Officials support Astoria repowering to grow jobs

Officials support Astoria repowering to grow jobs
NRG Energy Incorporated recently received the go-ahead to transform its plant on 20th Avenue in Astoria into one that is more fuel-efficient. Photo courtesy NRG (used january 2011)
Photo courtesy NRG
By Rebecca Henely

In an effort to get the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a group of Queens elected officials and groups have banded together to form a coalition in support of NRG Astoria Power LLC’s plan to repower one of its plants, holding up the plan as one that improves the environment and creates jobs.

“We really want to show the governor that this is the type of project that’s in line with his vision,” said state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), chairwoman of the coalition, called Smart Power NY.

NRG Energy Inc., located in Princeton, N.J., is one of several companies that operate power generating plants in the Con Edison Astoria Complex, on 20th Avenue between Shore Boulevard in Astoria.

Since 2006, NRG has been taking steps toward replacing seven simple-cycle peaking generators and 24 simple cycle units with four combined-cycle units. These units run on natural gas as opposed to the previous oil- and natural gas-fueled units, reduce nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide by 75 percent annually and 90 percent during peak days, increase the plant’s electricity generating capacity and produce up to 75,000 watts of solar power.

The repowering is expected to last about 30 months and create 500 construction jobs, the coalition said. The reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of taking 185,000 cars off the road.

“This is the type of initiative that [Cuomo] should be supporting,” Simotas said.

The assemblywoman said to get financing for the repowering, NRG must have a power purchase agreement to prove to banks that the upgrade is needed. She said if the governor approves the project, that process can progress.

“I hope that the governor sees this project as positively as the coalition does,” she said.

Members of the coalition include elected officials such as state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and City Councilmen Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) and James Gennaro (D-Fresh Meadows), but also organizations of many stripes like the Coalition Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment, the New York League of Conservation Voters, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York. NRG itself is part of the coalition.

“We just feel that there’s a need to get the project moving and a broad coalition is one way to support the governor’s initiative and move the project along,” said David Gaier, spokesman for NRG.

NRG is not the only company at the Con Ed complex trying to make its plant greener. USPowergen has been planning to replace its oldest generating unit and cap emissions on its other units, but the company has asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to increase the overall emissions the plant can produced.

While the company said it asked for the increase as a “safety net” in case one of the units is temporarily incapacitated, Simotas and Gianaris pulled their support.

Simotas said Astoria Generating has since gone back to the drawing board after community objections.

“We don’t improve of any type of project that allows for increased emissions,” Simotas said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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