New York PSC hears arguments on Cayuga, Dunkirk options

Representatives of the Sierra Club, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates and Food & Water Watch on Aug. 15 delivered more than 3,200 comments to the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) at their August meeting.

The comments from electricity customers across the state call for affordable, reliable long-term solutions to retire the Dunkirk and Cayuga coal plants. The PSC some months ago opened a docket to look at replacement options for these plants, including new gas-fired capacity and regional transmission upgrades.

“It’s not fair that our families here in Albany and across upstate could be on the hook to pay for an expensive and unnecessary new gas plant when updating our electricity grid would be more effective and affordable. We should be looking toward building a prosperous renewable energy economy in New York, not shackling our families to more risky gas plants,” said Roger Downs, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Representative.

The event gave residents the opportunity to hand deliver comments just a day before the public comment period on the Dunkirk and Cayuga coal plants closes.

National Grid electricity customers, including those in both Western New York and the Albany area, will be “stuck subsidizing” whichever solution the PSC chooses, putting them at risk from rising and volatile natural gas costs and decades of paying off large subsidies for energy corporations, the club said. Transmission upgrades, which would move power more effectively and efficiently around the state, are by far the most affordable long-term option, costing as low as $25m compared to more than $500m to convert the Dunkirk plant to gas, the club added. Converting the plant to gas still wouldn’t solve all of the local reliability problems, so future transmission upgrades would still be likely in the future, it pointed out.

The commission held a July 29 hearing on Cayuga, and on Aug. 12 the commission posted a transcript of the hearing to the docket in this case. Those testifying in some instances supported repowering, mostly for the sake of retaining the jobs from the coal plant, while others supported non-polluting alternatives. There was also support for retaining the existing coal plant, but with the current anti-coal, pro-clean energy political environment in New York, that in the case of either plant is very unlikely.

In some samples of testimony:

  • Kathy Miller, Lansing Town Supervisor – “I am in support of repowering of the Cayuga Operating Plant. The plant has been in operation in the Town of Lansing since 1955. It has been the source of well-paying jobs and contributed substantially to the tax base that funds the operation of the town and the Lansing schools.”
  • Stacey Black, Membership Development Coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 241 in Ithaca – “I’m in favor of the repowering of the Cayuga plant. Local jobs, in particular construction, maintenance and long-term employment for their employees that work for the plant is an important item.” 
  • Elizabeth Thomas, Supervisor in the Town of Ulysses – “The question of whether to repower the Cayuga Power Plant leaves us weighing the tax implications of closing the plant rather than looking at the bigger picture of whether this is actually necessary and, in the long-term, beneficial for the entire area. The road to sustainability is not through continued reliance on fossil fuels, but instead through increased energy efficiency and use of renewable sources of energy. Lacking a comprehensive and forward-looking energy plan at either the Federal or State level – and I would emphasize that, that we really do lack a good energy policy to help us here – we’re left to debate whether a private, for profit but subsidized energy plant should be repowered with natural gas, a fuel that many of us believe to be causing environmental damage and community disruption through its extraction process.”
  • Joe Sempolinski, District Director for Congressman Tom Reed – “I just want to make it very, very clear on behalf of Congressman Reed that he is supportive of the repowering of the Lansing power plant and also the Dunkirk Power Plant, which is also in his Congressional district. He has made comments on the record in writing to the P.S.C. He has spoken directly to the Chairman of the P.S.C.”

In one of the more recent filings in the Cayuga/Lansing docket, Niagara Mohawk Power d/b/a National Grid, updated the commission on the costs of transmission upgrades needed if Cayuga were to shut and not be repowered. The updated estimated total cost of the National Grid projects that could be avoided if Cayuga remains on-line is $25.7m.

Plant owners have pushed various repowering options

Cayuga is owned by Cayuga Operating Co. LLC, while Dunkirk is owned by NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG).

Cayuga in this case had presented four separate repowering options:

  • Option 1 – would repower the two existing coal-fired boilers with natural gas while continuing to utilize the balance of the existing facilities to generate electricity. The maximum output of Option 1 is 300 MW. The existing Cayuga facility entered commercial operation in the 1950s and exists today as two units with a total site output of 300 MW (net).
  • Option 2 – would repower Cayuga with simple-cycle combustion turbine generators firing only natural gas. Option 2 proposes three new General Electric LMS100 simple-cycle combustion turbines with a maximum combined output of 294 MW. The objective of Option 2 is to continue a reliable supply of approximately 300 MW of electricity to the grid and the proposed simple-cycle gas turbines offer a potential solution for this need.
  • Option 3 – is to repower the Cayuga Unit 2 with a combined-cycle combustion turbine generator, a heat recovery steam generator (HRSG) and a condensing-cycle steam turbine generator. The objective of Option 3, like each of the preceding options, is to supply a nominal 300 MW to the grid on a high-reliability basis.
  • Option 4 – proposes two new combined-cycle combustion turbine generator trains with a maximum output of 326 MW.

On April 1, NRG submitted its Dunkirk proposal to the commission with these options:

  • Option 1—a new 422 MW combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) and refueling the existing 75-MW Dunkirk Unit 2 with natural gas.
  • Option 2—the refueling of the existing Dunkirk Units 2, 3 and 4 with natural gas.
  • Option 3—installation of 285 MW of natural gas-fired peaking units.
About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.