ALBANY, NY: A panel that included Albany County legislator Merton Simpson spoke in opposition to the proposed Sheridan Hollow Microgrid Fossil Fuel Plant at the October 18 Save the Pine Bush dinner. About 45 attended. Also speaking were engineer Keith Schue and environmental health advocate, Rita Ogburn-McCall. Sandy Steubing moderated the discussion.
Sandy said the New York Power Authority (NYPA), the state-owned electric utility, had, moments earlier, notified her that it would not participate in a previously scheduled meeting the next day, with the Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy (SHARE), to discuss the microgrid project.
Merton Simpson said SHARE had formed only two months earlier and already had more than 100 groups and elected officials in its coalition who oppose the project at 79 Sheridan Avenue in Albany. He said he believed family members contracted cancer and experienced premature deaths from the ANSWERS trash incinerator that operated from 1982 through 1994 at the same address the microgrid facility would be.
Mr. Simpson said he has been an activist since 1968 and co-chaired, with Vera Michelson, the Coalition Against Apartheid and Racism. He insisted that Governor Andrew Cuomo “will not be able to ignore” us and our coalition. He called the microgrid project is an “existential threat” and “the fact that this is being proposed in a neighborhood heavily and negatively impacted” by the ANSWERS incinerator “shows us who we are up against.” He said, “We do not want to be poisoned a little less” and “there is no such thing as a good cigarette or good fossil fuel.”
Keith Schue said he moved to New York from Florida seven years ago. The state’s proposal is a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) “Co-generation” and Microgrid. Sixteen megawatts (one megawatt equals one million watts) of electricity would be generated from two natural gas-fired turbines to provide ninety percent of the power for the Empire State Plaza (ESP) and nearby buildings for the next thirty years. It would be fracked gas, he said. The equipment would include two 11,000 horsepower turbines, the same equipment used in compressor stations. As proposed, exhaust heat from the turbines would also supplement steam production from the existing steam plant.
Compressor stations, he said, use gas-fired turbines to operate compressors that pump natural gas through a pipeline. For the proposed microgrid, those same gas-fired turbines would power electricity generators. Both have the same emissions, he said. However, most compressor stations are in rural areas; the gas turbines for this microgrid would be in downtown Albany, impacting many more people. He said the proposal calls for two smokestacks that would be only fifteen feet above the roof of the old ANSWERS plant, lower than the existing smokestack. Such low stacks would easily spread emissions into the immediate neighborhood.
Mr. Schue said NYPA is insisting the electricity for the project must be generated in the immediate vicinity of the Empire State Plaza, ignoring the fact that the natural gas that would power the project would come from more than 100 miles away in Pennsylvania. Keith insisted there is no reason why the electricity for the ESP must be exclusively generated in the same neighborhood as the ESP.
He said NYPA insists that geothermal is not practical in cities even though examples exist of buildings in urban areas that use it, including St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC and the Colorado state capitol building in Denver.
If this proposal goes on line, he said Governor Cuomo will be setting a bad example for the future. It would be “an admission of defeat” from Mr. Cuomo concerning the state’s renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals that he often touts. Mr. Schue asked, “What does this say about the state that “banned” fracking if New York’s vision for the future of its own capital is fracked gas?”
Finishing up his presentation, he said “New York must not surrender to a future of fossil fuels” and New York’s decision makers are falsely asserting that renewable energy is not a feasible way to power downtown Albany government buildings.
Rita Ogburn-McCall said the ANSWERS incinerator was closed in 1994, three years ahead of schedule. She said there are five major chemical emissions from natural gas facilities, one being particulate matter. She said natural gas installations release emissions throughout the process, continuously, and in fluctuating quantities. She said a person could suddenly have an asthma attack on a peak emission day.
She said still births and prenatal deaths occurred in the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood due to the ANSWERS incinerator.
Federal and state laws, she said, are designed to protect the general population and not the most vulnerable individuals such as pregnant women, asthmatics, children and infants, the elderly, people with COPD, or people with hypertension. Nor are the combined impacts of several different chemical exposures analyzed, she said.
Ms. Ogburn-McCall finished her presentation saying, “We must become citizen scientists.”
During the Q&A, Lynne Jackson asked if it would be possible to construct wind turbines and solar installations on the property [363 acres] the City of Albany owns in the Town of Coeymans, as suggested by Albany Common Councilman Frank Commisso, Jr. A woman asked about the feasibility of an energy retrofit of the ESP and NYS Capitol Building to which Keith responded that some ESP energy efficiencies have been made since the ESP opened.
Grace Nichols proposed that SHARE make a presentation about the microgrid proposal to Public Employee Federation (PEF) employees, many of whom work within a few hundred meters of the proposed power plant.
I provided a quick review of the sequence of events that led to the ANSWERS closure early in 1994 and said state agencies such as the Departments of Environmental Conservation and Heath will not publicly criticize the operations of a power plant owned by another state agency. ANSWERS was owned by the state Office of General Services. Keith agreed with my comment that we cannot rely on the regulatory system to protect us.
Merton concluded the evening saying “We can and we will win this.”