Today’s news:

Gianaris demands NYPA halt expansion of plant

In the aftermath of a scathing audit by the state comptroller’s office that accuses the New York Power Authority of severe mismanagement, state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) is calling on the agency to withdraw its plans to expand the Poletti power plant in upper Astoria.

“I’ve been saying from the start that I think the Power Authority’s actions have been not well thought-out and ill-conceived,” Gianaris said.

The NYPA disputed the audit’s findings.

The audit, which was released by the office of State Comptroller H. Carl McCall July 31, asserts NYPA has not justified its plans to increase energy production in the New York City area and may not earn enough money to be able to afford the projects.

Specifically cited are two power generating projects centered in western Queens: the installation earlier this year of 10 natural-gas turbines around the city, including two in Long Island City, and the expansion of the Charles Poletti Power Project in upper Astoria.

NYPA, the largest state-owned utility in the country, is allowed to both produce and sell electricity despite the last decade’s state deregulation of the power industry, which required all other companies to either produce or sell power but never both.

But the audit claims NYPA “lacks the demonstrated expertise and administrative infrastructure to compete effectively in this newly created arena.”

Lawrence Koppelman, the vice president of the Liberty Consulting Group, which was charged with conducting the audit, writes in a letter to the comptroller’s office included in the report that “the absence of cooperation with our audit work shown by NYPA officials was extraordinary.”

As a result, the authors of the audit “question the willingness of NYPA officials to be held publicly accountable and to receive constructive criticism.”

NYPA officials denied the claims of mismanagement levied in the audit.

“The Power Authority has engaged in sound and prudent financial practices,” said NYPA spokesman Michael Saltzman. “I would leave it at that for the moment.”

In a formal response letter to the audit, NYPA chief financial officer Michael Urbach claims the report “fails to provide either an accurate analysis or depiction of prior events or useful advice to guide future Authority actions.” He also contends the audit recommends changes NYPA has already begun to implement based on internal evaluation.

Every five years the state comptroller’s office is required to conduct an audit of the Power Authority, which is ultimately overseen by the governor and Legislature to ensure its actions are in the public interest.

In response to the audit, Gianaris is calling on NYPA to reconsider its plans for the Charles Poletti Power Project and “come up with a proposal that makes sense in the context of the state’s regulations and the environmental impact of the surrounding community.”

The Poletti proposal, which was submitted for state review in the spring and is currently under consideration for approval, calls for a 500-megawatt plant to be built alongside an 825-megawatt facility that has sat on the 47-acre 20th Avenue property since the 1970s.

Gianaris is advocating that the Power Authority should scrap its plans to construct a new facility in favor of repowering the existing one, which would entail rebuilding the plant to reduce pollution and bring it up to present-day standards of efficiency.

NYPA officials have said in the past that they plan to close the old Poletti plant once the new facility begins running, but they have made no formal assurances to go along with that claim.

Gianaris introduced a bill in the Legislature that would provide incentives to companies that repower existing plants rather than constructing new ones, which he said is currently awaiting the governor’s signature.

Gianaris was part of a coalition of community groups led by Silvercup Studios that filed suit earlier this year to prevent the Power Authority from placing two generators on a waterfront site on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island. NYPA contended that those and eight other turbines built around the city earlier this year were necessary to prevent a power crisis this summer.

Although the turbines were installed by June and are currently operating, an appellate court ruling last month will force NYPA to conduct environmental reviews by January 2002 to determine whether or not the sites they chose for the generators are appropriate for such facilities.

The comptroller’s audit claims the 10 generators, though providing short-term electric-system benefits, “could create long-term problems by undermining the market competitiveness intended by deregulation and discouraging future private investment in generating capacity in the area.”

NYPA spokesman Saltzman contended that the generators were vital in preventing major power outages earlier this month when outdoor temperatures and the city’s electric load hit record levels.

“Those turbine generators were a very important factor in assuring that the state had reliable electricity service in that period,” Saltzman said.

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

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