has withheld or is withholding information is without basis,” Gaier said.

“Portions of the proposal are redacted, but these pertain only to NRG’s strategy and its pricing, which relates to NRG’s requirements for a return on its investment,” he said. “These are widely acknowledged to be confidential and protected information, which no company that operates in competitive markets would reveal.”

National Grid and NRG have an agreement not to disclose information that the other company deems confidential.

“Virtually all of the redactions in this matter have come at the request of NRG,” said Stephen F. Brady, a National Grid spokesman. “We have no independent basis for keeping the redacted commercial information secret. It’s up to NRG to justify why the information should not be disclosed.”

The filing also covers documents associated with a similar $370 million proposal by another company, Cayuga Operating Co., to convert its Cayuga Generating Station in the Town of Lansing from coal to natural gas.