March 11, 2021 By Christian Murray
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and eight members of New York’s congressional delegation have penned a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo expressing their opposition to NRG Energy’s plan to overhaul its Astoria power plant, saying that the plant would still rely on fossil fuels and would continue to emit dangerous pollutants.
The congressmembers sent the letter at a time when NRG, one of the largest energy companies in the country, is seeking state approval to replace its 50-year-old turbines with a new natural gas-fired generator. NRG maintains that the update would significantly reduce emissions.
NRG aims to replace its old turbines at its “peaker” plant by 2023, saying that its new “state-of-the-art” generator would reduce gas emissions. The “peaker” plant provides power during high–or peak–demand to prevent blackouts, as well as to support the existing grid in case of emergencies.
The plan, dubbed the Astoria Replacement Project, has been subject to harsh criticism from Astoria officials such as Council Member Costa Constantinides, State Sen. Mike Gianaris and Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani. They argue that the plant should be powered by renewable energy sources as opposed to natural gas.
The New York congressional delegation share that view.
“Unfortunately, this replacement project still maintains our reliance on fossil fuel power generation and undermines the progress toward a more sustainable future,” the letter reads, which is signed by Nydia Velazquez, Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Grace Meng, Jerrold Nadler, Carolyn Maloney, Yvette Clarke and Adriano Espaillat.
The letter, which is dated March 9 and was also sent to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, argues that natural gas-fired power is not clean energy given the way it is extracted.
“Extracted fracked gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas,” the letter reads. The fracking process often leads to methane leaks, which the legislators say makes it as dangerous as coal.
The congressmembers also say that a “gas-fired plant would further degrade air quality in neighborhoods already ridden with toxic fuel power plants and elevated levels of asthma. We already know that burning fracked gas and other fossil fuels cause poor health outcomes for those living near plants.”
The letter says that NRG’s plan is not compatible with the city and state’s climate goals. It also noted that natural gas is not a bridge fuel, given the methane leaks.
But NRG says that it will be using less natural gas at its replacement plant–given the new technology– thereby reducing emissions. It argues that the project has community support, citing a Harris poll it commissioned in September.
“NRG’s planned replacement of its Astoria Generating Station is supported by 78 percent of Queens residents and will dramatically reduce emissions by replacing 50-year-old turbines with state-of-the-art technology that shrinks the size of this facility and uses significantly less natural gas,” a spokesperson for the company said.
The company says that the project is necessary “to keep the lights on” until more renewable technology comes online. The plant will be required by law to have zero-carbon emissions by 2040 or it will have to shut down.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, which is an arm of the Cuomo administration, will make the final decision as to whether the proposal is approved. There is no fixed date as to when that decision will be made– although it will come after another public hearing is held with that date also yet to be announced.