By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
Councilman Costa Constantinides stood alongside other northwestern Queens leaders in front of Con Edison on Jan. 8 to announce a new bill that calls for a study on how the city can close its 21 gas-fire power plants.
The announcement came two weeks after the “Astoria Borealis” event, a malfunction of high voltage equipment at Con Edison’s Astoria plant near 20th Avenue which caused a massive arcing that lit up the skies over New York City. Some view the event as a wake up call to the city’s need to power itself by a safer and renewable energy source.
“At a time when we’re trying to shed our reliance on fossil fuels, it is crucial we target the low-hanging fruit like our secondary plants in favor of renewable alternatives,” Constantinides said during the press event outside the 20th Avenue facility.
The study would examine the feasibility of replacing the city’s 21 gas-fire plants with batteries storing energy from wind, solar and other renewable sources. According to city data, 21 of the 24 power plants in New York City are gas-fired and contribute to about 30 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions that come from the utility sector.
“Dirty energy production so close to where we live, work and play is harmful to our health. Our borough is one of the most polluted in New York City, and this is not an environment we should have to raise our children in,” said state Sen. Jessica Ramos, who also took part in the press conference.
Ramos said that power plants represent an unnecessary health risk.
Studies show that people exposed to air pollution produced from gas-fire power plant are more likely to develop respiratory disease. Claudia Coger, president of the Astoria Houses Resident Association, said that she can attest to this: Several of her grandchildren, who also live relatively close to the Con Edison plant, have asthma.
But to others, this is more than just about cleaning the air of northwestern Queens, an area often referred to as “Asthma Alley” due to the propensity of pollutants overhead.
“What happens here in Queens and here in New York City and here in New York state will send a message that we understand that our fight is part of a global fight against the ravages of fossil fuels,” said Leslie Cagan, a coordinator for the Peoples Climate Movement NY.
According to the 2018 United Nations Climate Change report, humanity only has until 2030 to curb climate change before extreme heatwaves, droughts, and rises in sea levels devastate the planet.
“We have to win,” said Cagan.