Financial Disconnect

Editor’s note: This is the first of a four-part series previewing Monday’s public hearing with the Public Service Commission on NRG.

Monday’s 6 p.m. public hearing at SUNY Fredonia Williams Center on the future of NRG Energy in Dunkirk will be a chance for local residents to have their say on the issue of repowering.

The city of Dunkirk – and its taxpayers – will be hard hit financially if the NRG repowering project does not get approval from the state Public Service Commission.

Mayor Anthony J. Dolce was asked his thoughts on the project and the hearing.

“I look at Monday’s meeting as just a great opportunity for the public to be heard. This has had tremendous bipartisan and community support from the get-go and to me, this hearing is just a culmination of all that,” he replied. “This is the opportunity for the public to speak in support of it. I mean it’s a $500 million private investment in our backyard. Tremendous, tremendous benefits to the community, so we just hope that the community comes out and supports it.”

Dolce was asked the ramifications on the city’s taxpayers if the NRG repowering project does not get built.

“I fully believe the public is well aware of the negative impact, in the pocketbook alone, this would have on the community. We really feel that by showing up, making your presence known, possibly taking a turn speaking, we really feel that would have a positive impact on the decision of the Public Service Commission members,” he replied. “They will be present and they are the ones that ultimately make the final decision, so we need a strong support from the community to help make that happen.”

Dolce was asked if he had looked at what to do in a worst-case scenario.

“Yes. There would be all sorts of, the term some use is ‘nuclear options,’ no pun intended. Any option there would have to be some combination of cutting of services, taxes being raised, possible rate increases. There would be all sorts of negative effects of this,” he replied. “What we do know is at least one generator will still be running until 2015 and there will be other things explored. Right now, everyone’s efforts are focused on this public hearing on Monday – making our voices heard to the PSC and letting them know this has extreme bipartisan, community support.

“What NRG officials have said to us is some communities aren’t so willing to have them in their backyard. We are. They’ve been here for many years and they’ve been a great supporter of the community. We want that to continue so I think everyone’s efforts have focused solely on that and hopefully that works out.”

Dolce has made a public service announcement which is available at dunkirktoday.com.

The city’s current tax rate is $17.30 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The 2013 PILOT payment is $2,748,041. According to figures supplied by the city, to replace that funding if the PILOT program was ended the city would have to raise its tax rate by $9.84 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

A house assessed at $50,000 currently pays $865 in city taxes at the present rate; that figure would go to $1,357 if the PILOT was dropped, an increase of $492.13.

City Assessor Tom Mleczko said if the PILOT ends the property and buildings would go back on the tax rolls “but if it’s not being used the assessment will drop,” he added.

He was asked if there was a percentage that is used.

“No, because you would have to go through a whole big appraisal project on something that large,” he replied. “The appraisal alone is going to cost a couple dollars and naturally, NRG will come in with their appraisal which will, in all probability, be lower than ours.”

Asked if that would mean a trip to court and hiring an industrial appraisal expert, Mleczko said he would like to say no, so no more money would have to be spent.

“I suppose the value of a mothballed building in their picture would be severely different than our picture of a mothballed building in our backyard.”

Mleczko noted the PSC usually holds meetings in either Albany or New York City.

“You’d like to say since they’re coming down here they’d like to hear what the people have to say. I suppose there’s going to be another group that’s opposed to any kind of energy, like the Sierra Club groups or something like that,” he explained. “You’ve got to counterbalance those out, so I think it would be in everyone’s best interest to rally the troops and get everyone there. I’d like to tell everybody they don’t have to get up and speak, just be a body. … At least we’ve got to play the game because they’re coming down here and most of them wouldn’t come for lip service. … If they’re coming down here there is a ray of hope.”

The issue comes down to one of reliability, which NRG says its plans will meet those needs, otherwise there is no reason to build a gas-fired plant. The PSC has been studying the issues involved since January and the process is now in the home stretch.

Monday’s public hearing will include presentations by National Grid and NRG, with a question and answer period from 6-7 p.m., and the hearing will begin at 7 p.m. An administrative law judge will preside over the hearing, and people from the audience will be allowed to testify.

Parking will be available in both the Dods and Steele hall parking lots, along with the Ring Road lots. A CARTS bus will be circulating to provide rides to the Williams Center, which is handicapped accessible.

Coming Saturday: NRG’s impact on the Dunkirk City School District.