Northwest Queens community protests proposed NRG power plant upgrade

Photo by Dean Moses

More than 200 people marched through Astoria in protest of the NRG power plant on Saturday, Sept. 12, calling for Governor Andrew Cuomo to reject NRG’s proposed plans for the site and implement a Green New Deal.

NRG, a large fossil fuel company involved in energy generation and retail electricity, is seeking approval from the State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to replace and upgrade existing generators at 31-01 20 Ave.

But some community members and elected officials believe NRG is attempting to bypass more up-to-date environmental review process due to their plant that was previously approved in 2010 and community approval.

Protesters of all age groups met on the corner of 19th Street and Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria Park, where they created signs that read “Green Energy, Not Dirty NRG,” “No fracking way!” and “Public utilities under public control.”

Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

The march was organized by a public power coalition that included New York City Democratic Socialists (NYC-DSA), 350.org, Sane Energy, Food & Water Action, New York Communities for Change, Sunrise Movement, New York Youth Climate Leaders and Queens Climate Project.

Astoria residents were also joined by local lawmakers, state Senators Michael Gianaris and Jessica Ramos, Comptroller and 2021 mayoral candidate Scott Stringer, Astoria Assembly candidate Zohran Mamdani and Astoria City Council candidate Tiffany Cabán.

Photo by Dean Moses
Photo by Dean Moses

Stringer previously penned an open letter to the DEC in opposition of the plant, aiming to protect the health of Astoria residents and the environment. He called on the DEC to require the project undergo a full environmental review.

“The state should not allow NRG to advance this new project under the auspices of regulatory permissions granted nearly a decade ago and should instead insist that the project account for the profound harm fossil fuel infrastructure poses to our communities and our climate,” Stringer wrote. “This proposal, just as any further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, is incompatible with our climate goals.”

At the march, organizers asked seniors and children to lead the march, so they could dictate the speed. Chants included “Whose air? Our air!” “Hey, hey, Cuomo! Fossil fuels have got to go!” “They get rich, we get sick, NRG is full of it!”

Photo by Dean Moses

At one point, a little boy led the march, chanting, “No more gas, no more oil! Keep the carbon in the soil!”

Photo by Dean Moses

The march ended at the proposed location of the proposed NRG Power Plant.

Mamdani, who is endorsed by NYC-DSA, echoed Stringer’s comments.

“We cannot let our community continue to pump more carbon into the atmosphere and contribute to more of this devastation in the future,” said Mamdani. “The state must reject the proposal to lock in continued carbon pollution at NRG’s Astoria facilities, implement a moratorium on all new fossil fuel infrastructure, end all fossil fuel subsidies, and make whatever investments are necessary to fully decarbonize our economy and transition to 100 percent renewable energy,”

Gianaris and Ramos were among the speakers who spoke about the importance of green energy.

“Whether people know it or not, anyone that supports fossil fuel production today is a climate change denier,” said Gianaris. “All you have to do is turn on your television, look what’s happening in California, for God’s sake. The skies are orange, the entire west coast of the country is burning, and that is because we have not moved fast enough to get off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energy.”

The march comes months after the public power coalition held a town hall in which Gianaris, Astoria Councilman Costa Constantinides and Assemblymen Ron Kim and Brian Barnwell expressed their support of bills that would enact a public power utility.

Ramos said NRG has “no business being in our district.”

“I cannot believe that they are allowing this to somehow continue knowing how bad of an actor NRG is,” she said. “We have to organize, organize, organize.”

Photo by Dean Moses

In response to the march, NRG Spokersperson Dave Schrader said they are looking to replace the existing power plant.

“Queens residents can’t wait for solutions that are 10 years away – they need cleaner air as soon as possible. That’s why NRG expects to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, in line with New York’s nation-leading climate goals,” said Schrader. “The project will replace 50-year-old turbines with state-of-the-art technology, which will reduce on-site air emissions by up to 99 percent per hour — meaning cleaner air, lower emissions and reliable power when New Yorkers need it most.”

He added that there is “no combination of renewable energy that exists today to meet the growing energy needs of New York City,” and that if the project doesn’t go through, they risk “California-style rolling blackouts, which Queens and New York City simply cannot afford.”

Photo by Dean Moses

NYC-DSA Ecosocialist Organizer Sarah Lyons said the time for public power is now.

“NRG has spent decades poisoning Astoria with fossil fuel emissions, and now that environmental laws have forced them to shut down their old plant, they’re trying to replace it not with the renewables we need, but a fracked gas peaker that would make them more money,” said Lyons. “It’s planetary suicide to build more fossil fuel infrastructure. It’s time to take our energy system out of the hands of corporations whose best offer is to poison us a little more slowly, and create a public power system that puts people and planet over profit.”

This story first appeared on our sister publication qns.com.