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Astoria Coalition Supports Power Company's Bid to Install Clean Generators

A rendering of the proposed new generators at NRG's Astoria power plant
A rendering of the proposed new generators at NRG's Astoria power plant
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ASTORIA — Residents and officials usually oppose bids by power plants in this Queens neighborhood, which they say has suffered from pollution and high asthma rates for years.

But this time they have thrown their support behind NRG's move to replace its generators to cut peak emissions by 98 percent.

Smart Power NY, a coalition of elected officials and community leaders, formed in April to promote the NRG's bid for a deal to sell power to the grid, which is necessary to obtain financing for the $1.5 billion project.

The group is trying to garner as much support from state and federal officials as possible ahead of May 30 deadline, organizers said at a meeting in Astoria Wednesday night.

"Western Queens has been environmentally assaulted for decades," said Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), who is the group’s chairwoman.  "Our area is home to major airports, major bridges and our power plants provide about 60 percent of New York City's energy.  High rates of asthma and other illnesses caused by these pollutants are a scourge on our community."

Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas speaks during Smart Power NY meeting on Wednesday, May 23, 2012.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas speaks during Smart Power NY meeting on Wednesday, May 23, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

NRG, she added, decided to invest and upgrade its system and "that’s why this project should be an example."

The Princeton, N.J.-based company wants to replace 31 decades-old generators, which are currently using primarily oil, with four new units, which would use mostly natural gas.

The switch would allow the company to increase energy production from 600 Megawatts to 1040 Megawatts, increasing generation efficiency by 56 percent while reducing on-site peak day emissions by 98 percent, according to NRG.

"It would produce more energy with dramatically fewer emissions," said Jonathan Baylor, project developer for NRG. "It would be like replacing a vintage 1970’s Cadillac with a new Toyota Prius."

Company officials also said the project would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1 million tons each year, the equivalent of removing 185,000 cars from New York City’s streets.

NRG’s existing generators were built in 1969 and are located within the 600-acre Astoria Con Ed complex at 31-01 20th Ave.

The company bought the plant in 1999 and sells energy to the market as the power is needed, primarily on peak days.

Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who is also a coalition member, said the project "is a win-win for everyone because it improves air quality and it also increases the amount of electricity we produce."

NRG’s plan also has the support of community groups, including C.H.O.K.E., or Coalition Helping Organize a Kleaner Air, which in the past had pressed many local power plants to reduce pollution. 

"These companies come to our community, they generate the power, take their profit and they leave. We have to stay here and breathe that pollution that they generate," said Anthony Gigantello, president of C.H.O.K.E. "So when these plants come to our neighborhoods, they have to clean our air. That’s why we backed NRG."

The project, in order to move forward, requires agreements with agencies like the NY Power Authority, to buy the electricity the power plant would produce.

"Without that contract we can’t get bank financing to build that plant," said David Gaier, NRG’s communications manager for Northeast Region.

The entire project would cost the company $1.5 billion.

The NRG project, which has already been signed off on by The Public Service Commission and Department of Environmental Conservation, would create 500 jobs over three years, according to the company.

Construction would occur in two phases so that the plant could continue operating.

Smart Power NY has already sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo asking him for support. "This is the project that Gov. Cuomo’s Energy Task Force has called for," Simotas said.

In this year’s "State of the State" address, Cuomo expressed support for repowering inefficient power plants. He also put together an energy task force to explore ways to meet the state's future electric power needs while protecting the environment and creating jobs.

NRG must send the project's description to the state by May 30, just as any other company hoping to win support from Albany lawmakers.

Projects will be reviewed by the governor’s Energy Highway Task Force. This summer, the task force would issue recommendations for moving forward, possibly resulting in requests for proposals.

NRG hopes contracting opportunities will result from this process.

"The governor’s support of this project would be beneficial in NRG being able to get a contract with Power Authority," Simotas said.