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Queens Chronicle

Power plant closes in Astoria

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Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2010 12:00 am

Astoria is down one power plant.

The Charles Poletti Power Project, one of the dirtiest plants in the state, shut down on Monday after nearly 33 years of operation — a move which elected officials and environmentalists are applauding.

Plans to shutter Poletti have been in the works since 2002, when the New York Power Authority, which ran the plant, reached a settlement with a group of politicians and environmental groups. The coalition, headed by Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria), had sued NYPA because the power authority was building a new plant without shutting down the existing facility — something they claimed NYPA didn’t have permission to do.

“We didn’t have much hope … but we won,” Vallone said. NYPA agreed to close Poletti within eight years, and this week the power authority made good on its promise.

The facility is set to be demolished, and power generation has been switched over to NYPA’s new plant, located within the same complex. No workers are to be laid off.

The new plant, which opened in 2005, runs on natural gas and is twice as efficient as the old generator. It doesn’t have the capacity to produce quite as much power — its limit is 500 megawatts, rather than 885 — but NYPA President and CEO Rich Kessel said it’s sufficient.

The Poletti closure has been well received in Astoria, a neighborhood that houses seven power plants and generates between 60 and 80 percent of the city’s electricity. For years, residents have complained about the resulting smog, and a city report published in December revealed that Astoria’s air is among the most polluted in Queens.

“We produce … way too much electricity relative to our size,” said state Assemblyman Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria). “That is completely unfair.”

The push to lessen the burden on Astoria has been on for decades. Vallone’s father, Peter Vallone Sr., the longtime City Council speaker, began fighting power plants early in his career, at a time when the Poletti generator and another facility in Long Island City, both of which ran on coal, were the largest fossil fuel turbines in the world.

Under Mayor John Lindsay, those plants switched to oil — which was then a big improvement. Now, natural gas is the cleaner way forward.

Kessel, who formerly worked for the Long Island Power Authority, joined NYPA in October 2008 and pledged his commitment to greener power production across the state. He said NYPA will spend $1.5 billion on energy efficiency measures over the next five years and added that the power authority hopes to replace more plants in the city with new, cleaner ones. NYPA also has plans to build a transmission line under the Hudson River, which will supply Manhattan with electricity produced in New Jersey.

Despite the enthusiasm over Poletti’s demise, elected officials say the work is far from done. Astoria is still the city’s power plant hub, and Vallone and Gianaris are trying to stop the construction of another new generator at the end of Steinway Street.

Ashok Gupta, director of energy policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the effort to phase out inefficient plants should extend citywide. Gupta is calling for the city to replace all of its dirtier facilities within the next 10 years.

“The reason it’s not happening is because the financing is not in place,” he said. “Not because the technology doesn’t exist or it’s not the right thing to do.”

Jim Gallagher, senior vice president for energy policy at the city’s Economic Development Corporation, said Mayor Mike Bloomberg is on board with those goals. Gallagher called the Polleti closure “a very important step toward achieving the goals of PlaNYC,” and said the mayor is eager to replace dirty plants with more efficient ones.

Welcome to the discussion.