Opinion: A Power Plant by Any Other Name

For a while, back in the summer, the company that wants to build a huge new power plant on the North Brooklyn waterfront was calling itself Clean Point Energy.  It has since renamed itself TransGas.  Why the change?  Perhaps the firm decided that the pun on “Greenpoint” wasn’t so clever after all.  Or maybe it realized that the old name protested too much: Brooklyn residents are smart enough to know that any company that puts “clean” in its name must be anything but.

In fact, if TransGas has its way Greenpoint and Williamsburg will become much dirtier places.  The plant, proposed for the Bayside Fuel Depot Corp site at the intersection of Kent Ave. and N. 12th St., would produce 1,100 megawatts, enough power for about a million homes.  TransGas says it will use clean-burning technology, as the law requires.  But the proposed plant would still spew hundreds of tons of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and fine particulate matter into the air every year.  The fine particles lodge deep in the lungs and aggravate asthma and other respiratory problems.  Prevailing winds would blow those emissions toward the densely populated neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint, which already have some of the highest asthma rates in the city.

The electricity industry issues dire warnings of power shortages and California-style blackouts in New York.  Those problems never occurred, and the warnings now seem like attempts to frighten us into authorizing power plants that we don’t need.  In a 1.6-mile stretch along the East River in North Brooklyn, there are already six existing or permitted power plants, more than enough to supply New York’s growing needs.

The waterfront of Greenpoint and Williamsburg has a proud industrial past, having produced everything from pencils to battleships.  But most of that industry has disappeared.  Over the last decade community groups, along with city planners for the city and the state, have created development plans that call for rezoning the waterfront to allow a mix of light industry, housing, and parks.

Manhattan residents can stroll along their riversides for miles at a stretch, but in Brooklyn we can only catch glimpses of the river from blocks away, our access blocked by abandoned buildings and chain-link fences.  Lately, signs of hope have appeared.  New York University and New York state will soon break ground on a seven-acre complex of parkland, playing fields, and promenade on the Williamsburg waterfront, from N. 7th to N. 9th St. The park should be completed in about two years.  Finally, river-starved Brooklynites will have a place to go.

But the park might not be such a pleasant place.  The proposed power plant would sit right at the northern end of the park, its towering smokestacks casting shadows over the playing fields.  If the plant is built, residents playing baseball or enjoying the glorious views of Manhattan will also be inhaling emissions from the TransGas plant.

We can stop it.  In 2000 community groups defeated ConEd’s plan to build a 500-megawat plant a little farther up the Greenpoint waterfront.  Now many of the same groups have mobilized—under the name Greenpoint/Williamsburg Waterfront Task Force (GWAPP)—to stop this one.  Seven hundred people turned out on a drizzly day in May for a march and rally at the site.  At a June meeting with the plant’s developers, an overflow crowd of a thousand packed the auditorium of the Automotive High School and spilled out onto the street. The public told the developers that they didn’t want the plant in their community.

The message didn’t get through.  TransGas has pushed ahead with its plans, and it seems intent on ignoring the wishes of the people.  State law requires the developer to hold meetings to share information with the community, but those held thus far—one in October, another in November—have been farces.  TransGas sent invitations to only a tiny fraction of the neighborhood’s residents, and none of its information was available in Spanish, Polish, or Yiddish.  The developer apparently hopes that it can satisfy the letter of the law for public disclosure without actually revealing the true costs of its plan.

They won’t get away with it.  The local task force has hired a team of lawyers from Pace University’s Energy and Climate Center to press the legal battle against TransGas.  But the only way to stop the plant is through the organized outrage of the people who live here.  The state’s Public Service Commission (PSC), which regulates the construction of new plants, is not impartial: its goal is to get new power plans built, and it will block development under only heavy pressure from the community.  It’s up to us to apply that pressure.  We need to tell Governor Pataki and the PSC that we refuse to allow a private company to profiteer at the expense of our health and our waterfront.

TranGas says it will build a clean plant, that our health won’t be affected, that they’ll contribute to the community through medical clinics and scholarships.  They’re trying to sell us on the idea than an 1,100-megawatt power plant is a good thing for Williamsburg and Greenpoint.  We need to tell them that we won’t buy it.

Contributor

Mark Regan

MARK REGAN is a member of GWAPP. For more information, please e-mail gwwtf@yahoo.com or call Aggie (917-674-5681) or Rolf (718-599-1657).

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