July 12, 2021 By Christian Murray
U.S. Senator Charles Schumer joined forces with several local officials outside a power plant in Astoria Friday to announce his opposition to the overhaul of a current facility—and to urge the public to oppose it too.
NRG Energy, a large Houston-based company, was subject to heavy criticism during a rally Friday over its plans to replace its 50-year-old generators at its Astoria Generating Station on 20th Avenue with a new turbine that would rely on fracked natural gas.
The officials called on the New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation, which has to approve the project before it can move forward, to reject it given its continued reliance on fossil fuels.
NRG, meanwhile, argues that its proposed “Astoria Replacement Project” would reduce its carbon footprint since it would be built with the latest technology. It says it would be much more efficient than its current plant that would be shut down.
The plans have been met with heavy resistance from elected officials and environmental groups who say that residents in Astoria and Queensbridge are unfairly burdened by the pollution stemming from several power plants in the area.
They say that any new plant should not be powered by fossil fuels—such as fracked natural gas–given the pollution dangers and the threat of climate change. The officials argue that all new facilities should be powered by renewable energy.
““For too long, the people of western Queens have borne the brunt of the consequences of being home to far too many of New York’s pollution-belching power plants – that needs to stop today,” Schumer said Friday. He also added that he was “proud to stand with great local leaders and activists who are fighting for climate justice.”
State Sen. Mike Gianaris, who was instrumental in the passage of state legislation in 2019 that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the state, said that the new plant should not be built.
“Given the severity of the climate crisis, no new fossil fuel plants should be getting built, period. I will continue working with my community to fight against this ill-conceived project until it is finally dead. I’m glad we are joined in this fight by Leader Schumer because failure is not an option,” he said.
The DEC recently opened the public comment period and the public can weigh in on the project through Aug. 29. A final decision is likely to be rendered within 3 to 6 months, observers say.
There will be a public meeting on the plan before a final decision is rendered, with a meeting date still to be determined.
The NRG plant is what is known as a “peaker plant,” which provides power during peak demand to prevent blackouts, as well as to support the existing grid in case of emergencies. The plant is located on 15 acres within the 300-acre Con Edison complex, bordered by 20th Avenue and the East River.
Schumer urged the public at the rally to take advantage of the comment period and voice their opposition to the DEC about the project.
The local elected leaders noted at the rally that NRG’s natural gas-fired power is not clean energy, and that extracted fractured gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas as dangerous as coal.
They said that the plant is located in the heart of Astoria’s “Asthma Alley,” a corridor through Astoria and Long Island City known for abnormally high childhood asthma rates where there is a concentration of power plants.
“Western Queens has been breathing polluted air for far too long and it has had damaging effects on the health of our community and environment. If New York wants to remain a leader in climate issues we need to stop burning fossil fuels,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos.
In March, nine members of New York’s congressional delegation expressed their opposition to NRG’s proposal, sending a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo panning the project since it relies on fossil fuels. In addition, Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced his opposition to the plan.
Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani also announced his opposition to the project at the rally Friday.
“I’m proud to stand with Astorians and our elected officials at every level of government to demand the DEC reject the NRG proposal for a new fracked gas peaker plant. We should not be building new fossil fuel plants in Astoria, or anywhere across New York State,” he said.
The officials also said that the plant would undermine the Climate Leadership and Community Projection Act, a 2019 state law championed by Gianaris that aims to reduce New York’s carbon pollution.
The law calls for an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, 100 percent zero-emission electricity by 2040 and 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. They said that the overhaul of the NRG Astoria plant—powered by fossil fuels—would be automatically in violation of the act.
NRG says that its plan is in compliance with the CLCPA and argues that the city cannot be powered by renewable energy sources alone—given current technology. It says that a combination of natural gas and renewables is required.
“Unfortunately, opponents of our plan continue to offer a false choice between renewables and natural gas. New York needs both. Simply put, no combination of renewable technologies available today can, by themselves, reliably power Queens, let alone New York City,” Dave Schrader, a spokesperson for NRG said in a statement.
NRG also rejects the argument that it would not comply with CLCPA.
“In addition, contrary to what was heard today from some legislators, the Astoria Replacement Project is fully consistent with the CLCPA because it actually results in large reductions in statewide greenhouse gas emissions – the equivalent of taking more than 94,000 cars off the road each year,” Schrader said Friday. “In addition, the plant will be fully convertible to green hydrogen in the future.”
But Schumer said that no new fossil fuel plants should be coming online—particularly in Asthma Alley.
“The overhaul of the Astoria NRG power plant would continue to exacerbate the problem, making the fight against asthma increasingly difficult, not to mention the fight against climate change and reducing carbon pollution.”
All written comments regarding the project must be postmarked by Aug. 29 2021 and submitted to: [email protected]
Contact: Christopher M. Hogan, NYS DEC – Division of Environmental Permits, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233, Phone: (518) 402-9167 or E-mail: [email protected]