Aug. 26, 2021 By Allie Griffin
Elected officials and activists from across Queens will be rallying in Astoria Park Thursday against a proposed power plant that is being planned for the district.
The group will protest NRG’s controversial plan to revamp its 50-year-old Astoria Generating Station on 20th Avenue by replacing aging gas and oil-fired turbines with a natural gas-fired plant.
NRG said the change would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site, while critics say the Houston-based company will be using fracked natural gas, a fossil fuel, to power the plant and should instead switch to 100 percent renewable energy.
The company needs the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to sign off on the plan before it can move forward.
The rally comes on the second and final day of public hearings on the project hosted by the DEC.
State Senators Jessica Ramos and Michael Gianaris, Assembly Members Zohran Mamdani and Jessica González Rojas, along with Phara Souffrant Forrest and former Council Member Costa Constantinides are expected to join activists at Astoria Park to protest NRG’s plan.
They along with U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Mayor Bill de Blasio have come out against the plant.
Many advocates are hoping a new state administration headed by Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was sworn in Tuesday, will side with their opposition to the plant.
“With new leadership in the state, this is our chance to show there is strong public opposition and demand a renewable energy option for our city,” Ocasio-Cortez’s team wrote to supporters in an email. “We can’t afford to waste the moment.”
The first day of public hearings on the project was held Tuesday.
Gianaris was one of many to testify at the online hearings. He called on the DEC to reject NRG’s permit application for its gas-powered plant and stop it from being built.
“Given the severity of the climate crisis, no new fossil fuel plants should be getting built, period,” Gianaris said. “I will continue working with my community to fight against this ill-conceived project until it is finally dead.”
Several power generating facilities are located in Astoria and the area has become known as “Asthma Alley,” since residents have higher-than-average rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses.
More than 50 advocates spoke out against the power plant plan during the first of two hearings Tuesday as well.
Some speakers said the plant would harm local residents’ health.
“NRG’s proposal to build a new fracked gas power plant in Astoria is nothing more than a foolhardy profiteering scheme to make investors rich at the expense of Astoria residents’ health,” Food & Water Watch Senior New York Organizer Laura Shindell said.
Others said the plant would worsen climate change.
“Approving the Astoria NRG fracked gas power plant application will only delay New York’s progress in fighting the global climate crisis and meeting our climate goals,” said Eric Wood, Regional Coordinator with NYPIRG.
Despite the numerous complaints, a spokesperson for NRG said that hundreds of letters in support of the company’s plan have been submitted to the DEC.
The spokesperson added that the plant’s upgrades are in line with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) — a state law that mandates carbon emissions reductions over the next few decades.
“NRG’s plan to upgrade its Astoria plant with state-of-the-art technology is fully consistent with the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act as it will immediately result in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and supports the expansion of renewable energy resources throughout the state,” he said.
However, Gianaris, who helped pass the climate law in 2019, said the plan doesn’t comply with the goals laid out in CLCPA — including that 70 percent of electricity in New York be renewable by 2030 and an 85 percent reduction in overall emissions statewide by 2050.
“This proposed plant would run on natural gas – a fossil fuel,” he said in his testimony. “The argument that natural gas is cleaner than prior sources rings hollow. It is still a fossil fuel, it is non-renewable, and still emits toxins into the air.”
NRG said its plan will bring more than 500 jobs to the city and lower electricity costs by $1.5 billion in its first five years of operation.
The rally will start at 4:45 p.m. inside Astoria Park by the intersection of Shore Boulevard and Ditmars Boulevard.
The public can submit comments on NRG’s plan to the DEC through Sept. 13 by emailing [email protected].