Given the gridlock in Washington, it is critical now more than ever that cities and states lead the way in growing an American clean energy economy.In New York City, we have a great opportunity to do just that in the coming months.And our goal should be achieving the cleanest air quality of any big city in America, while providing affordable and reliable power to our homes and businesses.
Our highest priority must be the adoption of measures that move us as quickly as possible to an economy powered primarily by increased energy efficiency and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
We must also take all appropriate steps to ensure that fossil fuels are phased out as soon as possible and that necessary safeguards are in place to limit the health and environmental impacts of their development to the maximum possible extent.
Since assuming office, Gov. Cuomo has taken a number of steps to address the important energy issues facing New York.Last year he championed and signed into law the Article X power plant siting bill, as well as the ReCharge NY program, which is designed to spur economic development through allocations of low-cost power.
This year, the governor has called for a pragmatic solution to the dual challenge of meeting our energy needs and protecting our environment through two proposed approaches: upgrading and repowering New York’s oldest and dirtiest power plants to ensure they are cleaner and more efficient, and building new transmission lines to bring renewable electricity to New York City.
The governor began that process by convening his Energy Highway Task Force, which provides the state with a good opportunity to employ an integrated, big-picture approach to its energy vision — focusing not only on transmission and large-scale, central generation, but on energy efficiency and clean, distributed generation, as well.
No private company is better suited than NRG Energy to meet the Task Force’s goals. The company owns five power plants in New York State, and is proposing to supplant its existing and antiquated generators in Astoria with modern, efficient and more environmentally friendly units. When complete, NRG will have replaced 31 older units with four new, dramatically cleaner units generating 40 percent more power.
This move toward efficiency comes in the midst of an important debate taking place over proposed new drilling for natural gas in New York using the controversial technology of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking. Important questions remain to be answered about whether, and if so how, fracking might be accomplished without exposing New Yorkers to the same kinds of water and air pollution, and health and community impacts experienced elsewhere. Unless and until effective safeguards can be established no new drilling should take place.
The repowering of New York’s existing natural gas plants, however, allows us to do more with less fuel, hastening our long-term transition away from fossil fuels.
And that’s not all. NRG’s repowering project would also mean more area jobs and cleaner air, reducing on-site peak-day emissions by 98 percent and annual on-site emissions by 76 percent.
Additionally, New York City will gain a significant source of clean and reliable replacement power if the Indian Point nuclear power plant is taken offline. But even if that doesn’t happen, New York will certainly need replacement power for other, older generating units, and new, cleaner equipment in Astoria would help meet those needs. Nearly 9,000 megawatts’ worth of the city’s generating units are more than 30 years old, and two-thirds of them are more than 40 years old.
With benefits like these, it’s easy to see why approval of NRG’s Astoria Project is supported by a broad coalition of businesses, labor, and environmental groups.Local and state politicians as well as community groups have also endorsed the plan.
If Gov. Cuomo provides the strong leadership he has shown many times before to move these — and other clean energy solutions like efficiency, wind and solar power — forward, we will be there to support him. There is no better way to create jobs while helping protect our environment for future generations. We have a place to start here in New York City.
Tony Gigantiello Jr., left, is president of CHOKE, the Coalition Helping Organize a Kleener Environment. Ashok Gupta is director of energy policy and a senior energy economist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.