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Astoria power plant closes under pressure

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It took eight years to shut down the Charles Poletti Power Project, but Astoria leaders and the New York Power Authority said it was better late then never for the borough’s environment.

The nearly 33-year-old natural gas and oil plant was permanently shuttered Sunday night after years of protests and legal action from the Astoria community. NYPA agreed to shut down the 885-megawatt plant, deemed the city’s worst polluter, in 2002 following a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resource Defense Council, City Councilman Peter Vallone (D-Astoria) and neighborhood leaders.

NYPA President Richard Kessel said the decommissioning of the plant was a significant change in the energy organization’s operations, since it is not only looking for alternative energy sources, but it is also trying to reduce the amount of electricity production done in western Queens, which provides 60 percent of the city’s power.

“I think it’s important that New York Power Authority live up to its word and terminate the plant,” he said at a press conference Friday.

A more environmentally efficient, 500-megawatt plant, which has been in operation since 2005in Astoria, will fill the energy-producing needs left void by Poletti’s closing, according to Kessel. The president said none of the employees who had jobs at Poletti were laid off.

“Every single worker that has worked there has been assured that they will have a job at New York Power Authority,” Kessel said.

Vallone, a longtime opponent of the numerous power plants operating in his district, commended the president for his work to shut down the plant. The councilman said Kessel’s predecessors did not appear ready to follow through on NYPA’s 2002 promise, but the president understood the needs of the community and set the wheels in motion.

“I was not hopeful that New York Power Authority would live up to its word, but Richard Kessel is a good man and he lived up to his word,” the councilman said.

Ashok Gupta, the director of energy police for the NRDC who helped file the lawsuit, agreed and also praised the western Queens community for raising its voice. The years of rallies, protests and other public action raised more awareness of the health and environmental issues at the plant, according to Gupta.

“It would not have happened without a lot of the work from the community,” he said.

Kessel promised he would continue to help western Queens residents. He said his utility is working on ways to get electricity from New Jersey and other states via underground cables under the Hudson River as well as using new technology at older plants.

“New York Power Authority is prepared to spend $1.5 billion for energy efficiency across the state,” the president said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 5:58 pm, October 10, 2011
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