July 1, 2021 By Christian Murray
NRG Energy’s proposal to overhaul its Astoria power plant got one step closer to becoming a reality yesterday with the state approving “draft permits.”
The New York State DEC issued the draft permits Wednesday with the plans now available to the public for comment.
The DEC will be providing a public comment period through Aug. 29 and there will be a public meeting on the plan before a final permit is issued. A decision is likely to be rendered within 3 to 6 months, experts say.
NRG is seeking approval to replace its 50-year-old Astoria Generation Station with a natural gas-fired generator that it says would significantly reduce its carbon footprint at the site.
“NRG is pleased with the decision from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to issue a Notice of Complete Application and draft permits for the Astoria Replacement Project,” said Dave Schrader, a spokesperson for NRG.
“This is an important step in securing an affordable and reliable future electric system for New York City. As the last few days demonstrated, the need for reliable power is as great as ever and will continue for years to come.”
The plant, located at 31-01 20th Ave., takes up 15 acres within the 300-acre Con Edison complex, bordered by 20th Avenue, the East River and the Steinway Creek. It is what is known as a “peaker plant,” which provides power during peak demand to prevent blackouts, as well as to support the existing grid in case of emergencies.
The plans, however, have been met with heavy resistance from elected officials and environmental groups.
Critics argue that the plant should be powered by renewable energy sources—not fossil fuels.
They note that natural gas-fired power is not clean energy, and that extracted fractured gas releases methane, a greenhouse gas, as dangerous as coal.
“Given the severity of the climate crisis, no new fossil fuel plants should be getting built, period,” said State Sen. Mike Gianaris after learning that the draft permits had been issued. “I will continue working with my community to fight against this ill-conceived project until it is finally dead.”
In March, nine members of New York’s congressional delegation expressed their opposition to NRG’s proposal, sending a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo panning the project.
The project has also been criticized by local leaders such as state senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani. Mayor Bill De Blasio has also weighed in on the plan.
“We must break our addiction to fossil fuels,” de Blasio said in a statement in opposition to the plan in April. “The best way to do that is to champion projects that put us on a path to clean energy and stand against projects that reinforce our addiction.”
NRG needs the DEC to approve its proposal—dubbed the Astoria Replacement Project—before it can move ahead with the plan.
The company says it aims to replace its 50-year-old old turbines at its plant by 2023, saying that its new “state-of-the-art” generator would reduce greenhouse emissions.
NRG says the plan would reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by more than five million tons through 2035—the equivalent of taking 94,000 cars off the road every year.
The company says that the project is necessary “to keep the lights on” until more renewable energy sources are available.
“New Yorkers don’t need to choose between modern back-up electricity plants like our Astoria Replacement Project and renewable energy. New York needs both,” said Tom Atkins – NRG, Vice President of Development early this year.