By Jill Terreri
TONAWANDA, N.Y. — With an eye on the country’s energy’s needs, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton stopped at the NRG Huntley Generating Station on Monday to tout new legislation that would set aside $50 billion to invest in research and development of clean energy.
“I’m here because this plant, right here ... is part of a cleaner, more energy independent future,” Clinton said. “It’s time that our federal government was part of that future as well.”
She likened America’s quest to reduce its dependence on foreign oil to the country’s mission during the 1960s to land on the moon, calling it “an Apollo project for energy”.
“It will also serve our security because it will begin to end our addiction to foreign oil, which undermines our security,” she said. “And it will serve our environment, because as we pursue cleaner forms of energy we will combat global warming.”
Her initiative would be funded with tax revenue from oil companies that currently enjoy tax breaks. She would like those breaks to disappear.
“It just makes no sense that we’re continuing to subsidize big oil instead of making big oil be part of the energy solution instead of the energy problem,” she said.
In December, NRG received a conditional award of a contract from the New York Power Authority to build a 680-megawatt Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle plant in Tonawanda.
Clinton called for five more plants to be built that would use coal but store carbon dioxide deep in the ground. Her legislation calls for $3.5 billion in loan guarantees and grants for these clean coal plants.
David Crane, CEO of NRG, said Western New York’s geology makes it an ideal place to store carbon dioxide in the ground.
“We’re the 10th-largest power generation company in the United States and we produce 60 million tons of carbon a year,” Crane said. “That’s more than the sovereign nation of Norway. We’re not particularly proud of that fact but to this point it’s been essential to do it that way in order to provide our other mission, which is to provide reliable, affordable power to the people of Western New York.”
Upon entering the power plant, Clinton toured the turbine floor, where electricity is produced.
Huntley plant manager Joe Schmitt showed the senator around amid the extremely loud noise.
Clinton’s visit was a major show of support for the plant’s goals, Schmitt said.
Town of Tonawanda Supervisor Ron Moline supports Clinton’s legislation and hopes it will get the federal support it needs, he said.
“I think it’s extremely important for all levels of government to support this project in the Town of Tonawanda,” Moline said.
The Huntley plant is vital to the area for economic reasons as well as environmental reasons, Moline said.
The plant is the largest single-parcel property taxpayer in Erie County, paying about $11 million a year in property taxes. The project’s possible creation of 1,000 construction jobs, along with the new and existing operating jobs, could benefit the community greatly, Moline said.
“This is good for both environmental and economic concerns at the same time,” he said.
AES Somerset President Kevin Pierce, who did not attend Monday’s event, said he doesn’t think the federal government should dictate which energy technologies should be explored.
“I think whatever happens, it should be something that creates a level playing field,” he said.
AES was passed over in a statewide competition for a license for a clean coal plant.
Clinton’s stop was part of an upstate tour in which she discussed energy.
After she visited NRG, she stopped in Rochester to talk about green building and then she traveled to Fulton and Northeast Biofuels, the state’s first ethanol plant.
Jill Terreri writes for the Niagara (N.Y.) Gazette.