By William Opalka
The New York Public Service Commission on Friday requested NYISO to perform reliability studies in western New York after NRG Energy announced it was retiring one coal plant and suspending plans to convert another to natural gas.
NRG said Aug. 25 it would retire the 380-MW Huntley Generating Units in Tonawanda, north of Buffalo, and halt plans to convert the 435-MW Dunkirk Station, southwest of Buffalo, to natural gas.
The PSC request capped a week in which NRG’s announcement and protests over ratepayer subsidies to a third plant roiled the upstate New York power market, putting more than 1,100 MW of generating capacity in question.
NRG said it plans to mothball Dunkirk on Dec. 31, when a current reliability support services agreement expires, and retire Huntley on March 1, 2016.
NRG won approval from the PSC more than a year ago to convert the Dunkirk plant to natural gas at above-market rates. Dunkirk would have received out-of-market payments of $20.4 million per year from National Grid and a one-time $15 million subsidy from New York state.
Entergy, owner of the 838-MW James A. FitzPatrick nuclear plant in western New York, sued the PSC in federal court in February, claiming the subsidies interfered with FERC’s jurisdiction over the wholesale power market. (See FERC: Hearing or Settlement on Dunkirk RSSA Charges.)
NRG said the lawsuit made the planned conversion unworkable. “Currently, NRG expects that the Entergy lawsuit will go to trial and litigation on this case could take years to resolve,” spokesman David Gaier said. “Unfortunately, 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.”
NRG blamed low natural gas prices, low energy prices and low capacity prices for the Huntley closure. “Thus, because the facility is not currently economic and is not expected to be economic, NRG intends to retire the units. Should circumstances change, NRG will notify all parties to this notice,” it said.
The PSC requested NYISO consider three scenarios: both Huntley and Dunkirk close; Dunkirk closes but Huntley remains open; and Huntley closes but three Dunkirk generators (Units 2, 3 and 4) remain in service after March 1. The ISO was also asked to describe transmission upgrades or alternative resources that could address any reliability problems resulting from the closures, including cost estimates and implementation schedules.
The PSC also requested that distribution company National Grid reassess its transmission needs. The company had assumed Dunkirk would continue operating, so it may need to plan transmission alternatives if the closure is permanent.
NRG’s announcements could force NYISO to reconsider the conclusions of a recent study that said previous concerns about system reliability were mitigated for 2016 by the restoration of plants such as Dunkirk. (See NYISO: Reliability Concerns Raised Last Year Resolved.)
If the PSC determines reliability is again an issue, it could order National Grid to negotiate an RSSA with NRG to keep the plants running.