Astoria lawmaker calls on state regulators to reject NRG appeal for permit to replace power plant

Astoria power
State Senator Michael Gianaris is urging state regulators to reject an appeal by NRG for a permit to replace a power plant in Astoria. (Photo courtesy of NRG)

State Senator Michael Gianaris called on the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to reject NRG’s appeal of the agency’s denial of permits to build and operate a new fossil fuel power plant in Astoria. The DEC denied the company’s initial application in October.

“The DEC was right to deny a permit for a destructive, fossil fuel plant in Astoria and should reject the appeal as well,” Gianaris said. “Our community drew a line in the sand against new fossil fuel infrastructure and won. Let the DEC issue a strong statement that ‘no new fossil fuel plants’ is the policy of New York as we fight the ravages of the climate crisis.”

After many months of advocacy, rallies and protest marches by Astoria residents and environmental activists against the NRG project, the DEC rejected the application. Astoria is already home to multiple power-generating facilities, and the area immediately surrounding those plants is known as “Asthma Alley,” where residents are known to have higher-than-average rates of respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema. A new plant would also make it likely the state would fail to comply with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), New York’s nation-leading climate laws which Gianaris championed in 2019.

CLCPA commits the state to an “equitable clean energy future,” with 70% of electricity being renewable by 2030, 100% of electricity being carbon-free by 2040, and an 85% emissions reduction overall by 2050.

NRG’s proposal would have replaced 50-year-old power generators in the Ditmars-Steinway area.

“NRG remains committed to providing reliable backup power to New York City and its ratepayers,” NRG spokesman David Schrader said. “Recent events have demonstrated in very clear terms the importance of having a robust energy mix to ensure the lights stay on. The Astoria Replacement Project proposed by NRG would help address reliability gaps, while also helping New York meet its aggressive climate goals.”

Since the DEC denied a permit for the project, New York Independent System Operator Inc. published a study that determined an extreme 98-degree sustained heatwave would test the system limits today and exceed the grid’s abilities beginning in 2023.

Schrader explained, adding that, “NRG is pursuing an adjudicatory hearing of the NYSDEC’s decision because the denial was both legally and factually flawed and the NYSDEC exceeded its authority to deny the permit based on its interpretation of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”

Gianaris said the CLPCA’s ambitious goals are not just critical, they are the law in New York state.

“What we need going forward is simple: a transition to a renewable energy future. There is much work to be done, and the clock is ticking,” Gianaris said. “We cannot move backward with this dirty, fossil fuel-fired plant in western Queens. We need bolder ideas and just solutions to solve our climate crisis. Therefore, NRG’s appeal must be rejected.”

More than 100 people attended the DEC’s virtual hearing on the NRG appeal Tuesday.

“Every day, I see my neighbors across Astoria suffer from some of the worst air quality in our city and we have the asthma rates to show for it,” Astoria Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani said. “Enough is enough; we are sick and tired of investments being made in dirty fossil fuels when we can build clean energy today. I’m proud to stand with my neighbors to demand that DEC stands by its decision to reject NRG’s proposal to build a new fracked gas peaker plant in our neighborhood. We need to invest in a healthier, green future for all of us.”