DEC denies permits for NRG’s proposed Gas Turbine Power Plant in Astoria

Rendering of NRG’s Astoria Replacement Project (Photo credit: NRG)

After months of vigorous opposition by lawmakers and activists, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied permits for NRG Energy’s proposed gas turbine power plant in Astoria. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 27, the agency determined the proposed project “would be inconsistent with or would interfere with the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits established in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).”

“Astoria NRG failed to demonstrate the need or justification for the proposed project notwithstanding this inconsistency,” DEC’s determination stated.

Gov. Kathy Hochul applauded the DEC’s decision to deny the Title V air permits needed for the proposed plant to move forward, as the state transitions to clean energy. 

“Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, and we owe it to future generations to meet our nation-leading climate and emissions reduction goals,” Hochul said.

NRG’s proposal would have replaced 50-year-old power generators in the Ditmars-Steinway area. The DEC approved draft permits for NRG’s gas-fired power plant in early July. However, after holding public hearings this summer and receiving over 6,000 responses of opposition, the DEC subsequently decided to deny the proposal. 

Many state and local lawmakers opposed the project, citing the potential violations to the CLCPA, which is a state law requiring New York cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. Anthony Rogers-Wright from the Environmental Justice Program at New York Lawyers for Public Interest said that NRG’s proposal clearly did not align with the tenets of the CLCPA.

“Denial of the permit was, therefore, warranted and in compliance with standing law,” Rogers-Wright commented. “That said, DEC must exercise consistency as it pertains to Title V Permits; Section 7 of the CLCPA is lucid in its determination that no permits should be granted that would prevent emissions reduction goals from being realized, nor should they result in disproportionate impacts to disadvantaged communities.”

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris has been protesting the proposal for nearly a year and commended fellow activists for their work in stopping the fossil fuel plant.

“Our community drew a line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and won,” Gianaris said. “Let this be a statement of what our policy should be as we fight the ravages of the climate crisis. No more fossil fuel plants should get approved, period.”

Tom Atkins, the vice president of development at NRG, said they are reviewing the state’s decision but feel that it’s “unfortunate” that New York is turning down an opportunity to reduce pollution. NRG claimed the plan would have complied with the CLCPA by providing “immediate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and would have been fully convertible to green hydrogen in the future.”

“New Yorkers deserve both cleaner air and reliable energy to ensure the lights stay on for our small businesses, homes, schools and hospitals when they need it most,” Atkins said. “While we’re deeply disappointed with this decision, NRG will continue to find ways to help New York achieve its emissions goals. In the meantime, our current Astoria plant will continue to operate to help ensure the lights stay on in New York City, as that remains the most important thing.”

Other high-profile lawmakers, such as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have opposed this plan, saying NRG’s plan would have made New York reliant on fossil fuel for years to come. 

“For too long, the people of western Queens have borne the brunt of the consequences of being home to far too many of New York’s pollution-belching power plants,” Schumer said. “I am so proud to have fought alongside great local leaders and activists to stop this pollution-spewing plant.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards agreed and said  that the borough has sent a clear message that NRG’s plant is “antithetical to our critically important mission to eliminate our city’s dependence on fossil fuels.”

“From Superstorm Sandy to Hurricane Ida, Queens knows all too well the catastrophic impacts climate change has had on our borough,” Richards said. “Time is of the essence, and today’s decision ensures Queens will continue to be a global leader in the fight for a more sustainable, resilient and healthy environment.”

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer joined Queens elected officials to oppose the proposed upgrade to NRG’s Astoria peaker plant. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Gianaris’ office)

Despite NRG’s claim to comply with the CLCPA, environmental activists said that the Astoria plan would not be clean energy. Gas-fired energy and the entire process of extraction would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the Bronx and Queens Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said.

“The entire process is prone to a high degree of leakage, undermining any potential gains that may be touted,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “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.”

Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani, who actively protested NRG’s plan, sponsored the Clean Futures Act in March to ban all new fracked-gas power plants across the state.

“When we organize against corporations that put capital over the collective, we can win a world where we can all live with dignity,” Mamdani said. “Stopping the Astoria power plant is an amazing victory towards a habitable planet and the clean future we all deserve. Now, we must take this momentum from Astoria to Albany and codify this decision by passing the Clean Futures Act, enacting Public Power through the Build Public Renewables Act, and leading the country in our fight against the climate crisis.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards commented that the borough has sent a clear message that NRG’s plant is “antithetical to our critically important mission to eliminate our city’s dependence on fossil fuels.”

Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani at a rally protesting NRG upgrade of their peaker plant on Aug. 26. (Photo by Corey Torpie)

Environmental activist groups like Food & Water have been fighting against this plant in New York and in Washington, D.C.

“Hochul’s decision strikes a critical blow to the fossil fuel industry, providing a huge victory for New York’s climate movement,” Food & Water Watch Northeast Region Director Alex Beauchamp said. “She is showing the nation what real climate leadership looks like. The next step is for Governor Hochul to commit to halting all fossil fuel infrastructure, including the north Brooklyn pipeline and the Gowanus power plant.”