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Queens Chronicle

Astoria works on cleaner emissions

Power plant takes a step closer to greener equipment, gains support

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Posted: Thursday, April 26, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 10:33 am, Thu May 3, 2012.

Smart Power NY, a coalition of citizen organizations, environmental groups and politicians, sent a letter to Gov. Cuomo on April 18 asking for support of the Astoria Repowering Project.

The project would replace circa 1970 units at a NRG power plant in Astoria with new, environmentally-efficient equipment.

NRG would pay for the Repowering Astoria project; however, the company needs government backing in order to get the bank loan.

The undertaking will cost roughly $1.5 billion; “in order to get this sort of lending we have to demonstrate we have some contract with a creditworthy counterpart,” NRG development manager Jon Baylor said.

“We would go on equity the same way you would pay for a house,” Baylor said. “We are looking for an opportunity to make an investment. We see a need in the market. NYC needs cleaner power and more efficient generators.”

This is where Smart Power NY comes in.

“We want to tell the the governor, ‘look, this is a great project,’”said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria). “If his [Governor Cuomo] task force believes us, this will get us one step closer toward a power purchase agreement.”

A power purchase agreement is a contract between a company that produces power, NRG in this case, and an entity that wants to purchase the entity.

The coalition formed officially last week. However, members unofficially have fought for cleaner power in western Queens for more than a decade, according to Simotas.

“I’ve lived here my entire life,” she said. “I will be giving birth to a child in July that will be living in this community: cleaning the environment is a big priority, especially now that I will be a new mother.”

The plan, if funded, is a two-phase endeavor to replace all 31 units and install four larger, more efficient units. Each phase will take three years.

NRG could break ground 90 days after a power purchase agreement, according to Baylor.

Phase one retires 100 megawatts and replaces those units with 500 megawatts. Phase two retires the remaining 500 megawatts and replaces those with 500 megawatts. Overall the plant gains 400 megawatts of power.

The old units produce 600 megawatts: 100 megawatts run solely off oil and the other 500 megawatts run on both. The new units would be dual powered, said Baylor, but use 98 percent gas and only 2 percent oil.

“In New York City you want your units to run on dual fuel in case you were unable to get natural gas on a cold winter day,” Baylor said.

Nevertheless, switching to a predominantly natural gas system cuts nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 75 percent and particulates by 65 percent, according to NRG.

Another plus for the project is the economic effect. The plan will create 500 jobs per three-year-long phase and 30 operational jobs.

“As a longstanding advocate of clean energy, I support repowering projects because they create jobs, reduce pollution and decrease ratepayers’ bills,” state Sen. Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) said.

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