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Firm may seek sale of Astoria power plant

By Joseph C. Mollica

The Astoria Generating Station, New York City’s second-largest power plant, is reportedly going on the selling block.

Reliant Resources Inc., the plant’s parent company, may have plans to put its Astoria generators, along with several in Brooklyn and upstate New York, on the market in order to pare down the company’s multimillion-dollar debt, according to recent reports Bloomberg and in Crain’s New York Business.

“I’ve heard some information to that effect for quite a while,” said state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), who is a sponsor of New York State’s Clean Energy Act and a proponent of modernizing the well-aged plants that line the fringes of Astoria and Long Island City.

Pat Hammond, a spokeswoman for the Houston-based Reliant, declined to dispel or confirm published reports coming out of New York City, saying “we can’t comment on these rumors.”

The sale of the Astoria plant is a sensitive issue for local officials and civic groups due to the company’s reputation for being forthcoming with public officials and friendly to the community. The lion’s share of the city’s electric power is generated in western Queens.

The Reliant plant, located off 20th Avenue, was slated to undergo a modernization, also known as repowering, that would cut the thick amount of pollution emitted by the facility by up to 75 percent, Gianaris said. The plan was hailed by elected officials as a step toward cleaner skies over Astoria.

The repowering of the Reliant plant would have increased the plant’s wattage while significantly lowering its output of pollution. But a new owner of the plant would not be obligated to follow through with the repowering, even though the permits needed to begin the project have already been granted.

“Reliant has been very easy to work with,” Gianaris said. “They came to the table with a plan we all supported. If it’s true, it’s sad to see them leave.”

Grass-roots organizations such as the United Community Civic Association, which is fighting to upgrade and repower all of Astoria’s power plants, said it would take a wait-and-see approach before restating its position.

“We’re saddened by the rumors,” said Rose Marie Poveromo, the president of the UCCA. “They (Reliant) were the only ones who agreed immediately to repower. We certainly hope that whoever buys the plant sees that the way to go is to repower.

“We’re buried with a blanket of toxic air floating over our heads,” she continued. “We’re overburdened and oversaturated.”

Gianaris said he was “hopeful” that the plant’s new ownership would continue with designs to repower, especially in light of what is perceived to be a higher-than-usual asthma rate in Astoria.

According to Reliant’s Web site, the price of the company’s shares has fallen dramatically, leading to increased debt and mounting speculation that the Astoria plant is on the verge of being placed on the market. The stock, however, has rebounded slightly over the course of the last quarter from the same time in 2002.

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