Between the highways, bridges, subways and power plants, Western Queens has some of the worst air quality in the city.
Now, with a plan to reconstruct its power plant located in the complex near 20th Avenue and Shore Boulevard in Astoria, NRG Energy aims to produce more energy while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the neighborhood.
The NRG plant was built in 1969 and hasn't been renovated since.
According to a representative, NRG plans to replace all of its turbines with newer, more efficient combined-cycle technology.
The repowering is expected to lower peak emissions, which occur on the hottest and coldest days of the year, by 95 percent. It will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,000,000 tons per year, which equates to taking 185,000 cars off New York City roadways, according to an NRG fact sheet.
The project aims at increasing generating efficiency by 56 percent, providing enough power for 320,000 homes.
The construction project is expected to provide 500 local jobs for three years.
The proposal is part of the company's RepoweringNRG effort, which calls for major investments into sustainable infrastructure in revitalized power plants. Astoria was chosen as an initial site for the project, according to the fact sheet, because it is home to an existing site and the plan received substantial support from the community.
The community's main concern is shipping construction equipment to the site by barge, rather than clogging up local roadways, which NRG agreed to do. However, residents pointed out that nothing is written in stone.
While some community members told this newspaper that the ideal solution would be to close all the power plants in Astoria and Long Island City, re-powering is the next best option.
“My feeling on repowering is the best option for Northwestern Queens is to have these plants shut down completely because we're already overburdened,” said Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who lives about three blocks away from the NRG site.
“The second best option is remove the filthy plants that exist and replace them with the best, cleanest technology out there,” he said.
Vallone met with NRG last week to discuss the repowering, and said he was comforted by the company's call for community input.
“Anything we can do to reduce emissions will be helpful,” said Joan Asselin, chair of the Community Board 1 Environmental Protection Committee.
She said since the city requires so much electricity, she hopes NRG's plan will spark repowering projects across the region.
Closing the plants are not an option, she said, but making them more efficient should be a priority.
“We need to have a grid that provides that electrical power, around the clock, efficiently,” Asselin said.