New York environmental regulators last week announced they had denied required air permits for two proposed natural gas-fired power plants as the projects did not align with the state’s environmental goals.

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Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos said the 437 MW Astoria Replacement Project and the 536 MW Danskammer Energy Center project do not “demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act,” aka the Climate Act.

The Astoria project in Queens County is proposed by Astoria Gas Turbine Power LLC, a fully owned subsidiary of NRG Energy Inc, while Danskammer Energy LLC is behind the Danskammer project in Newburgh, Orange County. 

The denials of the Title V Air Permits were praised by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has led efforts to scuttle the Astoria project in her district, as well as Gov. Kathy Hochul.

“Earlier this year, fossil fuel co. NRG began to rush high-pollution, fracked-gas peaker plants into our community,” Ocasio-Cortez said Wednesday on Twitter. “We organized all year against it while securing wind + solar projects. Today the plant was denied.”

Hochul said, “I applaud the Department of Environmental Conservation’s decisions to deny the Title V Permits for the Danskammer Energy Center and Astoria Gas Turbine Power LLC in the context of our state’s clean energy transition.

“Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, and we owe it to future generations to meet our nation-leading climate and emissions reduction goals.”

The Climate Act was signed into law in 2019, and requires the state to achieve a 40% reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions versus 1990 levels by 2030 and an 85% decrease by 2050.

The power plants “would be inconsistent or would interfere with the statewide greenhouse gas emissions limits established in the Climate Act,” Seggos said, adding that the companies “failed to demonstrate the need or justification” for the projects “notwithstanding this inconsistency.”

The Astoria project entails a new cymple cycle dual fuel peaking combustion turbine generator that would replace 50-year-old generating units at the existing 647 MW Astoria facility. The upgrade would lower on-site peak air emission rates by up to 99% per hour, according to NRG.

The Danskammer project would involve upgrading and modernizing the firm’s existing 532 MW plant, which currently takes 11 hours to ramp up before producing any power. The upgrades would allow the plant to come online in minutes, according to the firm, and to transition to zero-emission hydrogen power once technology is available to transport and store hydrogen.

The New York Independent System Operator in a 2020 report stressed the importance of having a “large quantity of installed dispatchable energy resources needed in a small number of hours” in order to hit emissions targets while maintaining grid reliability.

Nonetheless, in letters outlining the full decisions on each project, DEC’s Daniel Whitehead, director of environmental permits, said the project sponsors did not demonstrate a reliability need for the plants or identify adequate alternatives or GHG mitigation measures.

Whitehead also cited uncertainty around plans for each plant to possibly use hydrogen or renewable natural gas (RNG) in the future to comply with the Climate Act.

Neither applicant is currently seeking permits to use hydrogen or RNG, but both cited the fuels as options to reduce emissions in the future. The plans, however, are “uncertain and speculative in nature,” the regulator said. 

New York has been among the most aggressive states in terms of efforts to curb natural gas production, as well as gas infrastructure and consumption by homes and businesses.

However, natural gas accounted for 54% of the state’s net electricity generation as of July, while three out of every five households in the state use gas as a heat source, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Deggos said DEC reached the decision to cancel the Astoria project after a comprehensive review of NRG’s application and supporting materials, along with more than 6,600 public comments received on the project.

DEC received more than 4,500 public comments on Danskammer, Seggos said.