Following community concerns, NYPA to conduct review of Sheridan Ave. power plant project

Legislative Gazette photo by Otto Kratky
The Sheridan Ave Power Plant as seen from Hawk Street, just outside the State Capitol.

In a victory for the Sheridan Hollow community in Albany, construction on a proposed fracked-gas microgrid has been halted so a state agency can study possible environmental impacts.

The Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy and Albany County Legislator Merton D. Simpson have been against the this project because it could potentially pump hazardous pollutants into the neighborhood.

The moratorium is a result of the New York Power Authority’s response to the public outcry against the project, which will result in “review sessions” before the project goes any further.

“NYPA is holding technical review sessions to gather input from energy experts, and other stakeholders, regarding potential alternative renewable energy options for the proposed project to heat and cool the Empire State Plaza. These sessions will help inform the next steps for the proposed project,” according to NYPA’s statement.

The power authority is also holding a meeting with geothermal engineering and technology experts later this month to further assess the feasibility of its use in heating and cooling Empire Plaza. Among consideration for other renewable energy sources by NYPA are solar and wind technologies, as well as new energy storage methods according to an official statement.

The names and positions of the aforementioned energy experts and other stakeholders were not specified.

NYPA’s response comes on the heels of protests by religious leaders from across New York state who also recently penned a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urging him to not implement the proposed microgrid system.

“Now, we have this opportunity to get something that is an alternative to fracking,” said the Rev. McKinley Johnson, president of the African American Clergy for Empowerment in Albany. “I’m telling you, honestly, why in the world are we going to poison the people when we have another alternative? I’m saying we are against any plant in our community that would emit fumes that would cause future generations medical conditions that will reduce their life expectancy.”

Reverend Johnson fears for future generations living in Sheridan Hollow because the burning of natural gas can produce nitrogen oxide, which irritates the lungs and can lead to respiratory infections, as well as particulate matter, which can affect the heart and lungs and cause serious health effects such as irregular heartbeat and non-fatal heart attacks, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and former EPA Regional Director Judith Enck.

NYPA’s current proposal includes plans to repurpose an existing steam plant on Sheridan Ave with a new 16-megawatt system that would supply the Empire State Plaza with electricity for a combined heat and power microgrid.

The plaza is currently heated and cooled by hot steam produced at the Sheridan Avenue Plant, which has burned coal, oil and even garbage in the past, polluting the neighborhood with toxic fumes. Currently the plant burns natural gas to supply the plaza with heat and air conditioning.

According to Albany County Legislator, and Co-Chair of SHARE, Murton D. Simpson, the toxic fumes pumped into Sheridan Hollow from the trash burning plant that operated for 13 years — from 1981 to 1994 — has already caused irreparable damage to the residents who live near the plant.

“I know people who have died from cancer they got from this pollution,” says Simpson. “I know people who are still alive and have cancer, and children who have cancer.”

SHARE has proposed a geothermal heating and cooling system as an alternative to the current plan.

The coalition points to several examples of large-scale projects like Stanford University and Ball State University that have implemented geothermal, thermal load- sharing, or thermal storage methods of heating and cooling — in many cases replacing combustion systems that relied on steam.

Colorado and Oklahoma both converted their state capitol buildings to geothermal energy, and Michigan is now in the process. St Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan went geothermal last year.

“We believe that New York — the state that banned fracking — can do better than shackle it’s capital to fracked gas from Pennsylvania for decades with a project built on the backs of a community that has already seen far more than its share of pollution,” Simpson said. “A renewable energy solution for the Empire State Plaza that incorporates geothermal technology would showcase New York as a climate leader and serve as a model for the nation.”