Aug. 19, 2021 By Christian Murray
Several online hearings are scheduled to take place next week that will provide the public with the opportunity to weigh in on a controversial plan that aims to revamp an Astoria powerplant.
The New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation is holding a series of public hearings on Aug. 24 and Aug. 26 to solicit opinion on NRG’s plan to overhaul its 50-year-old Astoria Generating Station on 20th Avenue.
The Houston-based company plans to replace its aging gas and oil-fired turbines with a natural gas-fired plant that it says would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site. The company needs state approval to move forward with the plan.
NRG says the plan would reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by more than five million tons through 2035—the equivalent of taking 94,000 cars off the road each year. The company also says that the project is necessary “to keep the lights on” until more renewable energy sources are available.
The plans, however, have come under fire from elected officials and environmental groups. They argue that the revamped plant would still rely on fossil fuels, putting local residents at risk and adding to climate change.
They note that natural gas-fired power is not clean energy–and that extracted fractured gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas as dangerous as coal. They say no new power plants should be built that rely on fossil fuels.
The state has scheduled four hearings—two on Aug. 24 and two on Aug. 26–for the public to provide comment on the plan. The public, however, is required to register before 10 a.m. Aug. 23 in order to speak during the hearings (click for details).
The public must also register in advance in order to watch the hearings online. No pre-registration, however, is required to listen to them by phone.
The hearings are likely to be heated given the outcry from environmentalists and elected officials concerning the plan.
A slew of elected officials—including U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mayor Bill de Blasio– have announced their opposition to the plan.
“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 during a rally outside the Astoria plant last month.
On the local level–elected officials such as State Senators Mike Gianaris and Jessica Ramos—have also come out against it. So too has Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani.
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,” Gianaris said at the rally last month.
The DEC has also announced that it has extended the public comment period from Aug. 29 through Sept. 13. All comments on the plan should be submitted to [email protected]
A final decision on the fate of the plant is likely to be rendered within 3 to 6 months, observers say.
Schumer has urged the public to take advantage of the comment period and voice their opposition about the project.
NRG, meanwhile, maintains that it is unable to generate enough power via renewable energy sources alone.
“The need for reliable power is as great as ever and NRG’s plan to upgrade its Astoria plant with state-of-the-art technology will not only help ensure the lights stay on in New York City but will also bring more than 500 jobs at no cost to tax payers, while also reducing electricity costs by $1.5 billion over the first five years,” said Dave Schrader, a spokesperson for NRG, in a statement.
“NRG looks forward to receiving input during the current public comment period and working with the DEC to ensure the Project is consistent with New York State’s aggressive climate goals,” Schrader added.