Friday, October 10, 2008

Power Plant Smoke Screen? 

City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (c.) and members of the community rally against another power plant in Astoria October City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. led a rally last Saturday, October 3 against a proposed plan to put yet another power plant in Astoria that would make a total of seven power plants in Northwest Queens. Vallone, joined by other community leaders, decried a decision by the New York Power Authority to choose Astoria over many other locations.

Vallone has called on the state to investigate the awarding of a contract for a 500-megawatt (MW) plant to Astoria Energy, LLC, a company whose past dealings with the government make its involvement particularly suspect, he claims. Vallone sent letters to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and plans to meet with Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to discuss the decision.

"Not only does this deal reek of smoke-filled, back-room politics, it will also make Northwest Queens reek of smoke as well," Vallone said. "This decision reaches well beyond the bounds of good sense and fairness, and I believe that always suggests [that] foul play may be involved."

In 2001, Astoria Energy, a Massachusettsbased subsidiary of SCS Energy, received approval to construct a 1,000-MW facility on a 23-acre site along Steinway Street in Astoria. The company had trouble raising the necessary investment capital and also failed to acquire tax-exempt Liberty Bonds, an initiative launched after 9/11 intending to help replace commercial space near Ground Zero. Vallone and other elected officials were able to stop that plan by raising public awareness and filing a lawsuit.

According to several sources, Astoria Energy leveraged its political ties to pressure Con Ed into awarding it a 10-year contract for their electricity, even though the company was not the lowest bidder, which enabled Astoria Energy to convince investors to fund the $850 million power plant. The facility opened in 2006.

In April, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) awarded a 20-year contract to Astoria Energy, essentially giving the company the same ability to generate the capital needed to build a second 500-MW plan. Astoria Energy then chose the Astoria site out of some 30 proposals. "It's not a matter of 'not in [my] back yard [NIMBY].' Our back yard is already full," Vallone said. "How in good conscience can this agency agree to put another power plant where there is already a glut of them? Are they trying to kill us even faster?"

The New York Power Authority and the Bloomberg Administration have lauded the new power plant because it is a combined-cycle system that minimizes pollution.

Vallone, an avid environmentalist, supports cleaner power technologies, but questions the logic of placing any power plant where so many already exist. Northwest Queens is already home to two Charles Poletti plants and one each run by Astoria Energy, US Power Gen and Ravenswood.

Proponents of the NYPA/Bloomberg plan have cited the closing of the Charles Poletti Plant implying that Astoria Energy's new plant is intended as a replacement. In fact, due to the Vallone lawsuit, the Poletti closing is completely unrelated to this proposal and a new facility has already replaced the Poletti plant.

"When it came to waste transfer stations, everyone was expected to do their fair share. But with power plants, Northwest Queens is expected to do everyone's share," Vallone said. "Even if these plants emit less smog, that's more smog than if they weren't there at all."

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