Power plants in LIC will not be temporary

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“This was...

By Dustin Brown

Representatives of three state agencies told a hearing last week that the controversial power plants planned for Long Island City and other spots around the five boroughs would not be temporary fixtures on the landscape as originally promised.

“This was the first time we had the chance to grill them with questions that they hadn’t been answering,” state Assemblyman Mike Gianaris (D-Astoria) said following the Assembly hearing in midtown Manhattan. “As a result, we got serious admissions about these power plants that we hadn’t heard before.”

The Assembly committees on energy, corporations, and environmental conservation listened to more than nine hours of testimony in a marathon session, breaking just once to allow the stenographer to rest, and ending only when their reservation for the room was over.

Representatives of NYPA, the Public Service Commission, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation appeared under subpoena, while a lengthy list of community representatives testified about how the power plants would affect the surrounding community.

The hearings evolved out of the public outcry surrounding NYPA’s decision to install 10 electric generators on sites in every borough but Manhattan to avert a power crisis this summer. Two of the generators are slated for a Vernon Boulevard site in Long Island City. Decisions are pending in two lawsuits being brought against the agencies in New York Supreme Court in Queens and Brooklyn.

“This may be the right decision, but the Legislature and the public does not know that,” said Assemblyman Richard Brodsky (D-Westchester)

Throughout the hearing, Assembly members questioned the NYPA’s assertion that the generators are the best means of adding urgently needed power to the city this summer.

Participants said the most telling revelation occurred when NYPA withdrew its longstanding assertion that the generators were only temporary solutions to the power shortage.

“The claim that they are temporary is a joke,” Gianaris said after the hearing. “They admitted they have no plans to take them down, and it’s quite possible they may leave them there for quite a long time. It’s very important we got them under oath saying that.”

Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan (D-Ridgewood) remarked that “this could be a temporary situation as temporary as the Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island” as she questioned Eugene Zeltmann, president and chief operating officer of NYPA.

Zeltmann said the authority will assess whether to continue operating the generators once their environmental permits expire in three years.

“I think it’s good public policy to have a check in three years,” Zeltmann said. “Let’s decide what is needed. If we don’t need them, they won’t be used. In the next three years, they’re going to be very much needed.”

Boasting a more intimate knowledge of the neighborhoods than the agency representatives — one of them acknowledged she had never visited the sites — the Assembly members disputed the agency’s contention that the generators are being set in industrial areas.

“The Vernon Boulevard site is located across the street from the Queensbridge Houses,” Nolan pointed out.

Queens Borough President Claire Shulman called NYPA’s actions “unconscion­able.”

“You could not have chosen a worse place to put a power plant,” she said, deriding the generators as a threat to the city’s development plans for the Queens waterfront.

Assembly members also shared harsh words about NYPA’s choice of locations of the plants, all of which are set in minority communities. NYPA said the sites were the only ones out of 60 considered that had the proper specifications for the generators.

Maureen Helmer, chairman of the PSC, painted a bleak picture for this summer if the power authority is not permitted to operate the 10 generators, which she warned are necessary to meet an expected shortfall in the city’s power supply for this summer.

“I believe these generators are a way to deal with this situation in an environmentally responsible way,” Helmer said, contending that the generators are 400 times cleaner than many of the older models they will be supplementing.

Zeltmann said the NYPA would offset the added emissions produced by the plants by reducing emissions elsewhere by the same amount.

While the proposal has come under fire by community groups who oppose the sudden imposition of power plants on their neighborhoods, the Greater New York Hospital Association, the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition and other organizations have recently come out in support of the plan. They have applauded the agencies for protecting the city from a potential power crisis.

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

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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