Officials of NRG Energy have become accustomed to defending their proposal to convert a power plant in Astoria from oil to natural gas.
Last week, Mayor de Blasio joined numerous elected officials and environmental groups in calling on the state to deny requested changes to NRG’s permit, saying it should be replaced with green technology.
But during tours for members of the media last Friday, Tom Atkins, vice president for development at NRG, said the plant will give the city immediate reductions of pollution and greenhouse gases, while gaining a safeguard against some of the inherent pitfalls that right now accompany soar and wind energy.
The following day, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx, Queens) headlined an Earth Day rally in nearby Astoria Park. The congresswoman is the House sponsor of Green New Deal legislation and a critic of the proposal.
“This will remove more than five million tons of greenhouse gases by 2035,” Atkins said, as opposed to the existing plant. “That’s the equivalent of removing 94,000 cars from the road — 13 percent of all the cars in Queens.”
Atkins said the so-called peaker plant would operate only during times when the New York City grid is under heavy strain, such as very hot summer days, or during emergencies.
He cited both past and recent history as examples of both, including the Northeast blackout of 2003 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, when the electrical system was down and the existing plant was brought online.
“This is what you need when you need to restart the entire system from scratch,” Atkins said. He also said, as he did in response to de Blasio last week, that New York City can’t afford to ignore lessons from California last summer and Texas two months ago when their energy systems nearly crashed to a halt.
“You need something when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining,” he said.
Atkins agrees with critics of the plant who say battery storage infrastructure and hardware are important — “We’re doing that ourselves,” he said, pointing to a part of the property that will house and charge large portable battery units.
But he also said the technology right now only gives such batteries an effective range of four to six hours.
He also pointed out that the conversion would be at no cost to the government or taxpayers should it ever be needed to supplement the growing renewable energy sources.
“And if it doesn’t have to run, that’s our [financial] loss,” he said.
Atkins also said the conversion would require less energy and pollution directly up the chain right to the drilling for natural gas; and that it will be fitted to convert to “green hydrogen” in the future.
Atkins also pointed out that as NRG is deep inside the old Con Edison generation site, which has been in existence for more than a century, its plant is eight city blocks from the nearest residential neighborhood.
He also said if bills pending in Albany banning new permits for fossil fuel plants passes, it could have the effect of extending the life of the existing plant.