A year after Sunset Park residents helped defeat a developer’s proposal to build a natural gas and diesel power plant on a barge anchored in the Gowanus Canal, the developer, Sunset Energy Fleet, is going for it again. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which evaluates these proposals, has been working with the company to iron out the kinks in their application. A Sunset Energy spokesperson said it expects to submit its new plan “as soon as possible.”
If approved, the 520-megawatt plant would float in the canal just west of 23rd Street. The state Public Service Commission rejected the company’s first proposal last September for failing to adequately consider potential environmental hazards, like the impact of the plant’s airborne contaminants on the neighborhood’s already high asthma rates: The hospitalization rate for asthma at local hospitals for children under 5 is four times the national average.
Fearing the unwelcome addition to a neighborhood that says it already has its fair share of pollution–from power plants to waste transfer stations to the Gowanus Expressway–local activists are already preparing to fight. “We’re determined to be ready and not react at the last minute,” said Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE, one of the community groups that led the fight against the proposal last year. The group has already started to plaster the area with flyers announcing the possible return of the barge.
The Sunset Park barge is just one of several new large power plants proposed for New York City neighborhoods-residents of the East Village, Astoria, Long Island City and Williamsburg are fighting five similar proposals. In addition, New York Power Authority this spring successfully beat back court challenges and is installing seven smaller power generators–44-megawatt gas-fired turbines–in many of the same neighborhoods.
As for this particular proposal, it will take strong community opposition to keep it out, says Eddie Bautista, an organizer for New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “The word on the street is that these guys have been told from on high to fast track these power plants.”