Thousands Meet About NRG's Future

July 16, 2013 Updated Jul 16, 2013 at 7:37 AM EDT

By Rachel Elzufon

July 16, 2013 Updated Jul 16, 2013 at 7:37 AM EDT

Fredonia, NY (WKBW) - A public meeting Monday night is being called one of the most important in the history of Chautauqua County.

The hot topic is Dunkirk's NRG Power Plant, and whether or not the state will close it.

More than two-thousand people packed into the William Center at the University of Fredonia. Eighty people spoke, many of them local residents. Almost everyone made an impassioned plea to keep the NRG plant open.

NRG is planning to convert from coal to gas, but must get state approval. However, it's facing competition from National Grid. The state will choose one to supply power.

NRG contributes $8.5 million in property taxes to Chautauqua County.

If the state does not choose NRG, the plant will close. That does not just mean hundreds of jobs lost. Property taxes from NRG makes-up 26-percent of Dunkirk's budget.

"This all leads to the crippling of most, if not all operation of city government," says Dunkirk Mayor Anthony Dolce.

Cuts could slash the fire and police department. Residents in the city could also see a tax increase of 50-percent.

NRG also provides 10-percent of revenue for the Dunkirk City School District.

"How do I make-up 10-percent in lost revenue," asked Superintendent Gary Cerne. "Here's a way: I could raise taxes 42.2%."

The other most viable option -- laying off nearly 60 teachers. Cerne says both options would be devastating.

But some residents showed support for National Grid, arguing job growth and better resources in the long run.

A spokesperson for the Sierra Club Niagara Group says, "Gas plants will require new pipelines and increase the risk for dangerous fracking, contributing to worsening climate disruption."

The ultimate decision will be left up to the New York State Public Service Commission. Representatives from the department were on hand during Monday night's meeting.