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Astoria power plant to receive upgrade starting in 2012

The Astoria Generating Co., a subsidiary of electric company USPowergen, which operates three power stations in New York City, is planning to upgrade its power station in Astoria by 2014 so it can create more electricity while cutting its emissions.

The community gets “a guarantee that emissions are reduced by the federally enforceable permit limitations,” said John Reese, vice president of USPowergen in a recent interview at the TimesLedger Newspaper offices.

Reese said that since 2006, when USPowergen bought the Astoria Generating Co., it has been planning to upgrade the station, which is on three parcels on the Con Ed Electric Generating Complex along 20th Avenue between Shore Boulevard and 31st Street in Astoria.

“This area is the center of electric generation in New York City,” Reese said.

City Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) said he supported USPowergen’s plans.

“Closing and moving it someplace else is the best option, which we know is not going to happen. Failing that, repowering is the second best option and I support it,” Vallone said.

The Astoria Plant, which generates power using natural gas and oil as a backup, has four large steam units and a smaller unit to restart the system if need be. Reese said these four units were built in the 1950s to 1960s. To reinvigorate the plant USPowergen will be retiring one unit on Shore Boulevard and 20th Avenue, which was built in the mid-to-late 1950s and is the unit nearest to the community.

In its place, the company will build a 410-megawatt Siemens H-series modern combined cycle unit at its fuel oil tank yard, which has not been operational and is currently a brownfield site.

Reese said this high-tech unit will have heat recovery steam generators, which will recycle heat from the process that would normally be expelled through a stack and the design also can withstand higher temperatures and has a more precise digital controls.

“As of today, there is nothing that competes with this,” Reese said.

In addition to building the new unit, the other three units at Astoria Generating will have their emissions capped, the current fuel oil will be replaced with ultra low-sulfur diesel and some once-through cooling will be displaced, meaning the plant will no longer use water from the East River to cool the facility.

The project, called the Luyster Creek Energy Project, is expected to increase the plant’s 1,300 megawatts of generation capability by 10 percent to 18 percent.

“We are reducing the emissions, we are reducing water intake,” Reese said.

The company has submitted an Environmental Assessment Form, filed a draft of an Environmental Impact Study and has held public meetings with members of the community and elected officials on the project, Reese said.

The company expects to begin construction in March 2012 and complete construction in May 2014 for a ballpark figure of $1 billion, depending on how the project will turn out after consideration from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and additional public meetings.

Rose Marie Poveromo of the United Community Civic Association echoed Vallone’s support for the project.

“The power plants are not going to close down and move away, that’s for sure,” Poveromo said. “But as long as they’re not, let them be good neighbors.”

Joan Asselin, environmental protection chairwoman for Community Board 1, disagreed, saying that she was still concerned about the cumulative amount of emissions coming from all the different power plants in the area.

“Even though it’s going to be a little cleaner, it’s all going to be belching at the same time,” Asselin said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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