Editor & Publisher, Marcellus Drilling News (MDN)
It’s a wonder anything happens in New York. The challenges to one energy project and the delays with another indicate the state may well freeze in the dark.
A coal-fired electric generating plant near Buffalo (in Dunkirk) was slated to be converted to burn natural gas – a win/win for everyone. Radical environmentalists like the Sierra Club opposed it, but that’s to be expected. Crazy people do crazy things. Everything seemed to be fine until a competitor hauled NRG, the plant’s owner, into court to dispute the change from coal to natgas. They objected to the ratepayers kicking in $150 million for the project. NRG said fighting the case in court will take years, so they just closed down the plant instead. That decision reflected the difficulty of doing business in the New York where labyrinths of regulation, cronyism, corruption and political correction make developing energy resources a nightmare.
It was an economic nuclear bomb for that community. The Town of Dunkirk gets 40% of its tax revenue from the plant. NY “generously” shucked out $5.5 million so Dunkirk wouldn’t collapse economically. But, doing that year after year will get old quick. Other communities can rightly demand state help too.
But what’s this? The competitor who objected to converting the old coal plant to natgas (with ratepayer assistance) has dropped their objection, and NRG says the project is back on. Great news! It’s great for the people of western NY, great for Dunkirk’s taxpayers, and great for the Marcellus/Utica industry that will provide the gas, but…
Owners of a shuttered coal-fired power plant in the western part of the state are moving to revive the facility after the nuclear industry dropped a legal challenge against a plan to rebuild the plant to use natural gas.
The 420-megawatt plant in Dunkirk, Chautauqua County, on Lake Erie, has not run since January 2016, when NRG Energy mothballed it. That came after a competitor, nuclear energy plant owner Entergy Corp., sued to block a $150 million ratepayer package to rebuild the 65-year-old facility to burn natural gas.
Late last month, Entergy dropped its challenge, clearing the way for NRG to resume its plan. That has climate change advocates concerned the plant could again resume burning coal.
NRG spokesman David Gaier said the company has “no plans” to again use coal. “That is not realistic,” he said, noting there is no coal on hand at the plant nor any contract in place to purchase coal.
Now, Gaier said, the company expects it could take about two years to rebuild the plant to use natural gas, which has become abundant and low-cost due to the gas hydrofracking boom in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other states…
Lisa Dix, state manager with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal program, said the 2014 state agreement with NRG has been overtaken by events. Her group is expected to challenge the PSC [Public Service Commission] to end the building agreement and keep the Dunkirk facility closed.
She said power from Dunkirk is no longer needed to guarantee reliable electric service to the region, because of improvements to existing transmission lines approved by the state.
Editor’s Note: The Sierra Club, as this article demonstrates, is the enemy of all progress and they will fight this conversion to the death. They want no part of replacing this coal-burning facility with an updated natural gas plant. That would rather see other coal plants stay in business until the state can replace them with renewable energy costing megabucks in subsidies while they turn also blind eye toward the environmental impacts of those projects. They would rather pay-off Dunkirk than provide real jobs. Whatever the PSC does is likely to be countered by their opposition and that of their NRDC gang partner in crime, which has also conveniently installed itself in State government. Such is the way business is done in New York, which is why the state is likely to freeze in the dark sometime in the not too distant future.
Dunkirk isn’t the only example, either. That CPV Valley natural gas plant now faces the same problem as the Constitution Pipeline; an essential pipeline connection from the Millennium Pipeline to the new facility under construction is being held up for a Section 401 water quality certification. The request for the certification was made over a year ago and the NRDC gang’s latest man at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Basil Seggos, is once again playing games, taking more than the allowed year to issue what should be a routine permit for but seven miles of pipeline. Millennium Pipeline and CPV Valley have now had to go to the DC Court of Appeals to try to pry the decision from the DEC. Here’s some excerpts from their filing (less the legal citations):
The Clean Water Act could not be more clear. The Department is required to make a determination on a 401 WQC application “within a reasonable period of time (not to exceed one year) after receipt of such request.” If the Department fails to meet the deadline “the certification requirements . . . shall be waived.” The Department received Millennium’s application on November 23, 2015. Accordingly, the Department was required to act by November 23, 2016.
