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Small Clean Power Plants

PowerNow! power plant photoWe increased our generating capacity by about 450 megawatts during summer 2001 when we began operating small, clean natural gas-powered generating plants at six sites in New York City and one on Long Island.

We had launched a crash program in late August 2000 to install these PowerNow! plants in response to warnings from officials in the public and private sectors that the New York City metropolitan area could face power shortages in the summer of 2001.

Similar warnings were repeated throughout the 10 months it took to obtain, site, design and install the units—a process that normally would require more than two years.

Meeting the need for electricity

The small plants proved invaluable during an August 2001 heat wave, when temperatures—and electricity use—soared to new highs, and in the summer of 2002, when Con Edison and the Long Island Power Authority each set records for three-month electricity use.

The units again proved their worth in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, when the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which runs the state’s transmission system, limited deliveries of electricity into the area from upstate plants. During the great northeast blackout in August 2003, the plant's helped return power to New York City while stabilizing the downstate transmission system. They have helped strengthen the power system at other times during day-to-day operations.

The New York City generators—at two sites in the Bronx, two in Brooklyn, one in Queens and one on Staten Island—are the cleanest, simple-cycle plants in the city. The Long Island unit is located in Brentwood, in the Town of Islip.

Map showing locations of PowerNow! power plants in New York City

Helping the environment

We invested a total of more than $85 million to equip the plants with the most advanced technology available for controlling air pollution and reducing noise. In a further step to mitigate the plants’ environmental impact, we initiated a zero net emissions program, which will offset the small amount of emissions from the generators by reducing pollutants from other New York City sources through the use of new energy-efficient technologies.

These measures include installation of eight fuel cells that will harness waste gas from sewage treatment facilities to produce clean electricity; retrofitting 1,500 diesel school buses in the city with tailpipe emission reduction technology; and various other efforts, from helping to put zero-emissions electric vehicles on the road to installing high-efficiency lighting at public facilities. These initiatives will build on NYPA's extensive programs to save energy and protect the environment in New York City and throughout the state.

Decreased emissions

The small power plants have also helped protect the environment by permitting older, oil- and natural gas-fueled plants, which are not as clean as the NYPA generators, to reduce their output, thus improving air quality.

According to the most recent federal data, during 2005 the NYPA plants emitted  one-tenth of a pound of nitrogen oxide (NOx), a major source of smog and a greenhouse gas, for every megawatt hour (mwh) of electricity they produced. In contrast, federal and state figures show that older, inefficient plants of comparable size in the city put out an average of 7.2 pounds of NOx per mwh. That meant nearly a 99 percent cut in emissions per mwh from operation of the Power Authority facilities.

Federal records show that even relatively efficient larger power plants in the city produced an average of about 1.8 pounds of NOx per mwh. That translated into a 94 percent reduction in emissions per mwh.

The plants also provide major benefits with respect to sulfur dioxide, or SO2, which causes acid rain. Because they burn only natural gas, they produce virtually no SO2 at all. In contrast, New York City power plants, both large and small, that burn oil at least some of the time release SO2 to the air.

Environmental Benefits Cited

The environmental benefits of NYPA's small plants were highlighted in a May 2003 report by the NYISO. "The siting of new electric generation, as is proposed in this report, will improve New York's air quality," the ISO said in its Power Alert III report on the outlook for the state's power supply. "This has been demonstrated by the small, clean power plants that the New York Power Authority installed in six locations in New York City in 2001."