Share this article

print logo

Another Voice: Conversion of Dunkirk power plant a taxpayer-funded boondoggle

By Lewis L. Staley

In typical New York State fashion, a fast one has once again been pulled on the taxpayers. While our state leaders rode their white horses to save the day in Dunkirk, it’s the taxpayers who again are left picking up the tab.

The “deal” in which NRG is going to convert the coal boilers at the Dunkirk generation station to natural gas on its face sounds good.

The reality is that electricity bills for National Grid residential and commercial customers across New York State will increase an additional $16 million annually for 10 years to pay for the Dunkirk conversion.

How do we know this? Because National Grid recently submitted for approval a new rate structure to the New York State Public Service Commission to pay for the conversion at Dunkirk. It’s there in black and white on a piece of paper in the commission’s office in Albany.

It will likely sit there until after the November statewide elections.

The Dunkirk conversion is also a horrible waste of fuel because the converted coal plant will use twice the amount of natural gas to produce one kilowatt hour of electricity.

The conversion will essentially idle natural gas plants in Olean, Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Lockport, Batavia, Hume and Oswego, to name just a few. Don’t expect the state to come to the rescue of these plants, but expect property taxes to increase when they close.

It’s not going to stop at Dunkirk, either; other shoes will drop in Tompkins County in the Town of Lansing and in Niagara County in the Town of Somerset, where the owners of coal plants will have their hands out to the state to pay for a similar conversion.

We should not be blaming these municipalities for wanting similar “deals.” The same one will probably be cut behind closed doors in Albany, with residential and commercial electric customers left to foot the bill. Who knows what is being planned with regard to the potential closing of the Huntley plant in Tonawanda?

If New York was really serious about energy supply at the least cost, it would create a long-term plan based on competitive supply, transmission and the resulting fuel mixes, including utilizing the existing power plants that are not operating. Instead, we continue to get policy based on the next election.

Lewis L. Staley is international and national energy consultant to electric and gas utilities, municipalities, independent power producers and engineering firms. He has more than 35 years of experience in the energy sector.