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Power plant to shut down in Astoria in eight years

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The Astoria power plant deemed the city’s worst polluter will shut down within eight years under an agreement brokered last week between the state and environmental groups.

The Charles Poletti Power Project, a 25-year-old facility owned by the state-run New York Power Authority, is slated to begin reducing emissions by January and turn off entirely between 2008 and 2010. By that time a new plant will have begun operating at a nearby site.

“Today we take the step of closing down the Poletti plant,” Gov. George Pataki announced last Thursday as he stood between the smoke stacks and the East River on the expansive complex of power plants that sits in the northwest corner of Astoria. “New York will always do our best to lead by example when it comes to conservation, when it comes to clean energy.”

The plan meets the demands long put forth by environmental activists and local politicians who refused to support the construction of a new power plant without guarantees that the existing facility would be closed for good.

Astoria and Long Island City are home to five major power plants that collectively produce more than half of the city’s electricity.

The news comes on the heels of a highly publicized annual report by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that listed Poletti as the worst polluter in the city. The plant spewed 263,376 pounds of pollutants into the air in the year 2000, exceeding the combined total of power plant and industrial emissions from the city’s four other boroughs.

“There is no single act that we could be taking that would more dramatically affect the air quality in this community,” said state Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria), a vocal advocate for cleaner power production.

The new 500-megawatt power plant slated to be built in its place will be “state-of-the-art” and “incredibly clean,” Pataki said, and could open as early as 2005. It will also burn fuel with far greater efficiency than the existing 825-megawatt Poletti Power Project.

Long before Poletti finally closes, NYPA will begin reducing its emissions by operating it less frequently and running it with natural gas rather than distillate oil, a much dirtier fuel that releases large amounts of sulfuric acid into the air.

NYPA is also slated to invest an additional $50 million in energy efficiency and clean energy projects across the city over the next five years.

Although Feb. 1, 2008 was set as the target for a shutdown, the plant may continue operating until a drop-dead date of Jan. 1, 2010 if the city’s power supply is deemed too low to handle Poletti’s closure.

Once the target of many a tongue-lashing by environmental activists who criticized him for dragging his feet, Pataki won kudos from his onetime foes for bringing about Poletti’s closure.

“He’s done the right thing,” said Ashok Gupta, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, which signed the agreement along with the Astoria-based environmental group CHOKE and the New York Public Interest Research Group.

Tony Gigantiello, CHOKE’s president, said the agreement has brought an end to a “long fight” waged over the past three years.

The application for the new plant has been pending for many months before the state Siting Board on Electric Generation, which indefinitely postponed its ruling in May so the Power Authority could “continue the dialogue with interested parties,” a NYPA spokesman said at the time.

The agreement now averts the threat of a lawsuit by environmental groups seeking to stop the new plant.

“Certainly there was a possibility of litigation had the approval been issued,” Gianaris said.

The timing of the announcement fueled speculation that it was politically motivated, given that Pataki will face the voters in November in his bid for re-election to his third term. But the governor discounted that theory, saying the agreement, which came about after extensive negotiations, was only reached once the state had determined it would not compromise electricity reliability.

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

Posted 7:22 pm, October 10, 2011
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