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Dunkirk power plant air quality is discussed as NRG holds public meeting on natural gas conversion

DUNKIRK – A public information meeting was held Wednesday afternoon concerning the air-quality permit for proposed changes at the NRG Dunkirk Power Plant.

The session was held at the Clarion Hotel Marina & Conference Center, with David Neal, NRG’s vice president of Northeast business development, serving as moderator for the discussion.

Information about the emissions that are probable from the changeover from coal to natural gas was provided, and the session allowed for public comments that could also be issued in writing by March 20. Documents for the project are available for public review at the Dunkirk Free Library.

After the public comment period closes, a permit from the state State Department of Environmental Conservation will be required. The project is expected to be completed some time in 2016.

The Dunkirk plant is one of six NRG plants nationwide to be converted to natural gas. Lower costs of natural gas were cited in the decision to convert the plant.

NRG also would retain the flexibility of being able to use coal. The plant, built in the 1950s, has been one of the highest contributors to county and local property tax revenues for many years.

According to the presentation, emissions are projected to decrease after natural gas becomes the primary fuel.

The project also includes a small heater for the natural gas at the station, which is currently owned and operated by National Fuel Gas.

Among the pollutants projected to decrease is sulfur, which creates acid gas and ultimately acid rain. Nitrogen emissions would decrease slightly, while carbon monoxide would increase slightly due to the burning of natural gas, but that was described as not a serious pollutant.

The air quality was also expected to improve with less expulsion of ash. Joseph J. Pietro from the Environmental Division of NRG provided information about the emissions and projected air-quality issues.

The audience learned that there are 68 full-time employees at the plant, and NRG estimates that about 45 people will retain jobs once the conversion of natural gas is completed. The coal-fired facility was put into a “mothball” state due to the economy of running the plant on coal. The public service commission approved a plan for the facility to change its boilers to natural gas as the energy source.

NRG is receiving $15 million from the New York Power Authority for the conversion project, and it is anticipated that the natural gas conversion will reduce the cost of electricity to consumers.

The repowering plan will require a pipeline for natural gas to supply the facility that will connect the Tennessee Gas Pipeline to the facility.

The community rallied to support the conversion, which also was backed by governor and many state and national officials.