A "self-sustaining, power-generating island unto itself" in Albany

Empire State Plaza 2017-April

The Empire State Plaza is set to become "a self-sustaining, power-generating island unto itself" as part of a plan formally announced by the Cuomo admin Monday to build a power plant and microgrid for the ESP buildings. In other words, the ESP is basically getting its own power plant and if there's a power outage, it'll still be able to have power.

And that's a good thing. The ESP is the location of many state operations. But the really interesting part of all this might be what this project sets up for other parts of downtown Albany in the future...

The plan for the ESP

The heart of the new project to power the ESP will be a pair of gas-fired turbines built inside the old steam facility the state has in Sheridan Hollow. They will provide both electricity and steam -- which the ESP uses for both heating and cooling. And the Cuomo admin says the project should be able to produce about 90 percent of the power for the ESP and save the state an estimated $2.7 million on energy costs each year while reducing the amount of greenhouse gases produced.

A preliminary diagram of the new turbines int he Sheridan Ave facility from a feasibility report produced last year (and discussed below).

Blurbage for the project, which is tentatively planned to be completed by the end of 2019:

The new microgrid will be a clean energy technology upgrade and reuse of a former downtown steam plant and will be linked to the state's overall power grid. It will also have the capability to operate independently from the grid in the case of an emergency or power outage. The microgrid will provide reliable power, heating and cooling for continuous operation of the entire plaza as a self-sustaining, power-generating island unto itself, enabling state operations and services to continue during an emergency.
The power generation facility will be located on Sheridan Avenue in a dormant waste-recovery steam plant that was decommissioned in 1994 and is attached to the steam plant currently in use. The upgraded system will allow on-site power generation from two new 8 megawatt, clean-burning, natural gas-fired turbine generators that will also have dual fuel capabilities. As a byproduct of the electrical generation, the natural gas turbines will generate steam to serve heating and cooling needs of the entire plaza.

The ESP will continue to be hooked up to the wider electrical grid -- that is, the same general system that all the rest of us get electricity from -- but because it will essentially have its own power plant that can cover most of its energy needs, its microgrid should be able to operate independently if the wider system has an outage.

So having this microgrid is kind of like being hooked up to your municipal water supply and having your own neighborhood well. You can draw water from both, and if one has a problem, you and your neighbors can just rely on the other.

Microgrids are a hot topic at the moment as the United States looks to modernize its electricity infrastructure because many experts believe the future of power generation will include a greater number of distributed sources -- example: houses with solar panels -- and systems providing increased resiliency to deal with disruptions and disasters.

The bigger picture -- which includes the city of Albany

From the feasibility report.

Here's where things get a bit more interesting, potentially: That microgrid could also be extended to loop in other nearby facilities such as the Times Union Center and Albany city hall, providing them with power if there was a wider outage.

A feasibility report produced in 2016 as part of a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority program -- authored by the company Cogen Power Technologies -- walked through how that could work. A clip:

The microgrid to serve downtown Albany could include the following facilities: the Empire State Plaza (ESP), the Alfred E. Smith Building, the New York State Capitol Building, the New York State Department of Education, the Times Union Center, the Albany Capital Center, the New York State Comptroller s Office (110 State Street), an Albany County office building (112 State Street), City Hall, the Albany County Courthouse, and the Sheridan Avenue Steam Plant (SASP). ...
The Empire State Plaza, Times Union Center, and the Albany Capital Center can all serve as critical facilities in the event of a natural disaster or prolonged utility outage.

As the feasibility report notes, those last three facilities could hold roughly 30,000 people in the event of a serious emergency.

From the feasibility report.

In the event of some sort of wider outage, the report estimates that ESP microgrid could cover the electricity needs of those downtown Albany facilities while still supplying about 75 percent of the ESP's typical energy needs. And in the event things go really wrong and natural gas service is disrupted somehow, the Sheridan Ave facility could also rely a 300,000 gallon fuel oil backup to run for approximately a week.

Those non-state facilities could also draw some of their power from the ESP microgrid during typical conditions, and they would pay for the power at cost along a fixed monthly fee to help cover capital costs of the microgrid. They'd just pay a monthly bill like they do right now to National Grid.

It's important to emphasize there isn't a set a plan for this to happen, yet. That feasibility study last year was put together as a part of a NYSERDA competition for funding. And Cuomo admin noted Monday the idea recently got more money to put together even more-detailed engineering and business plans.

The history of power generation in Sheridan Hollow

The state has been generating steam and power in Sheridan Hollow for more than century.

The neighborhood was also, infamously, the site of an incinerator that burned trash to generate steam starting in the 1980s. A few years after it began burning garbage, an expert called it "the worst plant I've seen in the world." And the pollution from the plant -- much of which landed in Arbor Hill because of the plant's location in the hollow -- prompted calls of environmental racism. The incinerator was shut down in 1994.


For all the hype the Gov gives to energy independence, it's asham that a component of the Plan does not include more wind generated power (like the "test" generator installed about 5 yrs ago and still running atop the Corning Tower) or solar panels for the roofs of the vast open sunny spaces...like the roofs of the Swan Street, Education and LOB buildings or the two parking lots.

Of course, you'd still need the gas generated power upgrades discussed, but this is a real missed opportunity for the State, NYSERDA etc.

Spot on, JSC. So much impervious surface and so little thought to renewables.

There is a certain irony here that the State is seeking to save money on electricity in a state that where a good and growing chunk of the cost is the result of that state's policies.

And to pick a nit, there was never an incinerator at Sheridan Avenue. There was an old coal furnace that they burned trash in. That's nothing like an incinerator, and could never have been expected to function like one. Stuffing 20 people into your Pinto doesn't make it a bus.

Who in city govt. would I contact re: another microgrid possibility in a different area of Albany? Is there an infrastructure /clean energy focal point in city govt. ?

@Edward Mack, I'm sure there is someone in city government specifically that you could address the issue, but my recommendation would be to reach out to the Mayor's Office of Energy and Sustainability, which is really a task force of city officials, citizens, and community groups. I've hit them up on environmental issues in the past and they were helpful, so they can at least point you in the right direction if they can't get the ball rolling for you. Here's their website: http://www.albanysustainability.org/

I think the idea of a microgrid for downtown government and civic buildings is a great idea - but should not be powered by fossil fuels. This would be an ideal venue for exploring geothermal energy - tapping the natural 52 degrees underground in this region, and then using solar or wind to add a few degrees for heating or pumping up the air for cooling. NY State don't miss this opportunity to step us into the energy future!

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