NYPA, Environmental Justice Groups to Work Together on Peaker Plant Replacements

Utilities operating fossil-fueled power plants, and the
low-income and disadvantaged communities that face the brunt of
their pollution, may have a new model for resolving their
differences.�

On Tuesday, the New York Power Authority signed a landmark
agreement
with the PEAK Coalition, a group of five
environmental justice and clean energy groups, to study ways to
replace or reduce emissions from NYPA’s six gas-fired peaker
plant sites in New York City and Long Island. 

Tuesday’s memorandum of understanding (MOU) doesn’t set a
hard deadline for closing the plants, which provide about 470
megawatts of capacity to meet downstate New York’s
peak-constrained grid needs. But it does offer communities at most
risk from from their emissions an ongoing role in working with the
state’s public power utility to find cost-effective ways to
reduce the impact, NYPA CEO Gil Quinones said in a Wednesday
interview. 

“We exist for the benefit of the people of the state, and
we’re fulfilling that mission,†he said. “We want to be a
first mover, we want to lead by example.†

Balancing health and reliability

NYPA’s peaker fleet, installed in the early 2000s, doesn’t
face the need to close by 2025 under state air quality regulations,
as do older, more polluting peaker plants in downstate New York.
But they’ve been the target of legal challenges from groups
representing low-income communities at most risk of harm from their
emissions. 

At the same time, New York City faces a shortage of transmission
capacity to meet its peak grid demands, and NYPA’s units may
become more valuable for meeting those needs as older plants face
retirement, Quinones said. They’re also important for local grid
reliability, and several are needed for so-called “black startâ€
capability to reenergize the grid after power outages, “so we
have to be careful†about how to replace them, he said.

This is a common problem facing utilities in states like New
York that are pushing to decarbonize their electricity generation
fleets, and it doesn’t have an easy answer. California regulators
have allowed utilities to replace capacity from the closed San
Onofre nuclear power plant with new gas-fired peaker plants, though
they also required Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas
& Electric to seek out batteries, energy efficiency and demand
response to meet part of the shortfall. 

More recent decisions have replaced new California gas plants
with clean energy portfolios. At the same time, the state is
extending the retirement dates of several coastal gas plants
to ensure
adequate grid reliability
, despite strong opposition from
surrounding communities exposed to their emissions, while it seeks
to deploy solar, batteries and other low-carbon replacements. 

Looking for ‘breakthrough technologies’

NYPA’s agreement with the PEAK Coalition calls for a study of
alternatives that can both ensure reliability and reduce the amount
of emissions its peaker plants emit during the roughly 10 percent
of the year they’re called into service, Quinones said. Beyond
NYPA’s in-house experts, “we’ll hire consultants, and hire a
sub-consultant to advise the environmental justice groups, so they
know it’s not biased, that it’s fact-based,†he said. 

“The first thing we’ll consider seriously is installing
existing storage technology on a hybrid basis,†using batteries
to augment
power plant capacity
, Quinones said.

This approach is gaining popularity. Power producer AES is
installing a 100-megawatt,
400 megawatt-hour
 battery at its Alamitos power plant as it
reduces the scale of its gas-fired generation there. In New York,
LS Power plans to install 316
MW of batteries
 to replace combustion turbines at its
Ravenswood Generating Station in Queens. 

Today’s lithium-ion batteries can cost-effectively provide
energy storage for between 4 to 8 hours at a time, with costs
rising as durations grow. NYPA is also responsible to state
ratepayers to assure it’s not choosing alternatives that will
drastically increase the costs of its peaker facilities,
particularly in today’s energy markets with their relatively low
prices for natural gas and gas-fired electricity, Quinones
noted. 

But as New York pursues its state goals of getting 70 percent of
its electricity from renewable resources by 2030, and reaching
zero-carbon electricity by 2040, more options will emerge, he
said. 

“There’s going to be a need for breakthrough technologies in
a couple of areas,†he said. One is
long-duration storage
, a category that includes advanced
batteries such as those being developed by Form Energy. The
Massachusetts-based startup believes its batteries, paired with
shorter duration technologies, could replace
83 percent of New York’s peaking
 units—a lot more than the
6 to 11 percent of peakers that could be replaced by today’s
battery options, according to a 2019
study
 by consultancy Energy + Environmental Economics. 

NYPA is also working with Zinc8
Energy Solutions
 
to develop a zinc-air energy storage
system meant to provide more than 8 hours of storage duration. 

Low-carbon fuels to replace fossil natural gas, such as
hydrogen generated from clean electricity
or synthetic gas
combined with carbon capture techniques, will be another
longer-term tool, he said. NYPA is a member of the Low-Carbon
Resources Initiative (LCRI);
 a partnership with the Electric
Power Research Institute and the Gas Technology Institute aiming to
boost the efficiency and lower costs for these fuels. 

These technologies are expected to play a major role in utility
decarbonization efforts around the world. At the same time,
utilities are facing increasing pressure to close fossil-fueled
plants faster than most are planning to do, with low-income
communities that disproportionately house them often leading the
charge. 

“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,†Lewis
Milford, president of nonprofit Clean Energy Group, and PEAK
coalition adviser, said in a statement. 

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
NYPA, Environmental Justice Groups to Work Together on
Peaker Plant Replacements