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Schumer seeks federal aid to help chart future if Huntley Station closes

The federal government should commit funding to help the Town of Tonawanda and the University at Buffalo Regional Institute come up with a long-term economic plan to deal with the potential closure of the Huntley Station power plant, according to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

In a letter over the weekend to the Economic Development Administration, the New York Democrat backed the institute’s request for funding through the EDA’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative to help chart a post-Huntley future for the town.

After NRG Energy, the plant’s owner, submitted a plan to the state Public Service Commission in August to shut down the coal-fired plant March 1, 2016, local officials said the closing would not only mean the loss of the plant’s 79 remaining jobs, but also millions of dollars in revenue to the town and the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District.

Schumer said the POWER Initiative presents the “ideal opportunity” to use about $100,000 in federal funding to help the town generate other revenue and job opportunities.

“The community needs a strong economic development plan to compensate for the lost jobs and tax revenue,” Schumer said in letter to the EDA.

The plant now pays about $6.1 million in county, town and school taxes, as well as payments in lieu of taxes, a total that is down from $13 million in 2003, Schumer noted.

He added that the school district had been forced to lay off 133 teachers and close two schools last year as a result of the revenue loss.

Though environmentalists have targeted Huntley – consistently one of Erie County’s top polluters – for years, NRG officials cited the changing economics of the power industry and the plant’s inability to remain financially viable in announcing the phase-out. While the company has declined to disclose Huntley’s financial details, a report last year by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis estimated that it has recently been operating at an annual average loss of about $1 million – a figure the company disputed.

Still, NRG acknowledged that low natural gas prices and other factors combined to make the plant financially unfeasible.

In addition to the impact on town, county and school district finances, the closing also would cut off paychecks for the 79 workers, and any long-term plan also should address their “future employment and job security,” Schumer said.

“These are good-paying, union jobs, and these workers who lose their jobs due to decreased operations need and deserve a plan to ensure that after years of service to one employer, they will be able to find work,” Schumer wrote.

He added that the planning effort has wide-ranging support, including from the Kenmore Teachers Association, the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, the Western New York Area Labor Federation and the town.

According to its website, the POWER Initiative is a “new interagency effort to assist communities negatively impacted by changes in the coal industry and power sector.”