Queens congresswoman joins delegation in opposition of NRG’s Astoria power plant proposal

REUTERS/Monica Almeida/File photo

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and eight members of New York’s congressional delegation say they oppose NRG Energy’s proposal for the Astoria power plant, writing that it “undermines the progress towards a more sustainable future” in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday, March 9.

NRG, a large fossil fuel company, is seeking the state’s approval to upgrade the 50-year-old turbine at their Astoria power plant with new natural gas-fired power. Their current power plant is a peaker plant, which operates when there’s a high demand in electricity by burning fossil fuels that emit harmful air pollutants. NRG is proposing the project stays as a peaking facility but will add new technology they say would provide “immediate clean air benefits.” 

The proposal, deemed the Astoria Replacement Project, has garnered intense opposition from nearly all of Astoria’s elected officials as well as multiple climate advocates and environmental justice groups who say it will only exacerbate the area’s pollution and diminish residents’ health.

Ocasio-Cortez’s letter, which was also sent to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, emphasized that NRG’s proposal isn’t compatible with the city and state’s climate goals.

“Unfortunately, gas-powered energy and the process of extraction is not clean energy as some have touted,” the letter reads. “In fact, extracting fracked gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas that traps more than 86 times the heat of carbon dioxide in the short term. Moreover, the entire process is prone to a high degree of leakage, undermining any potential gains that may be touted. Even if every coal plant were replaced by fracked gas electricity by 2030, emissions would remain on track to grow through 2050 due in part to pervasive methane leaks that make fracked gas as dangerous as coal.”

Congress members Grace Meng, Carolyn Maloney, Nydia Velázquez, Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Jerrold Nadler, Yvette D. Clarke and Adriano Espaillat also signed on to the letter, which notes how COVID-19 has exacerbated geographic health disparities in frontline and communities of color, such as those in Astoria, which is known as “Asthma Alley” for its high asthma rates.

“Moving forward with the implementation of new natural gas-fired power creates nuisances and real health hazards, which the community has vocally opposed. Frontline and diverse communities, like the ones we represent, stand to be disproportionately exposed,” the letter reads. “A gas-fired power plant would further degrade air quality in neighborhoods already ridden with toxic fossil fuel power plants and elevated levels of asthma.”

The letter comes in response to constituents’ concerns regarding the proposal, including those from the No Astoria NRG Plant Coalition, which is made up of several local climate advocacy groups.

The groups have organized several actions in opposition to NRG’s proposal, including a large rally last fall with hundreds of attendees. One of their main concerns is that NRG is bypassing a public review process due to the approval of their 2010 proposal, which the company never pursued.

“New York must move off dirty fossil fuels,” Laura Shindell, an organizer with the No Astoria NRG Plant Coalition, said. “Since passing a fracking ban in 2015, energy companies have twisted themselves into knots trying to expand fracked gas infrastructure in our state despite the ban. We’re proud to stand with legislators in calling for the end to fracked gas plants and their dangerous expansion aims.”

But the proposal also has some support, namely from labor union groups, the Queens Chamber of Commerce and the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.

In response to the letter, NRG spokesperson Dave Schrader told QNS the proposal is supported by 78 percent of Queens residents, a statistic based on an NRG-commissioned Harris Poll that surveyed about 1,242 New Yorkers 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,” Schrader said. “This project is necessary to keep the lights on while New York brings more renewable technology online – ensuring that our region is protected from blackouts at moments of peak demand. The project will create more than 500 jobs for Queens to help put New York on the path to economic recovery. With the Astoria Replacement Project, NRG is contributing to a cleaner energy future for New York state and ensuring cleaner air for New Yorkers.”

Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request for comment.