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Simotas nixes USPowergen emissions plan

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An Astoria power generating company’s plan to decrease emissions which formerly enjoyed community and legislator support has been rejected by a second neighborhood lawmaker.

State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) said last week that she met with representatives from USPowergen, a Stamford, Conn.-based company that operates the Astoria Generating plant on the Con Edison complex at 20th Avenue and Shore Boulevard.

While representatives from the company said they were willing to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the community, promising they would not increase their overall emissions despite requesting a state Department of Environmental Conservation permit that would allow them to do so, Simotas said a memorandum is not sufficient.

“We don’t support anything that will net an overall increase in emissions,” Simotas said.

USPowergen has long been planning a project to retire its oldest generating unit, which also happens to be closest to the residences on Shore Boulevard, and replace it with a 410-megawatt Siemens H-series modern combined cycle unit at a defunct oil yard closer to the center of the Con Edison complex. The new unit will be able to recycle heat through heat recovery steam generators. USPowergen will also be capping emissions on its three other units.

“We remain unwavering in our commitment to reduce emissions as part of this project,” John Reese, USPowergen senior vice president, said in a statement.

Despite the effort to be more green, the company has still requested a permit to increase the overall amount of pollutants it is allowed to emit. Reese said in an interview with TimesLedger Newspapers earlier this month this was due to the DEC changing its emissions caps so that they are specific to units rather than to the facility as a whole. USPowergen said if one of its units is temporarily incapacitated, it would want to use the remaining units to make up the difference.

The permit had previouslyprompted state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) to pull his support days after endorsing the project at a public hearing.

Simotas, a former lawyer, said that while USPowergen had agreed to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the community, that was not acceptable because the community would be expected to police emissions and possibly bring them to court if the plant violates the agreement in the future.

“Agreements are great as long as people are abiding by them, but way too often people don’t,” Simotas said.

Nevertheless, the assemblywoman said she thought USPowergen does not have negative intentions and that the DEC would be better at policing the plant than the neighborhood.

“I will certainly suggest to [DEC] that it’s they who have to be flexible, not the community,” Simotas said. “Something has to give here.”

Reese said the company has requested the permit comment period be extended to Oct. 11 to work out a plan to fix the problem.

To comment, contact DEC by mail at 625 Broadway, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-1750, by phone at 518-486-9955 or by e-mail at smtomasi@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

Updated 12:57 pm, September 22, 2011
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