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Local environmental justice activists joined together last month to demand that the state New York Power Authority (NYPA) shut down four polluting peaker power plants in the South Bronx as the shift toward clean energy gets closer to becoming a reality. 

“I wanted to stand with them in the call to get those peaker plants offline,” said Assemblymember Amanda Septimo. “As we’re bringing online cleaner energy projects, we want to take offline ones that we know are harmful.”

In Mott Haven and Port Morris, groups such as South Bronx Unite and WE ACT for Environmental Justice said they are railing against the toxic air and pollution emitted by the peaker plants. A combination of power plants, highways, truck traffic, and other toxic air factors in the area has resulted in asthma hospitalization rates eight times higher than the national average in the South Bronx.

They support the state’s renewable energy projects, but because of health concerns the groups want a shortened timeline for the closure of the plants to 2026 instead of the promised 2035 deadline. 

Over time the Bronx has become known as a sacrifice zone: low-income communities of color are being sacrificed for the plants to go up, said Lonnie J. Portis, environmental policy & advocacy coordinator for WE ACT. 

New York State’s and City’s goal is to have at least 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030. Currently projects in the works include offshore wind hubs in Brooklyn and Long Island, and new transmission lines Clean Path NY project and the Champlain Hudson Power Express. Clean Path runs from upstate down to the city with solar and wind energy, and will be underground in the South Bronx. It’s estimated that it will eliminate about 49 million tons of CO2 emissions statewide. The hope is to get it installed by 2027. The Champlain is a similar hydroelectric transmission line and aims at being installed and operational by 2025. Both were approved by Gov. Kathy Hochul. 

Credit: Contributed photo

In the meantime, NYPA’s natural gas peaker plants have been working since they were installed in 2001 to help meet the city’s energy needs. Basically, they’re like giant backup generators that kick on during ‘peak’ usage on certain days. NYPA agrees that transitioning these plants to newer technologies will decrease greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants in the city.  

“The peakers aren’t being used at peak time. They’re being used all the time,” said A. Mychal Johnson of South Bronx Unite. “Our community of Black and Brown people is already considered asthma alley. We have a very large burden on top of us of environmental harm.”

Septimo said the administration hasn’t been clear on a deadline and added her voice to the activists’ letter to the NYPA.

NYPA said, in response to the Amsterdam News’ inquiries, that it is currently performing a study on the peaker plant transition since it has to be accomplished while continuing to meet the electricity needs of the city.

NYPA said that it wrote a letter to South Bronx Unite on Monday, Feb. 28 that the group did not respond to. The agency said that the activist group then organized a public press conference without notifying NYPA this past Sunday.

“NYPA has committed to being a first-mover, exploring new clean energy frontiers, so that we, together with our partners and along with other utilities, can demonstrate a direct path to a cleaner environment for all New Yorkers,” said NYPA president Gil C. Quiniones in a statement from a 2020 release.

NYSERDA did not provide a comment.

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about culture and politics in New York City for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w

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