Brooklyn Boro

Local lawmakers brave the cold to oppose Gowanus fracked-gas plant repowering

February 19, 2021 Sophia Lebowitz
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“It shouldn’t be happening, not now, not after everything we know about the effects of pollution,” said Brooklyn native Ken Schles. “I am a heart attack survivor and I had childhood asthma.” Schles, a photographer and member of 350 Brooklyn, is worried about how more fossil fuel infrastructure could lead to adverse health effects for Brooklyn residents. 

Schels, along with other concerned Brooklynites and local lawmakers, gathered at Thomas Greene Park in Gowanus on Saturday to urge Governor Cuomo not to approve the repowering of The Gowanus Fracked Gas Plant, operated by Astoria Generating Company. 

The Gowanus plant has been operating since 1971, its peaker plant status means that it is used on days where the city needs extra energy. This usually falls in the summer months when AC units are running.

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The Astoria Generating company currently operates two power plants in the Gowanus/Sunset Park area located on six barges at the mouth of the Gowanus Canal. The Gowanus Unit sits on four barges, next to it sits the two-barge Narrows Generating Station. 

In their current plan, Astoria Generating Company wants to re-power, or renovate, the Gowanus Unit and subsequently close the Narrows Unit. The final product would be a brand new fracked gas plant sitting on two barges. The new plant would be less polluting than the current combined levels of the two older plants. 

“If these units are not repowered, other natural gas and oil units will fill that gap for years to come as we move to a more renewable future. The repowered units offer an opportunity to reduce emissions and CO2 now and be removed when no longer needed,” said John Reese, Senior Vice President of Astoria Generating Company in an email. 

However, activists present at the rally feel that the repowering does not fit in with the city’s ambitious climate goals. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) pledges New York to 100% zero-emission electricity by 2040. 

Alex Beauchamp, the northeast regional director of Food and Water Watch, was present at the rally to show the organization’s disapproval of the repowering proposal. “We think that if we are at all serious about meeting the state’s climate goals we simply can’t be building new gas fired power plants anywhere,” said Beauchamp. He also said that the repowering proposal is a response to new regulations that would eventually force the plants at their current state to shut down. 

“The company who owns it, who makes millions of dollars a year on this peaker plant, wants to swap it out for one that will run for another 50 years,” said Sara Gronim, 350 Brooklyn organizer. Gronim helped to organize the event. She and the other community members present said they feel if Governor Cuomo approves this repowering, the city is choosing a future with fossil fuels. 

Among the local lawmakers present was New York State Senator Jabari Brisport. Senator Brisport represents District 25, which includes parts of Gowanus. Senator Brisport said to the crowd, “when we renew their contracts we are committing these neighborhoods to not just one more year of fossil fuels, not just two more years, but decades more.” He recently introduced a bill, known as the Pollution Justice Act of 2021, that would bar all peaker plants in New York State from renewing their license unless they commit to 100% renewable energy. 

Councilmember Brad Lander was also in attendance, along with City Council hopeful Elizabeth Adams of the 33rd district. 

The repowering proposal brings up environmental justice concerns. Patrick Houston, organizer with New York Communities for Change, said, “we can no longer sacrifice, black communities, and Latinx communities, and all communities of color, and their health and their well being and their dignity.” The plants currently contribute to pollution in South Brooklyn, specifically Gowanus and Sunset Park which are primarily working-class communities of color. The Astoria Generating Company is claiming that their proposal fits in with New York City’s climate goals. The website for the project emphasizes the plant’s location on barges as proof that they can be easily removed if no longer needed. There has not yet been a full application filed for the repowering project. Ultimately, when the application is filed, Governor Cuomo will have the power to accept or deny the application.

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