After holding Millennium’s application for close to one year, the Department took the position in its November 18, 2016, correspondence to Millennium that it had “at a minimum” one year from August 31, 2016, in which to act (which is really no commitment to act at all).
The Department’s rationale flies in the face of both the express language and intent of the deadline provisions in the Clean Water Act, effectively nullifying Congress’ mandate for permitting agencies to “act on a request for  certification within … one year after receipt of such request.” The same is true for the Natural Gas Act, in which Congress required state agencies to “comply with applicable schedules established by Federal law.”
If Congress intended the one-year clock to start upon receipt of a “complete application” rather than a “request for certification,” it would have drafted the law to so state. Congress did not. As such, if the Department felt that Millennium’s submission was still wanting as its statutory review deadline loomed, it had three choices: “issue, condition, or deny the certification.” Unending delay was not, and could not, under any reasonable interpretation of Congressional intent, be a viable option…
The CPV Valley Energy Center is under construction and is expected to be ready for commercial operation in December 2017, but there is no certainty as to when the Department may act on Millennium’s 401 WQC application..
The Department’s pretextual requests for supplemental information (often duplicative or, as with its requests regarding the Indiana Bat and Bog Turtle, on topics entirely unrelated to its water quality jurisdiction) are inconsistent with a plain reading of its own state regulations establishing content requirements for WQC applications.
Department’s November 18 correspondence admitted that Millennium had answered all of the Department’s questions and had provided to the Department all relevant information in submissions dated August 16 and 31, 2016. Despite this admission, the Department has yet to issue a Notice of Complete Application, let alone commit to a date for a final decision…
Not only has Millennium’s 401 WQC application been pending since November 23, 2015, but the Department has known for many years that Millennium would construct the Valley Lateral Project to the CPV Valley Energy Center and formally acknowledged receipt of all requested information more than three (3) months prior to the November deadline. The Department was also active in all facets of the permitting of the CPV Valley Energy Center, where it was clear that the Valley Lateral Project would be the pipeline being certificated by FERC to provide natural gas to the CPV Valley Energy Center…
Millennium has told CPV Valley that it will take approximately five months to construct the Valley Lateral Project, but that Millennium may not clear trees, one of the first steps in the pipeline construction sequence, between April 1 and mid-November in order to protect bat habitat. Thus, the Department’s failure to act is not just an issue of a month to month delay. If the 401 WQC is not issued such that tree clearing of the Valley Lateral Project right of way can be completed before April 2017, the construction will be delayed until at least the following November, which will in turn significantly delay the operation of the CPV Valley Energy Center…
The NYISO is relying on this project because it will increase transfer capability and reduce congestion across portions of the bulk transmission system. New York ratepayers will be negatively impacted by any delay in the commencement of operation of the CPV Valley Energy Center—caused by the delay in the receipt of the 401 WQC from the Department and the resulting delay in the construction of the Valley Lateral Project—through both decreased capacity and increased energy prices.
The DEC delay in this case is just as outrageous as it is was with the Constitution Pipeline. But, unlike Williams, Millennium and CPV Valley aren’t waiting to challenge DEC; they can’t afford to play games.
Is it even thinkable that DEC would deny the permit in this case? Well, given past history in New York, it unfortunately is possible. This is a state that shut down a nuclear plant before it opened, after all, and we saw what happened with the Constitution Pipeline. Governor Corruptocrat kicked the can down the road to let someone else make the decision so he couldn’t be accused of being politically incorrect and wouldn’t have to face the wrath of the NRDC gang. This is New York and why, ultimately, it’s likely to freeze in the dark unless saved by the rest of us.