Progress Toward Powering the Empire State Plaza with Renewable Energy

Representatives of the Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy (SHARE), the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and the NY State Office of General Services (OGS) met on December 15, 2021 for an update on the energy-related work being done on the Empire State Plaza.

Several years ago, SHARE successfully advocated for the state agencies to drop their former plan to build a gas-fueled combined heat and power plant in the Sheridan Hollow neighborhood to provide heating, cooling and electricity to the Empire State Plaza and other governmental buildings in downtown Albany. In September, 2019, NYPA and OGS announced a revised plan that included partially converting the Plaza’s cooling system to electric power in place of steam, installing LED lighting, replacing the emergency generator with one that is less polluting, and getting electricity from a solar farm that would be built at an old airport in Oriskany, Oneida County.

In the December 15 meeting, NYPA and OGS reported that one of the steam-powered chillers has been replaced with a new 6,500 Ton electric chiller. It will need to be tested further but work on it is expected to be finished in the summer of 2022. Two new 500 Ton electric chillers for data protection are installed and running. The exterior lighting has been changed to LED and the interior lighting is still being changed.

The new emergency generator facility is under construction and will be in the back of the former ANSWERS incinerator building on Sheridan Avenue. The sound-attenuating structure in which the generators will be located is under construction and the generator equipment has been ordered. The new equipment is expected to be in operation by the end of 2022 if there are no complications. The smokestack on the former ANSWERS building was taken down.

A firm has been identified to build the solar farm, with legal document preparation and site investigations underway. NYPA and OGS decided not to install photovoltaic equipment near the plaza due to considerations involving roofs.

A new energy study

In September, 2021, NYPA and OGS announced that they had begun a comprehensive energy study of the Plaza. The study is being done by Ramboll, an energy consulting company, and is expected to take 18 months. A major goal of the study is “significantly reducing the plaza’s dependence on fossil fuels.”

At the December 15 meeting, NYPA and OGS further discussed the schedule for the study. OGS sent building data to the contractors who will be developing ways of evaluating a wide range of technologies in the context of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, cost, minimizing impacts, maintaining Plaza operations and other considerations. Geothermal test drilling might occur this winter and geothermal heating and cooling are among the things being considered.

The buildings involved in the study include the Empire State Plaza, the Capitol, the Alfred E. Smith Building and (for thermal systems only) the State Education building. The schedule for public involvement with the proposals is not yet known but there may be a preliminary idea of the study results by late 2022.

New state legislation

A SHARE representative brought up the “Renewable Capitol” bill, which is state legislation SHARE is promoting that would require conversion of the Plaza to renewable energy. (As of February 12, 2022, the bill has been introduced in the Senate (S.8221) and is awaiting a bill number in the Assembly.) There was discussion about how the money already appropriated for Plaza energy work was being spent (on the chiller, emergency generator and so forth) and about funding for larger projects resulting from the current study.