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Orion floats new plan for Astoria generators

Members of the United Community Civic Association listened with skepticism last Thursday as representatives of Orion presented their plans to repower the Astoria Generating Station 18-01 20th Ave.

The repowering project would replace the facility’s current boilers, which heat massive amounts of water to produce the steam that turns the generators with a combined-cycle gas turbine assembly using 98 percent less water.

“You eliminate the older source of pollution in favor of one that’s subject to modern controls,” explained Liam Baker, an asset manager with Orion who made last Thursday’s presentation.

With a capacity of 1800 megawatts, the facility would be capable of producing many times more energy than three plants other companies have proposed to build in western Queens.

Although Orion’s presentation came on the heels of a State Supreme Court decision forcing the New York Power Authority to halt construction on a power plant on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City, UCCA President Rose Marie Poveromo said the ruling was hardly a victory for residents of Astoria.

“The plans are to put it a couple of blocks away,” Poveromo said, referring to a proposal by Keyspan to purchase the generators and move them to their Ravenswood site. “We still put it in western Queens — so what has anyone won? We’re not concerned about upscaling Long Island City. We are concerned about the number of plants they are allowed to build.”

While the repowered plant promises to be cleaner than the current facility, Poveromo expressed concern that particulate matter, or soot — “the minute, filthy and sticky gunk that impregnates the deepest part of the lungs and causes chronic asthma”— would increase.

“Tonight UCCA goes on record calling on Orion to reduce the particulate matter along with the toxic pollutants when repowering the plants,” Poveromo said. “Then and only then can this association and the community it represents endorse the Orion proposals and welcome them as neighbors.”

Hour-by-hour, the new facility would actually produce half as much soot as the current one, Baker said.

When applying for air permits, however, Orion was required to calculate the maximum pollution the plant would produce if it ran 24 hours a day every day of the year — in which case the plant would produce more soot than the current facility does.

The new facility would still achieve reductions of over 80 percent in two other major pollutants, nitrogen oxides and sulfuric oxides, even when running non-stop the entire year.

“We welcome the repowering of Orion,” Poveromo said. “We want the government to mandate that all these old plants repower, not just Orion, so we can do the right thing for this community, which is choking.”

The repowering operation would increase the plant’s output from 1200 megawatts to 1800 megawatts, at a total cost of more than $700 million. The repowering would increase the plant’s efficiency, enabling it to produce a megawatt of energy using 60 percent less fuel than the current facility.

Baker’s tentative timeline would have the refurbished facility completely running within five years. After filing its application with the PSC this summer, Orion would likely have to wait more than a year before it received the necessary permits to begin construction.

Although residents were pleased with Orion’s plans to clean up the plant, many said their concerns over the area’s high density of power plants made them wary of any proposals for electrical generation.

“It’s clear that we’re totally over-saturated,” state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) told the crowd. “Any cumulative analysis will show this.”

Three other power companies have already filed applications for major power facilities in the Astoria area: a 500-megawatt combined-cycle plant by the New York Power Authority, a 1000-megawatt plant at the Castle Oil Terminal at the end of Steinway Street by SCS Astoria Energy, and a 250-megawatt co-generation plant at Ravenswood by Keyspan.

“This river site has four or five other guys who want to come in and give us the same pizzazz,” said Astoria resident Frances Luhmann McDonald. “It’s like we have six juvenile delinquents as children and now they tell us we’re going to have triplets. Even if it’s good for you because the water’ here, it’s not so good for us.”

Baker attributed the area’s high concentration of power facilities to its close proximity to water, fuel sources and electrical substations, the primary components needed to hook up a power generator. One of the city’s main high-pressure gas lines runs through the neighborhood, while two large-capacity substations sit at the Con Edison site on 20th Avenue.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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