Reimagined energy plan for Empire State Plaza relies on solar, efficiency and equipment upgrades

Legislative Gazette file photo
A new plan being developed by the New York Power Authority and the Office of General Services will generate almost half of the energy needs of the Empire State Plaza through solar power.

Under a new plan announced today, half of the power needed for the Empire State Plaza in Albany will come from a new solar project being developed by the New York Power Authority and Office of General Services.

The plan also includes $96 million in upgrades to generators, chillers and lighting in and around the plaza aimed at reducing emissions from the Sheridan Avenue power plant that provides energy for the 98-acre State Plaza complex in downtown Albany.

NYPA and OGS evaluated a number of energy options through a series of technical reviews, community listening sessions, and meetings with neighborhood associations before arriving at the new proposal to enhance the plaza’s energy system.

The project will include:

  • Demolishing the old, out-of-use steel smoke stack at the former ANSWERS (Albany New York Solid Waste Energy Recovery System) trash-burning plant closed by Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1994;
  • Developing a remote-solar array in Oneida County near Utica to power up to half of the plaza’s energy needs;
  • Replacing the existing on-site emergency generators with state-of-the-art, efficient, low-emission and low-noise units at a cost of $50 million;
  • A $30 million upgrade to one of the on-site steam-driven chillers to reduce local gas use and emissions by 18 percent;
  • A $16 million initiative to install LED lighting technology throughout the entire Plaza complex to reduce energy use and statewide greenhouse gas emissions; and
  • Augmenting the large-scale remote solar array in Oneida County with on-site solar panels and electrical energy storage to further reduce fossil fuel dependency.

NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones said the new plan will “greatly improve reliability, resiliency and sustainability” at the Empire State Plaza and noted that the large-scale solar project to be built in Oneida County will be the largest concentration of distributed-scale solar generation in New York state.

The Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy — a group of residents who live near the Sheridan Avenue plant — had opposed the state’s original plans for installing natural gas turbines to power the Empire State Plaza. They had submitted a petition to the Governor’s Office asking for a cleaner power system built around renewable energy.

The new plan announced today is designed to reduce emissions from the plant and eliminate the need to install two natural gas-burning turbines, as originally planned.

“I thank NYPA and OGS for … being responsive to the concerns that have been raised,” said Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, who represents the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood. “These measures are a step forward that take into account the community feedback and are part of an ongoing dialogue.”

Legislative Gazette file photo
Smokestacks from the Sheridan Avenue power plant can be seen in this Gazette file photo. The plant will receive upgrades to reduce emissions in the Sheridan Hollow and Arbor Hill neighborhoods of Albany.

Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, D-Albany, also lauded the new plans for considering the Sheridan Hollow and Arbor Hill neighborhoods just blocks from the Plaza.

“I am pleased to see serious, multi-layered plans for cleaner energy and emergency power at the Empire State Plaza that will reduce emissions at the Sheridan Hollow plant,” Fahy said. “By incorporating solar, energy efficiency measures, and plant upgrades into the Plaza, we will make progress on the state’s clean energy goals in a more community conscious way with a greater focus on environmental justice.”

The development of the remote solar project is still in the preliminary stages, but the proposal calls for the array to be placed on state-owned land near the former Oneida County Airport, with the power generated being injected into the electric grid and credited to powering the plaza facilities in downtown Albany.

These improvements at the plaza will allow OGS to exceed its goal of increasing energy efficiency at its facilities by 20 percent by 2020. In addition, the project will advance OGS support of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Order 166, which directs state entities to lead by example in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate statewide adoption of clean energy technologies.

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed earlier this year, directs state agencies and authorities to work collaboratively with stakeholders to reduce 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 85 percent by the year 2050, and to work toward a goal of investing 40 percent of clean energy and energy efficiency resources to benefit disadvantaged communities.

“Using reliable, efficient methods to power the Empire State Plaza and working to meet Governor Cuomo’s energy goals are priorities for the OGS team, so we are very pleased to begin developing the solar project,” said OGS Commissioner RoAnn Destito. “Removing the smoke-stack from the former ANSWERS facility in the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood, upgrading the chillers and expanding our LED lighting program are … examples of our commitment to climate leadership.”