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Supervisor laments tax revenue loss from announced Huntley Plant closure

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A longtime coal-burning energy plant in the Town of Tonawanda faces closure under a plan submitted by its owner to the New York State Public Service Commission. Seventy-nine jobs are slated to be cut by next March.

To officials in the Town of Tonawanda, it means a loss of millions of dollars in tax revenues, including an estimated $3 million to local schools. While town leaders were not caught off guard by the announced closing, they spoke of the struggle it will mean in securing funds to provide services when they no longer have Huntley's tax revenues available.

"We have done adjustments already but it's getting tougher and tougher, especially with the  governor's tax cap. We can't just raise taxes," said Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Anthony Caruana to WBFO. "So we're doing a lot of other things, working with our partners in the other communities, shared services. We're taking a look at consolidating our departments and many other things that we can do."

NRG Energy officials say low natural gas prices, capacity and energy make its century-old Huntley Station plant no longer economically viable. Comapany spokesman David Gaier says NRG has been looking closely at the plant's bottom line.

"Unfortunately, the plant has been losing money for some time. We have looked, as recently as this month, at what's the potential for repowering Huntley on natural gas. Unfortunately, the economics don't work for that either," said Gaier by telephone on Tuesday.

Gaier says before the plant closes, the plan is subject to a required 180-day review to determine if closing the plant will negatively affect the reliability of the state's electrical grid.

"The purpose of that review would be to determine if a retirement of one or both of Huntley's units would cause a reliability problem," Gaier told WBFO.

Meanwhile, NRG says it is mothballing a plan to repower its Dunkirk plant with natural gas because of a lawsuit filed against them by a company that runs a nuclear power plant upstate. An estimated 60 workers are employed at Dunkirk and some of those jobs are expected to be lost by the new year.

Back in Tonawanda, Caruana suggested that it might be more appropriate to mothball Huntley rather than shut it down entirely, keeping it on standby to serve as a backup in the event of a significant outage on the state's power grid.

"I know for a fact from reading that one of the fastest ways to generate and upgrade the power in many plants, especially the nuclear and some of the other ones, is to have coal production," he said. "Coal fires them up must faster than the rest."

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