Mayor comes out against Astoria peaker plant proposal, says it will ‘take us backwards’

Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he is against the proposed Astoria power plant during a press conference on Monday, April 19.

De Blasio made the announcement as he spoke about Earth week, saying the city will be talking about how it’s addressing climate change during the week ahead of Earth Day on Thursday, April 22.

“Today, I’m taking a stand, formerly, against two fossil fuel plants — the two peaker plants, they’re called — that have been proposed in Astoria and Gowanus,” de Blasio said. “These are plants that would be run on fracked gas, they are plants that would take us backwards, not forwards. They are plants that would unfortunately place us in that past of fossil fuels dependency and hold us back. They should not be allowed to go forward.”

The mayor said the issues are not only about fighting climate change, but also about climate justice.

“When fossil fuels are burned [there is] a horrible impact on communities, especially lower-income communities have suffered. Kids have suffered with asthma,” de Blasio said. “We gotta move off fossil fuels consistently, purposefully, intentionally, in every way we can.”

De Blasio reiterated that the city is committed to expanding the use of renewable energy and breaking the dependency on fossil fuels. He added that it’s important to listen to the climate justice movement, especially led by young people, to put communities first.

The mayor is the latest elected official to come out against a proposal, dubbed the Astoria Replacement Project, by NRG Energy, a large fossil fuel company, to build a new peaker plant in Astoria. NRG wants to replace and upgrade their exiting generators with natural gas-fired power, saying they’ll keep it a peaking facility but will add new technology that would provide clean air benefits.

Peaker plants operate when there’s a high demand in electricity by burning fossil fuels that emit harmful air pollutants into the air.

Nearly all of the elected officials who represent Astoria and much of western Queens have fervently opposed the plan for months.

This month, city and state elected officials from across the city sent a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) asking he deny NRG’s permits to construct the new plant. In their letter, the lawmakers said that the plan doesn’t align with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).

“We can no longer allow this backwards idea of burning fossil fuels and ruining our air even further, when there are so many viable options with the advent of technology,” state Senator Jessica Ramos said at a recent rally outside of the plant site.

In March, Queens and the Bronx Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, along with eight New York City Congress members, also sent Cuomo a letter opposing the Astoria power plant.

In response to the mayor’s announcement, Tom Atkins, vice president of Development at NRG, said the new plant will create hundreds of jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions statewide making it compliant with the CLCPA and could be converted to carbon-free hydrogen in the future.

“As New York transitions to renewable energy, New Yorkers deserve an opportunity to have cleaner air now. New Yorkers don’t need to choose between modern backup electricity plants like our Astoria Replacement Project and renewable energy. New York needs both,” Atkins stated. “New York City cannot afford to be shortsighted and ignore the lessons learned last summer in California and just two months ago in Texas. All credible third-party studies show highly efficient projects using lower-emitting fuels like natural gas are a critical component to reliably transition to a greener grid.”

Multiple community organizations and environmental justice advocates formed the No Astoria Plant Coalition to raise awareness of the proposal and how it will impact the immediate communities that have suffered from some of the city’s worst air quality for decades.

“NRG has spent decades poisoning Astoria with fossil fuel emissions, and now that environmental laws have forced them to shut down their old plant, they’re trying to replace it not with the renewables we need, but a fracked gas peaker that would make them more money,” NYC-DSA Ecosocialist organizer Sarah Lyons said at a rally against the new plant in September.

Elected officials and advocates are particularly concerned that NRG has bypassed a full public review of their new proposal and has “fast-tracked” approvals from the state due to approval they received for a different plan in 2010.

A DEC spokesperson said that prior to any final decision on NRG’s Astoria proposal, the agency is undertaking a full environmental review “to ensure protection of public health and the environment,” including an assessment of the project’s consistency with the CLCPA.

This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, April 19.