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Gianaris bill encourages power plants to clean up

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State Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) predicted power companies would focus on modernizing old power plants rather than building anew following the overwhelming approval of legislation designed to encourage companies to clean up aging power facilities.

Gianaris’s Clean Energy Initiative would provide utility companies with incentive to modernize existing plants by cutting in half the state approval time for such applications.

Gianaris introduced the bill in the state Assembly in May, where it was approved by a vote of 144 to 0 on June 11. An equivalent bill in the state Senate, sponsored by state Sen. Jim Wright (R-Watertown) passed by a margin of 58 to 1.

The bill will go effect as soon as it is signed by Governor George Pataki, which Gianaris expects to happen within the next few weeks.

“There’s a perceived conflict between the environment and the ability to produce more energy, and I believe that’s a false conflict,” Gianaris said. “We can do both, and this bill, which hopefully will become law soon, does both.”

The bill would reduce the approval process for any repowering project from one year to six months, provided the project slashes the plant’s emissions of major pollutants by at least 75 percent.

“Repowering” projects replace the aging technology of existing facilities with cleaner, more efficient forms of energy production, which can increase generating capacity by up to 90 percent, Gianaris said.

Tony Gigantiello, the president of the Astoria-based advocacy-group Coalition to Help Organize a Kleaner Environment known as CHOKE, said the legislation captured his organization’s mission statement “in a nutshell.”

“That’ll clean up all the plants right around us almost immediately,” Gigantiello said.

Members of CHOKE have waged a yearlong campaign to oppose the expansion of power plants in an area of western Queens they say is oversaturated with them.

Astoria and Long Island City are home to four power plants, which collectively produce a total of more than 5,000 megawatts of energy, Gigantiello said. Operators for each of those facilities are seeking approvals to expand, he said, while Astoria Energy is proposing a fifth 1,000-megawatt power plant for the Castle Oil site at 17-10 Steinway St.

At least one power project proposed for the Astoria area, the repowering of Orion’s Astoria Generating Station on 20th Avenue and Shore Boulevard, would qualify for the shortened approval process, Gianaris said. Seven of 20 applications pending for power plants across the state would be considered more rapidly because of the legislation, Gianaris said.

“Right now there’s a race going on for approval,” Gianaris said. “There’s over 20 applications pending, and not all are going to be approved because that’s just way more than we need.”

With such competition, the shortened approval process will give repowering projects an edge over proposals for new facilities like Orion’s, Gianaris said.

“Many other companies already had applications in the queue that are ahead of us, and it may allow us to catch up to them in some manner,” said Orion spokesman Liam Baker. “Certainly I think the greatest advantage of the legislation is it’ll be an incentive to others to repower rather than building brand-new facilities.”

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

Posted 7:08 pm, October 10, 2011
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