Power Politics: The Protests Continueby Bridget Terry
Williamsburg and Greenpoint have again been targeted as ideal communities for power plants. One neighborhood plant is expected to receive payments soon and two more are in the planning stages. If all open as scheduled, the number of power facilities in Greenpoint and Williamsburg will reach a total of no less than seven.
Hudson Avenue Station, a five-boiler steam and electricity plant located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, has been producing only steam for the past four years. Recently, Con Edison began proceedings to reopen Boiler 100, a co-generator that will produce steam and an additional 60 megawatts of electricity. Local environmental groups, including Williamsburg Watch, Stop the Barge, Neighbors Against Garbage, and Greenpoint and Williamsburg Against Power Plants (GWAPP), strongly oppose Boiler 100 and claim that it’s one of the dirtiest in the city. The activists contend that for merely an extra 60 megawatts of electricity, Con Ed is willing to sacrifice the health of the communities adjacent to the Navy Yard. Moreover, the diesel-run engine will emit 2,670 tons of noxious emissions that will flow east directly toward Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
Con Ed sees it differently. Its plan has always been to offset the high emissions from Boiler 100 by not running other steam generating boilers within the same plant. Con Ed spokesperson Chris Olert says, “Con Edison will shut down the four other boilers and turn on Boiler 100, which will provide steam and electricity with no overall additional emissions. The burners in Boiler 100 are new and more efficient.” In Con Ed’s view, such increased capacity holds promise for everyone. “We need electricity,” Olert explains. “The economy is booming. If there is more electricity available, the cost should come down. Everyone will benefit.”
Nearby residents are reluctant to believe that they will benefit from Boiler 100’s reopening. They stress that because there has been no environmental impact review, Con Ed’s statement regarding no actual increases in emissions is therefore unacceptable. Residents also question the legality of the plant’s reopening, whereas Con Ed asserts that Boiler 100 was shut down in 1997 due to deregulation and lack of need. Con Ed actually used the offset of the emissions from this closure in order to open new plants, thus suggesting that Boiler 100 was supposed to be closed permanently.
Environmental groups also contest the need for additional electricity at all. Deborah Masters, spokesperson for Stop the Barge says, “The State Department of Public Service estimates that New York City needs 10,535 megawatts of electricity during the hottest summer days. New York City has 13,474 megawatts of electricity available, almost 30 percent more than we need.” This is indeed the key issue, but the power companies prefer only to speculate about a massive rise in future demand.
Need clearly does not seem to be the primary factor in the proliferation of power plants in Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Bayside Fuel Company located at North 12th Street may soon become home to one of the largest power plants built in the city this decade. Gas Alternative Systems, a private company, has been in negotiations with Bayside Fuel to purchase the land on which they are located. They plan to build a 1,000 to 1,500 megawatt plant, depending on the kind of turbine they purchase. Whichever they choose, the total emissions are projected to be around 2,127 tons per year. When asked about this increase, Adam Victor of Clean Point Energy said, “I don’t know where this data is from. This will be one of the cleanest plants. The emissions will be substantially less than Hudson, probably one-third of the emissions of Hudson and Hudson is one-fifteenth the size of this facility.”
Clean Point Energy has begun to meet with the Borough President’s office but will not move forward with negotiations until they have secured the permits for the plant. This process could take two years. Williamsburg Watch and Neighbors Against Garbage have made it clear that they are in complete opposition to the proposed plant, and they organized a June 21 public meeting with representatives from Clean Point Energy in the auditorium of the Automotive High School. The company has begun to speak about possible ways they can give back to the local neighborhoods. Adam Victor says, “We have been trying to enlist the community. We believe that other companies may be willing to shut down and purchase electricity from us. We are talking about converting vehicles to natural gas, remedying portions of the waterfront; if asthma is truly endemic in that area, we would be prepared to fund an asthma, respiratory clinic. But these are things we can only do if the community works with us. We would welcome suggestions from the community.” Mary Ziegler, cofounder of Williamsburg Watch, is not impressed by the company’s position. “Among the possible kickbacks suggested by the company was an asthma clinic located on the grounds of the plant. These people just do not get it,” says Ziegler.
Both Williamsburg Watch and Stop the Barge, meanwhile, are continuing the fight against placement of the NISA power barge and the New York Power Authority (NYPA) peaking facility. They have brought lawsuits against NYPA and NYC Energy, LLC. As a result of these suits, and also because they still lack some of the necessary permits, NYC Energy has decided to postpone the placement of its peaking facility, giving a temporary victory to their prospective neighbors. It was to have begun operating this summer at Division and Kent Streets.
NYPA still plans on implementing their other new facilities this summer, even though they have not reached an agreement with neighborhood groups on ways to give back to the community. Some proposals involve funding solutions to reduce emissions elsewhere in the neighborhood, as well as replacing older diesel-run turbines, similar to the ones used at the Domino Sugar Factory, with more environmentally safe ones used at the company’s peaking facility. (NYPA is already considering powering Domino directly from its peaking facility instead of replacing the company’s turbines.) Moreover, running NYPA’s peaking facilities for three years instead of the originally planned 10 is also under discussion. Other ideas involve improving existing parks or creating new ones. For now, NYPA spokesperson Joe Leary confirms only that they do plan to reduce emissions elsewhere in the community. Although there have been some victories, it appears that the local struggle against the proliferation of power plants will be a long one. For more information, or to offer your services, contact both Williamsburg Watch and Stop the Barge at www.williamsburgwatch.org. Neighbors Against Garbage can be reached at (718) 384-2248. GWAPP can be reached at www.gwapp.org.