Powering the Empire State Plaza with Renewable Energy: A Progress Report

SHARE has been monitoring progress by the New York Power Authority and Office of General Services on projects they announced in September 2019, when they abandoned their previous plan for adding gas turbines in Sheridan Hollow to power the Empire State Plaza. In a recent call with NYPA spokesperson Stephen Ramsey, SHARE member Laura Faulk asked for an update.

Her first question was about how much of the $87.8 million appropriation in the state budget had been spent so far. Ramsey said only $2-3 million dollars has been spent, but didn’t give an exact number. (He emphasized that it is OGS money and not money in the NYPA budget.) Most of that expenditure has been on the removal of the old smoke stack and remediation of the indoor space at the old ANSWERS plant. The work was paused last spring but the remediation work is almost completely finished.

Ramsey said the remaining money has been committed to the renewable energy projects that were outlined in September 2019, and he feels that the overall picture is very good for getting these things done. The following are the most significant steps taken to date:

  • Remote solar array in Oneida County: Environmental assessments are in progress. Bird studies were completed over the summer and winter studies are commencing. Since it is a 38 MW project, it will be permitted under the state’s new siting law. Completion is expected in the 3rd quarter of 2022.
  • New emergency generators are expected to be on-line in the 1st quarter of 2022. Construction is expected to begin in the next 2 to 3 months.
  • Electrification of one chiller: Prep work has begun. He said that a hatch has been opened on the Empire State Plaza, which is how they will access the chiller for the work that needs to be done. It will be on-line in the summer of 2021.
  • LED light bulbs have been purchased for ESP exterior lighting. Complete conversion to LEDs should be done by the 3rd or 4th quarter of 2021. (He also mentioned that Albany’s conversion to LED street lights, which NYPA has been supporting, is 90 percent done overall and 100 percent done in the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood.)

Some additional funding may be required to complete all of the projects, Ramsey said, but he feels that the money already committed should be sufficient for the funding needed through 2021.

Though not discussed in the call, SHARE continues to advocate for additional steps beyond those announced last September toward 100 percent renewable energy for the ESP. As planned, the Oneida remote solar array is only large enough to supply about 50 percent of the ESP’s annual electricity usage, so the other 50 percent will require its expansion or the addition of other arrays. The replacement of one of the steam driven chillers with an electric one is just a first step toward complete electrification of the cooling system. Electrification of the heating system will require conversion to geothermal energy, a step to which NYPA and OGS have yet to commit, but which will be necessary to retirement of the steam plant — thus ending the burning of fossil fuels in Sheridan Hollow on behalf of the ESP.