BY NICK ABADJIAN
Although the borough generates half of the city’s electricity, some in Queens are feeling pretty powerless about when it comes to powerhouses going up in their backyard.
“We feel we’re getting dumped on. Queens doesn’t have to be the repository for most of the city’s power needs,” said Hugh Weinberg, counsel to Borough President Claire Shulman who has said she is against how some of the power plants are able to evade environmental issues.
The Power Play
While state power officials contend that New York faces a potential energy crisis like California, which could create skyrocketing bills or rolling brownouts and blackouts, the issue of power has consumed the people of western Queens who feel their neighborhoods are already oversaturated with power plants.
Maureen Helmer, of the Public Service Commission (PSC), warned of an impending crisis.
“Today, with our increased dependence on electricity from everyday items such as toasters and air conditioning to high-end computer systems for the financial markets, brokerage and credit card operations and communications systems, the cost of such a loss of service would likely be astronomical,” she said.
The PSC has determined that there is a shortfall of 397 megawatts (MW) for this year, and fully supports the 10 small NYPA generators to meet the demand.
“While 397 MW would meet the same basic minimum reliability criteria used elsewhere in the country, we must strive to exceed that level if we are to avoid the consequences of a massive power outage in New York City,” Helmer said.
But Rosemarie Poveramo who heads the United Communities Civic Association, is concerned about what she believes is a toxic blanket hanging over western Queens.
“We realize additional power is needed. We are questioning the location because they’ll all be in our backyard with Queens already home to huge dinosaur plants,” she said.
Some Powerful Numbers
According to the Borough President’s office, Queens currently generates 3,875 MW of electricity — which is 49 percent of the city’s “in-city” generation.
And if some of the proposed boosts in power come through, Queens would provide 6,349 MW, 52 percent of the city’s power.
The Power Of Attorneys
The most recent sparks to fly over power in Queens came following the announcement of the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) plans to build a power plant on a Long Island City waterfront site.
NYPA’s power plant plans have met significant opposition by local officials, businesses, and the community.
The result was a three-month battle in the Queens Supreme Court, which ended in the judge’s decision to stop construction of the site on the grounds that NYPA had not conducted a sufficient environmental impact review.
All 10 of NYPA’s generators were being challenged in another lawsuit at Brooklyn Supreme Court. The case was dismissed on the grounds that NYPA did not violate laws in selecting their sites.
The proposed LIC plant, which seeks to add 79.9 MW to the city, pales in comparison to the proposed 2,474 MW that will be generated in Queens in the next three years.
Home Grown Power
State law requires the city to produce 80 percent of its power to meet its peak load demands.
Generators are therefore needed physically within the city’s boundaries to take away the dependency on heavily loaded transmission lines.
The whole issue of electricity has become more complicated as the market became deregulated, turning electricity into a commodity.
The laws of supply and demand determine the price of electricity.
In a report last month, by the New York Independent System Operator, a not-for-profit corporation that administers the state’s wholesale energy market, if the disparity between electricity demands and supply continue, electricity prices would increase 14 percent by 2005.
State power officials contend that the NYPA was in its right to rush and get 400 MW of generators online in order to meet summer demand and avoid a crisis.
Ashok Gupta, an economist at the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC), a conservation group, has a different take on the city’s power needs.
Gupta explained that the PSC never took into account three generator units in the city that are going online by this summer.
These units will add 275 MW.
Therefore, Gupta counted that the city is only short of 122 MW, which can easily be matched by conservation measures.
Nevertheless, in the next three years, Queens could get a huge boost if proposals for new generating units in western Queens are permitted.
The proposals come in the form of a new power plant and new generating units added to existing plants.
Plants must first go through Article X, a siting law process for plants that produce over 80 MW.
Gupta said that newer plants, “can be a good thing, as long as they are subtracting more than they are adding.”
According to the NRDC, electric power plants are the country’s largest source of pollutants that cause acid rain, mercury poisoning in lakes and rivers, and global warming.
Many of the older plants in New York are exempt from the environmental standards implemented by the Clean Air Act of 1970 simply because they existed before the laws were introduced.
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, in a letter to Governor George Pataki, wrote, “Thirty years later, we find many of these older plants continue to spew their pollution in the atmosphere. Several companies are now attempting to exploit the Clean Air Act loophole by building new plants right next to the super-polluting, old plants before any new application are approved.”
Plants With Queens Roots
NYPA is looking to give its Charles Poletti power plant in Astoria a make over by 2004 by giving it a boost of 500 MW.
The plant, which resides on the 318-acre old Consolidated Edison site has a capability of producing 825 MW by burning gas and oil.
NYPA officials have said they want to add an adjacent combined cycle plant of 500 MW, which would run more efficiently and cleaner.
Keyspan’s Ravenswood plant sits idly by the Queensboro Bridge and the Queensbridge Houses, the largest housing development in the country with 15,000 people.
The smoking monolith has the capacity to provide the city 25 percent of its power at 1,800 MW.
It houses New York’s biggest generator, nicknamed ‘Big Allis,’ and produces 1,000 MW alone.
Currently, Keyspan has plans to add an extra 250 MW to the facility by March 2003.
SCS Energy filed an application the Astoria Energy Project, a 1,000 MW plant to take over the 26 acres of the Castle Oil site in Steinway off the Bowery Bay.
Orion has plans for regenerating its Astoria site, which is nestled on the 318 acre Con Ed site that has been around since the late nineteenth century.
Orion wants to add 600 MW to its 1,253 MW plant in two phases ending in 2005 and at the same time decrease overall emissions, except for particulate matter.
“That substance in the toxic cocktail mix is minute, filthy and sticky. It impregnates the deepest part of the lungs and causes chronic damage.”
In addition to the proposals stated by the Borough’s President Office, the Tribune has learned that the 614 MW Astoria Gas Turbines located in the back of the Astoria Power Plant and owned by NRG Energy incorporated is looking to expand.
Peter Vallone Jr., counsel to CHOKE, said that NRG is seeking to propose a 360 MW expansion.
“They are filthiest. They are equivalent to a jet-engine turned on its side,” said Vallone.