Gotham Gazette

The Place for New York Policy and politics


Turbine Turmoil

The New York Power Authority's plan to install 10 temporary, gas turbine generators around the city in preparation for next summer's predicted energy frenzy has been met with resistance by environmental justice activists in Brooklyn and business leaders in Queens. The activists point out that the generators, which pour smog-causing nitrogen oxide into the air, are, as usual, being placed in low income and minority communities: two on 23rd St. and 3rd Ave. and one on River Street. Silvercup Studios, producers of HBO moneymakers "Sex in the City" and "The Sopranos", has said it would abandon plans to build studios on its acreage along the East River in Long Island City because of its proximity to two of the proposed generators.

But the Power Authority's plan limits the generators' capacity to 79.9 megawatts, falling - not coincidentally - just shy of 80 megawatts, the threshhold at which facilities undergo a siting process that includes a comprehensive environmental review and funding for groups that want to challenge the placement. While Silvercup Studios may be able to throw its financial interest into the fray and have the generators located elsewhere, the agency is nonetheless sneaking its agenda through the system, leaving neighborhood and environmental concerns without a forum.

At least a few of the temporary generators will employ General Electric's turbine technology. As reported in Newsday, GE is funding a behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign aimed at undercutting a federal program that places strict pollution controls on new power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has already issued draft guidance and a background paper that suggests power plants that install specific turbine technology - like GE's - might not need to include emission controls that can cut nitrogen oxide and other pollutants by as much as 90 percent.

The Power Authority intends to use the temporary generators for two years, at which point private energy companies looking to break into the city's deregulated energy market will begin to supply power from new and rebuilt plants around the city. Several of those new plants - including a 500 megawatt unit at the Poletti facility in Astoria and a 750 megawatt facility in Riverhead - will employ GE's turbine technology. If GE is successful, those plants will be free to spew forth their pollutants into the city's already destitute air. Their cost-cutting will cost New Yorkers plenty.

Michael Burger is a freelance writer and native New Yorker. His work has appeared in The Village Voice, The Earth Times, Terrain, Artbyte, and other magazines."

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