By Rebecca Newberry, Richard Lipsitz and Peter Stuhlmiller
On Aug. 28, NRG Energy announced its intention to retire the Huntley Station power plant. Huntley currently pays a total of $6 million in revenue to our local municipalities and employs 75 workers.
NRG’s facility can’t make a profit burning coal. Low natural gas prices have made it nearly impossible for coal to compete. NRG stated in its letter to the Public Service Commission, “… because the facility is not currently economic and is not expected to be economic, NRG intends to retire the units.”
The retirement of Huntley is a familiar story for us in Western New York. For the last 40 years our region has experienced plant closures. Jobs have been lost, young people have left for work elsewhere and our tax base has shrunk. Anyone familiar with this story knows how Huntley’s story could end – with more loss and an abandoned plant sitting on one-third of Tonawanda’s waterfront.
We could wait and watch the story play out, or we can work for something different. For over 18 months our coalition has worked to prepare for this announcement.
In January 2014 a report on the plant’s finances was commissioned, and found the facility was losing money. We held community assemblies, shared the report and generated ideas on how to take care of people in case of retirement.
In June 2014 we held a Just Transition Conference, where experts shared ideas on how other communities have dealt with similar challenges.
A stakeholder group has met for over a year to create a proactive Just Transition plan. This plan includes resources for revenue and resources for workers, and begins the process for future economic development.
Our work began to pay off; in June $19 million in state money was allocated for municipalities facing coal plant closures.
This is just the beginning. Workers and residents of Tonawanda should not be made to pay for Huntley’s retirement. Temporary funding needs to be provided to the community so that vital services aren’t cut.
We need to honor the commitment that energy sector workers have made to this region. Resources should be provided to Huntley workers in order to make successful transitions to other employment.
We ask that NRG communicate its intentions for the site, so that appropriate planning can take place to remediate and attract other business.
Another company in Western New York is closing, and we have a choice. We can sit back and let the same story happen again, or together, actively work for something better.
Rebecca Newberry is executive director of the Clean Air Coalition. Richard Lipsitz is president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation. Peter Stuhlmiller is president of the Kenmore Teachers Association.