Cuomo threatens to boot energy company from state
ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to force a private energy company out of New York after it elected to mothball an unprofitable coal-burning power plant.
The company, NRG, shut its Dunkirk facility last month, taking dozens of jobs with it. The plant had been in danger of closing for years, but Cuomo intervened in 2013 to cut a deal by which it would stay open by converting to natural gas and be subsidized by ratepayers. Under the agreement, the company was not obliged to keep the plant open beyond last month.
On Thursday, after a speech in Dunkirk during which he praised the way his administration had reversed the trend of businesses leaving Western New York, Cuomo said he believes the state has a legal case against NRG.
“I'm a lawyer, I was the former attorney general,” Cuomo said. “I believe there's a case that they defrauded the people of the State of New York, and then I said to the PSC, if this is how NRG wants to do business, frankly, I don't think they should be doing business in the State of New York. We don't have them here. And then let's see what NRG does if they can't be in New York, which is one of the biggest markets in the country.”
Company officials professed shock at Cuomo's attack. NRG contends it has met all the terms of its agreements with the state, and spokesman David Gaier said Cuomo’s claim “directly contradicts the facts.”
"NRG stands behind everything we’ve done to support the grid and provide ratepayers in New York with reliable power under agreements at the price approved by the state in advance,” he said in a statement. “We’ve been partners with New Yorkers in delivering reliable energy since 1999.
Cuomo’s remarks in Dunkirk, where he traveled to announce the $200 million expansion of a pharmaceutical company, came a day after he sent a letter to the Public Service Commission asking it to investigate whether NRG defrauded consumers by shutting down.
Neither Cuomo’s office nor the PSC would release Cuomo’s letter to POLITICO New York.
The Dunkirk plant presented a political challenge for Cuomo, who was initially hailed as a hero by the local community for preserving jobs and saving a significant part of their tax base. However, environmental groups vocally opposed the plan because the plant would require natural gas pipelines and would still maintain the ability to burn coal. The closure, which NRG said was because the nuclear plant operator Entergy had filed a lawsuit claiming the administration had improperly interfered with the state’s energy markets, essentially removed an increasingly challenging political situation for Cuomo.
The threat against NRG is the second time Cuomo has threatened legal action against an energy company's decision to close a power plant in New York. Late last year, Cuomo threatened legal action, which has yet to materialize, against Entergy for its plan to close the James A. FitzPatrick nuclear facility in Oswego. Entergy said the facility was on track to lose $60 million this year and could no longer compete with cheap natural gas.
On Thursday, Cuomo seemed to be comparing the two closures, although he did not directly name Entergy.
“We're going to be losing jobs in Western New York, we're going to be losing tax payments, and again, we have an energy sector where these energy companies, when they can make big profits they do it, and when the profit is not as big they're quick to close up shop and move on,” he said.
It’s unclear if Cuomo’s threats to kick NRG out of New York would pass muster with the New York State Independent System Operator or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. NYISO did not respond to request for comment.