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A Coal-Plant Town in Transition

April 19, 2017

E&E News:

When his local coal-fired power plant shut down last year, it left Joseph Emminger with a $6 million problem.

The Huntley Generating Station was the biggest taxpayer of the town of Tonawanda, N.Y. Emminger, the town supervisor, saw that its shutdown would leave Tonawanda, the local school district and the county with a $6 million funding gap.

A new state fund is plugging 80 percent of that gap, for now. It’s bought Emminger and other local officials seven years to think about how to adjust to life after Huntley.

Now Tonawanda faces a deeper question: Just where is this transition going?

Emminger was empathetic with the 75-odd workers who lost their jobs at Huntley: “One job is too many if it’s your job.” But he said he feels assured that from an employment perspective, the town will be secure. DuPont, General Motors and tire maker Sumitomo Corp. all have facilities nearby, he said. The town’s population is graying, making the jobs issue less urgent.

His deeper concern is about the Huntley site. How much of it has to be remediated and at what cost? Who will pay for it?

Emminger said he doesn’t yet have enough information on the site, which is owned by NRG. Gaier, NRG’s spokesman, said the company is still evaluating options for the site. In June, local officials will present their first report on the future of the Huntley site. It’s early in the process, they said, and there’s a wide range of possibilities.

Some say the new Huntley could produce biofuels. It could become a public space or office space. It could be converted into a museum. Condos are unlikely, given the prior use.

Emminger remains open to the possibilities, but he wants to act soon. He has seen steel factories in nearby towns languish for decades before redevelopment.

“I don’t want to rely on state aid — this is me speaking personally,” Emminger said. “We can’t get complacent, just because we got the aid; that’s not a good thing.”

“The decisions we make today are going to have an impact going forward 25 to 30 years from now,” he said.

N.Y.’s steely coal towns brace for transition

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