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State gives approval to repower plant in Astoria

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Astoria took another step closer toward cleaner air quality last Thursday when the state gave approval to NRG Astoria Power LLC to repower its plant on 20th Avenue. The estimated $1.4 billion project would increase the plant’s capacity from generating 600 megawatts to 1,040 megawatts while also decreasing its emissions, particularly during peak hours.

“This repowering project will replace older units with state-of-the-art combined cycle units operating primarily on natural gas,” said Garry Brown, chairman of the Public Service Commission, which granted the approval. “The new units will provide reliability and environmental benefits and will be significantly cleaner and more efficient than the existing units.”

David Gaier, spokesman for NRG Energy Incorporated, the Princeton, N.J.-based company that owns the plant and the LLC, said the approval, also known as the “Certificate for Public Convenience and Necessity,” is the last regulatory green light the project needs.

NRG’s plant is one of several located in the Con Edison Astoria Complex on 20th Avenue between Shore Boulevard and 37th Street. The project has received support from politicians and activists who have protested the pollution coming from the plants in the neighborhood.

“Our preference is for fewer power plants in Astoria, which we know will not happen at the moment,” said City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria). “Failing that, repowering is the second-best option and I support it.”

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) said he has been encouraging repowerings since his first days in the Assembly.

“Any time we let plants phase out as part of new construction, that’s the model we need to follow,” he said.

Gaier said NRG’s project was announced in 2006. It will begin after the company reaches a long-term power purchase agreement for the electricity the plant will produce, after which it will begin construction in two phases projected to last 30 months each.

The commission said the first phase of the project will replace seven simple-cycle peaking generators with two combined-cycle units, and the second phase will replace 24 simple cycle units with two additional combined-cycle units.

NRG said these new units run on natural gas and replace the current oil and natural gas-fueled units, which were built in 1969. The repowering will reduce the output of NOx — nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide — by 75 percent annually and by 90 percent during peak days, increase the plant’s capacity, create up to 75,000 watts of solar power and create 350 construction jobs.

“We’re pleased that we’ve received strong support from the community, including Coalition Helping Organize a Kleaner Environment, hundreds of local residents and Community Board 1,” Gaier said in an e-mail.

CHOKE President Anthony Gigantiello said the repowering is a plus for the neighborhood.

“They’re repowering a plant that’s one of the dirtiest around,” he said.

NRG is not the only company planning green upgrades at the Astoria complex. USPowergen’s Astoria Generating Co. plans to close one of its units, rebuilding a new one at its fuel oil tank yard and capping its emissions at its other three units starting in 2012.

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

Updated 10:49 am, October 12, 2011
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