Cities across the U.S. have transformed themselves into living laboratories for clean technology as they race to decarbonize. With limited land available for wind farms or solar arrays, cities are forced to innovate — and a new project in New York demonstrates how quickly urban areas can turn the corner on renewable energy.
New York City’s latest contribution to the renewable energy field comes through the company Rise Light and Power, a subsidiary of the diversified energy company LS Power. LS Power took form in 1990 with a focus on new markets and technologies, including natural gas. The company has since refined its focus to emphasize wind, solar and energy storage under the taline, “We don’t just talk about decarbonization, we make it happen.”
The new Rise Light and Power project demonstrates just how serious LS Power is about shedding its dependence on natural gas. Rise has begun the process of converting its 1960s-era, gas-fired Ravenswood Generating Station in Queens into Renewable Ravenswood, a distribution point for renewable energy including offshore wind as well as solar.
The news is significant because Ravenswood is not just any old gas-fired power plant. As described by Rise, the 27-acre facility is the largest generating station in New York City. With a capacity of more than 2,000 megawatts, it has been a “vital part of New York’s energy system” for decades, Rise says, and it represents a full a fifth of total electricity generation in the city.
Rise also points out that Renewable Ravenswood will need to meet a high bar for resiliency and reliability as well as raw generating capacity. The company notes that the gas-fired units at Ravenswood were instrumental in re-booting the grid after the massive regional blackout of 2003. Ravenswood has continued to operate reliably during major weather events including Hurricane Sandy as well as wild swings in hot and cold weather.
Rise has already retired 500 megawatts in gas-powered peaker units to make space for renewable energy at the site. Gas peaker plants are used for ramping up the supply of electricity temporarily, during periods of the day when demand soars. Apparently, Rise is on board with the emerging consensus that new energy storage technology can do the same job, without the need for gas peaker plants.
The review process for transforming Ravenswood into a renewable energy powerhouse has just begun. If the plans are approved by state regulators, the new facility will include large-scale energy storage systems on site, enabling it to connect to thousands of megawatts of renewable energy resources outside of the city limits, including both wind and solar.
The company also plans to repurpose the water intake facility at the site to provide zero-emission thermal energy to the local community.
While lawmakers on the Republican side of the aisle continue to ramp up their attacks on ESG (environmental, social and governance) in investing, LS Power and Rise are demonstrating that the partisan clamor is all performance and no substance, at least not in terms of responsible public policymaking.
In a press announcement last July, Rise did not seem at all intimidated by the rising tide of anti-ESG rhetoric. Instead, the company made it crystal clear that ESG is front and center in the redevelopment of the Ravenswood site. That means engaging with ESG stakeholders during the planning process, including “local labor leaders, government officials, and environmental justice and community advocates,” according to the company.
As a result, Rise is proudly billing the renewable energy project as “New York City’s Largest-Ever Environmental Justice Project.” The company anticipates “unprecedented” benefits to the community. That includes the retraining and employment of Ravenswood workers at the facility, in coordination with the Utility Workers Union of America Local 1-2, as well as cost savings and air quality improvements expected from the reduced use of fossil fuels.
“If approved by regulators, Ravenswood would power more than 2 million New York homes with renewable energy, in addition to providing clean heating and cooling for up to 15,000 local residences,” Rise emphasized.
Renewable Ravenswood is taking shape in a blue state dominated by Democratic policymakers who support renewable energy and ESG principles, but red states are also beginning to pull the rug out from under the anti-ESG movement.
One recent example is West Virginia, where some office holders are loudly clanging the anti-ESG bell while others arrange public-sector financing to attract the iron-air battery startup Form Energy to the state. If all goes according to plan, West Virginia will export new energy storage technology to red and blue states alike, helping to accelerate renewable energy development all over the country regardless of partisan politics.
Similarly, the leading steelmaker Nucor is pushing back against the anti-ESG rhetoric of office holders in the red state of Kentucky. The company is touting its new “green steel” plant in the state, which is designed to supply the U.S. offshore wind industry with steel for wind turbines.
Unless something drastic changes, energy storage systems and green steel from West Virginia and Kentucky will take the blame for helping to push fossil resources out of the nation’s energy profile, no matter what Republican policymakers have to say about ESG.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.