powerlinesIn December 2013 the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a $140 million plan to repower NRG Energy's 592 MW coal burning power plant to a combination of coal and natural gas.  But at the end of August the company announced that it would be shuttering the plant indefinitely, as well as closing down it's 380mw Huntley coal-burning power plant.  Both plants are near Buffalo, NY.  The closings could have a significant impact on the future of the Cayuga Power Plant here in Lansing, and local officials are particularly frustrated by the silence from Albany.

"There's been no decision made, so it's hanging," Lansing Supervisor Kathy Miller said yesterday.  "Why would they cut down on production?  We need energy.  I'm afraid we'll be caught with not enough energy.  What are they doing?"

The $140 million Dunkirk repowering project has been put on hold due to a lawsuit filed by Entergy Entities Corporation.  The suit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of New York, argues that approving or denying the repowering project falls within Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's exclusive jurisdiction, not that of the PSC.  It argues that the PSC's ruling to repower Dunkirk is in violation the Federal Power Act.  The company made the same arguments in an August 24th letter to the PSC, challenging its authority to determine the fate of the Cayuga Power Plant.

With the lawsuit looming, NRG issued a statement saying that Dunkirk units 1,3 and 4 are already shut down, and that the remaining Unit 2 will be shut down in January, after a Reliability Support Services (RSS) agreement with National Grid ends on December 31.

Miller says she received a note from Upstate New York Power Producers (UNYPP) Chief Operating Officer Jerry Goodenough letting her know that Cayuga Operating Company (COC) is in the process of being purchased by Beowolf Energy.  COC owns the 300 megawatt Cayuga Power Plant in Lansing and a 675 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Somerset, NY.

Beowolf is an independent infrastructure holding company.  It maintains offices in New York, Maryland, California, and Trinidad.  The deal has received COC board and shareholder approval, and is awaiting regulatory approval before it can be finalized.  Goodenough informed Miller that the new owner intends to continue to run both COC plants, and that the companies hope for regulatory approval by the end of this year or early next year.  That sounds optimistic about getting approval to repower the plant, but Miller says there is too much conflicting information.

"You wonder why would this other company think about buying it?  What do they know that we don't know?" she asks.  "I'm not even cautiously optimistic, because I don't know what's going on.  Jerry's note is optimistic.  I would love to be optimistic along with Jerry, but in light of (the news about the Buffalo plants) I'm concerned that we do get the energy we need.  That's the bottom line... we're in the dark on all this.  What the heck is really going on here?"

What indeed?  

On August 28th the PSC charged New York Independent System Operator, Inc. and National Grid NY with providing a new reliability impact study by September 24.  The request came in response to news that NRG Energy will be shuttering its 380mw Huntley coal-burning power plant and shuttering its Dunkirk plant for the foreseeable future.  Last year the Dunkirk plant was given the PSC's blessing to embark on a $140 million project that would convert the plant from coal-only to both coal and natural gas.

The two plant closings will certainly impact the future of the Cayuga Power Plant here in Lansing.  NRG's announcement that Dunkirk would be shuttered said that the Entergy lawsuit 'has created a tremendous amount of uncertainty for NRG in moving forward with the Dunkirk project, and at this point the project remains on hold'.  The two plants employ a total of 145 workers.  79 jobs are impacted in the Huntley closing, and NRG says that more will be lost at Dunkirk.

"With the project on hold and the plant in mothball status because of the massive uncertainty created by the Entergy lawsuit, we will need to reduce headcount at the Dunkirk station starting in January of 2016," the statement reads.  "NRG will address labor issues with represented employees as provided for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, while non-represented employees will be offered severance benefits. All affected employees will be encouraged to apply for any open position for which they are eligible."

Meanwhile comments continue to be submitted on the Cayuga Plant case.  Yesterday Assemblyman Edward C. Braunstein, representing the 26th Assembly District in Queens, New York, filed a letter urging the closing of the Lansing plant in favor of updating the power grid.  In June State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton sent a letter signed by a coalition of 70 Albany legislators to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging that the Cayuga Power Plant be closed.

The news from Buffalo could be good news or bad news for the Lansing plant.  The two plants there generate a total of almost 1000 megawatts.  On the one hand, a greater need for electricity could mean the Lansing plant is needed more than ever.  On the other hand Entergy's lawsuit was enough to intimidate NRG into closing the Dunkirk plant, at least for now.  Will the same happen here?

If the lawsuit is resolved and NRG decides to go forward with the repowering plan for Dunkirk, will it have been delayed so much that costs will rise?  Will they need more proceedings with the PSC?  The fates of the Dunkirk and Cayuga plants are far from settled.

"We'll just have to stay tuned and try to find out what's going on," Miller says.  "It certainly puts us in limbo for while.  We don't know what's gong to happen."