DUNKIRK, N.Y. — A day after NRG announced it's no longer moving forward on its longstanding plans to repower its Dunkirk plant from coal to natural gas, people and businesses who have benefited from the plant are taking stock of their new reality.
"We saw probably a high of 200 and some workers," says Tom Panasci, owner of the Pizza Village in Dunkirk for 37 years. He remembers when the plant was firing on all cylinders.
"I think the saga is coming to an end," he said. "It's time to go on to the next step. Instead of keeping hope that it's going to reopen, it isn't. And let's see what the next step is in terms of developing the land or a potential buyer."
For Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello, it's a matter of finding a way to bring more jobs to the area.
He spent Thursday meeting with state and city leaders to discuss their options, as there will no longer be a base-load electricity supplier or power plant in Western New York.
Repowering the plant would have had a positive impact on the local economy from the start, from construction jobs to full-time employees when the plant went online again.
"On top of that, NRG was a very good community partner," he said. "They contributed significant dollars to a lot of very charitable organizations."
But the time has come to look forward to what might be next on the horizon for the plant.
NRG initially mothballed the plant in 2013 but intended to make improvements and transition from a coal plant to one that used natural gas. In a statement released Thursday, leaders said “NRG stood shoulder to shoulder with 2000 supporters to argue in favor of repowering Dunkirk. We share the community's disappointment that this project has not come to fruition.”
NRG says a 2015 lawsuit put the project on hold, though it was later dropped.
The delay forced the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) to list the project as new.
NYISO leaders say the company had three years to reactivate the plant and let its rights expire.
NRG rejected NYISO's estimated reconnection costs of more than $100 million and withdrew its application.
Last year, the Chautauqua County Industrial Development Agency revised a payment arrangement with NRG, to be dispersed to the city, county and school district.
Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas said Thursday the city is now considering all options and will now market the property and offer incentives to future developers.
"We're going to look at all options available to us. That is prime waterfront property, and this could be a golden opportunity for the city of Dunkirk,” Rosas said.
If the county cancels the payment agreement with NRG, the company could be forced to pay property taxes.
Here is NRG's full statement:
NRG has withdrawn its Dunkirk application from the NYISO 2017 Class Year interconnection process. We appreciate the unwavering support of Dunkirk and Chautauqua County, including the efforts of U.S. Representative Tom Reed, Senator Cathy Young, Assemblyman Andy Goodell and others. NRG invested millions of dollars over several years – including voluntarily paying the full tax of $8+ million/year even when it was not required.
The project was put on hold in 2015 because of an Entergy lawsuit filed against the NYPSC challenging the legality of the Dunkirk contract. We moved forward once the lawsuit was dropped, but the delay rendered Dunkirk a “new” project -- requiring the NYISO interconnection process and its associated costs of $15 million. More recently, we were informed that these costs could rise to nearly $114 million – inclusive of NYISO, PJM and National Grid. Additionally, these interconnection upgrades may not be ready until 2024, further delaying the project. This financial uncertainty, along with a significant schedule delay, rendered the project unworkable.
Locals may recall a hot summer night in 2013 when NRG stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 2000 supporters to argue in favor of repowering Dunkirk. We share the community’s disappointment that this project has not come to fruition.