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State might OK Astoria power sale

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Elected officials in Astoria were cautiously optimistic that the transaction would lead to cleaner burning plants.The Public Service Commission said in a preliminary report from the Feb. 8 meeting that it consented to the proposed transfer of ownership interests in Astoria Generating and the proposed issuance of corporate debt by the new owner.Under the deal Houston-based Reliant Energy Inc. is selling the three power plants to US Power Generating Co. and Madison Dearborn Partners , said Jacob Worenklein, president and chief executive officer of both US Power and Astoria Generating.Astoria Generating is owned by New York-based US Power and Madison Dearborn of Chicago, he said.The cost of the three plants -the largest at 21-01 20th Ave. in Astoria, the Narrows and Gowanus - would be somewhat higher than the original $975 million price announced in October, Worenklein said. The purchase would be partially paid for with the issuance of $950 million in debt, he said."As a New York company, we look forward to taking responsibility for these key power facilities," he said. "We will manage these as a good corporate citizen of Astoria and our other neighborhoods."Worenklein said there would be some additional hiring at the plants following the sale.The state commission report was tentative until the final order approving the sale is published in 10 to 14 days, a commission spokeswoman said.Astoria residents and elected officials have been pushing for years to reduce the emissions of generators in northwest Queens, where some of the highest asthma rates in the city are found. Several years ago a billion-dollar proposal to upgrade the plant to cleaner burning natural gas was given state approval but was never implemented.Reliant acquired the plants in 2002 and would have spent the money to improve the cleanliness of the generator and increase production by approximately 550 megawatts, Reliant spokeswoman Pat Hammond said at the time of the sale announcement. But the company decided to sell the plants as a way to reduce its debt.City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria), who had been urging generator owners to repower or shut down to reduce pollution, said he would continue to push for cleaner plants."This company has reached out to the community and appears willing to work with us," he said. "We will keep the pressure on them to continue not only the repowering of the plant but also to reduce harmful emissions."State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said that after a series of meetings with the purchasers beginning in October, he was optimistic that US Power would replace the old generators."They have expressed that it is their desire to go forward with that," he said. "We trust they will do the right thing. And we will stay on top of them to make sure they do the right thing."Reach reporter Adam Pincus by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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