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Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to announce at least a partial repowering of the NRG Power Plant in Dunkirk when he visits the Chautauqua County community today.

The governor’s appearance at 10:45 a.m. in the Clarion Hotel on Route 5 follows on the heels of a rally Dec. 7 that drew hundreds of supporters in favor of transitioning the coal-fueled plant to natural gas. Local officials were notified of the visit Saturday by members of the Chautauqua Chamber of Commerce.

“I think it’s going to be a very positive economic development for all of Western New York,” said State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane.

State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, said there was a lot of anticipation with the governor’s visit.

“We are hoping for an early Christmas present,” she said.

NRG Energy Inc. is proposing to convert the Dunkirk coal facility to a “combined cycle” plant powered by natural gas, which will have the generating capacity to power about 350,000 average homes.

NRG believes the estimated $506 million cost for the conversion would lead to lower power costs for ratepayers, be better than coal for the environment and boost the Chautauqua County economy. Without the upgrade, the Dunkirk plant would close.

A source close to the issue who asked not to be identified said the repowering is expected to be a compromise in scope that will fall short of a full conversion.

Environmental groups and independent energy producers oppose the conversion.

Environmentalists say the conversion merely substitutes one fossil fuel for another at a time of increased concern over global climate change, and worry that increased demand for natural gas could lead New York to open its lands to the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

And independent energy producers say they could be forced to close. Instead, they back a National Grid proposal to upgrade the region’s power transmission system.

Some unions, however, see the conversion’s potential for new jobs.

David Wilkinson, business manager for Local 106 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Jamestown, said the project would preserve local jobs and create about 500 more over a three-year construction period.

“Imagine this city with 500 construction workers staying in the hotels and spending money in the restaurants and stores,” Wilkinson said.

“We’re also here because this is a tremendous need for Chautauqua County,” he added.

The property tax bill paid by NRG is 40 percent of the City of Dunkirk’s budget, Mayor A.J. Dolce noted. “I hope the governor is bringing us good news,” Dolce said.

“I consider the governor to be a good friend of the people of the City of Dunkirk,” he added.

“We are all waiting for word about NRG,” County Executive-elect Vince Horrigan said.

email: msommer@buffnews.com