Powering the City

Article Photo

Every summer New Yorkers cross their fingers that the electrical grid will hold up during the hottest days and nights of the year. Sometimes the grid passes the test, with just a minor blackout here or there. Other times, whole sections of the city suffer without power for days or weeks.

There is no question that the New York eventually needs a bigger supply of electricity. Even if everyone suddenly became more energy conscious and started using compact fluorescent bulbs (not likely in the short run), the demand from a growing population and our increasing dependence on electronic devices, would put additional pressure on the system. At the same time, the electrical grid coming from upstate (and Canadian) power plants is getting older and more brittle.

So, what's the solution? The city could allow new power plants to be built, thus generating additional energy from within the five boroughs. The problem, of course, is that there is very little room to build large power plants and many of the prime sites along the waterfront are being converted into housing and parks (both of which are also desperately needed). In addition, the pollution generated by the plants would negatively effect surrounding communities, many of which are already taxed with truck traffic and pollution from nearby manufacturers.

So, what's the answer? On January 3, the City Council made an interesting attempt to be part of the solution by passing Intro 18-a , which would require the City of New York to assess whether it could build clean energy generators (solar, wind, fuel cell) on city owned buildings and properties, thus reducing the government's drag on the power grid.

Now, of course, this might sound a bit fanciful, but in truth it is already being practiced at several sites. For example, the Central Park Police Precinct, North Bronx Hospital and New York City Aquarium are all powered by Natural Gas Fuel Cells,which are virtually emmissions-free!

Overall, this sounds like a pretty good plan. The question is, will the Mayor sign the bill into law (it seems likely, given his commitment to sustainability) and how long will it take for the heavy feet of New York's bureacracy to drag through this assessment?


This is a great idea, and really underscores how "the" solution to our dirty energy problems is really many different solutions, applied where they can be most effective.

Posted by: Emily Gertz on January 24, 2007 3:50 PM

Thanks for the article Mark. I had no idea we were already using natural gas fuel cells. I appreciate the story.

Posted by: Joshua Wiese on January 25, 2007 12:40 PM

Ok according to the link "intro 18-a" in the text, there is no mention of solar or wind.
Rather "cogeneration and natural gas-based distributed generation" is mentioned.
Sure that would help but really its photovoltaics and wind that need to (and can) be deployed in a huge way here. Alas the Old Guard (ConEd) is too stubborn and arrogant to realize that by suppressing these technologies (due to an apparent fear of competition) they are shooting themselves in the foot, as each summer the temperatures rise higher, more appliances hum, and their brittle centenarian grid gets pushed to the brink.

Posted by: Solen Skiner on February 10, 2007 6:36 PM