AOC and NYC House colleagues pan Astoria peaker plant plan

Mar 9, 2021
In The News

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and eight congressional colleagues from New York City say they oppose energy giant NRG’s plan to convert its Astoria oil-burning power plant into a natural gas facility as the state seeks to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels.

NRG, one of the nation’s largest energy companies, is seeking state approval to overhaul the decades-old Astoria “peaker” plant to burn natural gas, which they say produces fewer emissions than oil. The facility pumps pollutants into the atmosphere as it generates extra electricity when power use surges in New York Cit y, like during heatwaves.

The nine representatives criticized the project in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday, saying the proposal would move the state further from its goal of slashing fossil fuel use. The plant would also perpetuate health and respiratory problems in the surrounding Astoria community, nicknamed “Asthma Alley,” they wrote.

“A gas-fired power plant would further degrade air quality in neighborhoods already ridden with toxic fossil fuel power plants and elevated levels of asthma,” the letter states.

Ocasio-Cortez’s Congressional district includes the peaker plant site, which is located along the East Rive r in northern Astoria. The letter is also signed by Queens Reps. Grace Meng, Carolyn Maloney, and Nydia Velázquez, as well as Reps. Jamaal Bowman, Mondaire Jones, Jerrold Nadler, Yvette Clarke and Adriano Espaillat.

NRG says it will eventually transition the peaker plant to hydrogen power in order to comply with the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which requires New York to generate 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, like solar and wind power, by 2030 and 100 percent from carbon-free sources by 2040.

But skeptical environmental advocates and local lawmakers say the hydrogen power claim is far-fetched and designed to give NRG political cover to continue burning fossil fuels.

The lawmakers said the site should instead be converted to renewable energy use immediately.

“Simply put, natural gas is not a bridge fuel,” they wrote in the letter. “We believe all levels of government must make meaningful efforts to transition to green infrastructure, which has a history of creating well-paid jobs.”

NRG Energy has spent over $600,000 on some of New York’s most powerful lobbying firms as it seeks project approval, the watchdog group LittleSis found. The corporation commissioned a poll conducted by the firm Harris that found that more than two-thirds of respondents said they favored a natural gas plant over an oil-burning facility.

In a statement, NRG said the “project is necessary to keep the lights on while New York brings more renewable technology online — ensuring that our region is protected from blackouts at moments of peak demand.”

Environmental justice advocates and local elected officials counter that the state and city should instead seek to construct a renewable energy storage battery hub or other green energy production facility at the site.

“New York must move off dirty fossil fuels,” said No Astoria NRG Plant Coalition Organizer, Laura Shindell in a statementaccompanying the letter. “We’re proud to stand with legislators in calling for the end to fracked gas plants and their dangerous expansion aims.”