NYPA And Environmental Justice Groups Agree To Explore Options For Transitioning NYPA’s Natural Gas ‘Peaker’ Plants To Cleaner Energy Technologies

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Landmark Agreement to Explore Battery Storage and New Low to Zero Carbon Emission Resources and Technologies to Continue to Reliably Meet New York City’s and Long Island’s Peak Energy Demands, Ensure Resiliency of Grid

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the PEAK Coalition, a group of five leading environmental justice and clean energy interests, unveiled an agreement to assess how NYPA can transition its natural gas fired ‘peaker’ plants, six located in New York City and one on Long Island with a total capacity of 461 megawatts, to utilize clean energy technologies, such as battery storage and low to zero carbon emission resources and technologies, while continuing to meet the unique electricity reliability and resiliency requirements of New York City. The agreement sets the path for the transition of NYPA’s plants to low to zero carbon emission resources and technologies. Implementation of such technologies will help accelerate the clean energy goals outlined in Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, nation-leading climate legislation passed last year, that calls for zero-carbon emission electricity in New York State by 2040.

“NYPA is leading by example in transitioning our plants to utilize clean technologies to help expedite Governor Cuomo’s ambitious climate leadership targets,” said Gil C. Quinones, NYPA president and CEO. “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.”

The agreement, in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), contains two notable commitments:

  • NYPA will collaborate with environmental justice groups to explore cleaner energy options for its entire fleet of city-wide, peaker power plants – the first time a utility has agreed to enter into such a collaboration in the country.
  • NYPA has agreed to support consultants who will work alongside the Authority and independently support the PEAK Coalition partners to develop alternative clean energy replacement options.

NYPA’s natural gas peaker plants (known as “peaker plants” because they are used at times of ‘peak’ electricity demand) were installed in 2001. They operate infrequently—roughly 10 percent of the time or less when directed to do so by the New York Independent System Operator and Con Edison Company of New York to meet energy demands—providing local reliability and resiliency. Transitioning these plants to newer technologies will lessen or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, improving air quality in the surrounding neighborhoods and for all New Yorkers. 

Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, said, “This collaboration will evaluate the technologies needed to move these peaker plants toward low or zero carbon emission technologies. The emissions from in-city power plants can exacerbate respiratory diseases, such as asthma, which recently have been shown to contribute to worse outcomes for those affected by COVID-19. On behalf of the entire Peak Coalition, I am very pleased that NYPA has agreed to work with us to make a clean energy future a reality.” 

Elizabeth Yeampierre, Executive Director, UPROSE, said, “There is no better time to address pollution and inequities of NYC’s energy system. We saw how the historic exposure to high levels of air pollution from multiple sources, including power plants, contributed to higher numbers of COVID-19 deaths in environmental justice communities. This collaboration is a model of the innovative and timely work that is necessary to address billions of dollars that are put into infrastructure that impacts the health of our communities.”

Dariella Rodriguez, Director of Community Development, The Point CDC, said: “Now more than ever we know the negative impact of built environments and infrastructure on the lives of New Yorkers, especially those in EJ communities – which are also our black, brown, immigrant communities. This is one necessary step in the right direction towards accomplishing the goals set out by the CLCPA and getting closer to just living conditions for our most vulnerable.”

Justin Wood, Director of Organizing and Strategic Research at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said “While private power companies are trying to double down on polluting and expensive fossil fuel technologies – despite the obvious acceleration of the climate crisis – it is refreshing to see New York State’s public power authority move toward creating renewable power and green jobs in environmental justice communities where they’re needed most urgently.” 

Lewis Milford, president of Clean Energy Group, a national nonprofit and adviser to the PEAK coalition, said, “In this time of racial reckoning and the growing harm from climate change to vulnerable populations, this New York agreement is a responsible model that should be followed in other communities with peaker plants, one where plant owners respect environmental justice concerns and pursue a collaborative approach to a clean energy transition in heavily polluted urban areas.”

As evidenced by this agreement, NYPA is committed to being a leader in piloting low to zero carbon emission resources and technologies, investigating the feasibility of short- and long-duration battery storage, and driving forward a system-wide transformation to a clean energy economy. NYPA, with input from and in collaboration with its state, industry and advocacy partners, and other stakeholders, also is advocating for offshore wind and solar projects in southeast New York, supporting grid modernization efforts, and investigating ways that more clean distributed energy sources can be added to the energy mix.

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