The deregulation that brought us skyrocketing electric bills also loosed a swarm of new power companies–and a host of outraged neighborhood groups with visions of smokestacks looming in their backyards. Now the grassroots groups that lobby against power plants are getting some help, by teaming up with other local groups in the same tough situation.

Grassroots neighborhood groups often wind up fighting power plants in typical NIMBY fashion. Usually small, single-issue groups, they tend to confine themselves to local battles. But this month, activists from Astoria, Sunset Park, Midtown, the Bronx and the Lower East Side have begun talking to each other, just like their counterparts in the struggle against waste transfer stations.

As in the garbage wars, the fledgling coalition will probably pick a common political foe to tackle: in this case, New York State’s embattled Public Service Commission, the state agency responsible for regulating the state’s utility companies.

“What did we get out of [deregulation]?” asked Tony Gigantiello of the Astoria group CHOKE, a member group. “We got a failing infrastucture, dirty air and bigger electric rates.”

Among their concerns: reducing emissions from old power plants, making sure new ones are cleaner and greener, and measuring the cumulative impact of power plant pollution on every neighborhood. They also want to make sure that 11 new smaller gas turbine plants don’t get fast-tracked into their neighborhoods by stealth (plants under 80 megawatts are exempt from the PSC’s complicated public review process for granting power plants permission to build).

“Before, they wouldn’t even meet with us,” said Gigantiello. Now, he says, the electric companies return his calls: “Now they know that they have these coalitions watching them. No one was watching them out of the gate before.”