Eugene Zeltmann, president of the New York Power Authority (NYPA), recently defended the actions of his agency in an opinion piece in the Daily News (Feb. 13, 2001). Zeltmann states that a "growing demand" for electrical power in New York City makes it necessary to build ten new gas turbine power generators at various sites around the city. He writes in a general way about "threats of brownouts, blackouts, and high prices" that will supposedly occur this summer if the generators are not built, and he implies NYPA is responding sensibly to a looming energy emergency.
But he doesn’t give a lot of specifics. How much "demand" is there? How much "need" for new power generators that will add to the air pollution of already highly polluted areas? He does not address such questions. What is worse, knowledgeable people on environmental issues have a completely different assessment of the electrical power situation.
The Natural Resources Defense Council has stated publicly that there is no pressing need for the ten new generators. According to NRDC’s research, there is an effective "buffer" of about 3000 megawatts of power in reserve in New York City. With some conservation measures, he says, this buffer could even be expanded. There is no dramatic public "need" for the new generators, and no crisis---other than the one being whipped up by NYPA and other state agencies.
Zeltmann does note that several state agencies have "concluded that more capacity is needed to avert a [power] shortage this summer." But, once again, he does not provide any evidence concerning why these agencies came to this conclusion. Also, he does not explain why the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) was in such a hurry to approve the generators. DEC held hearings in four different places in the city all on the same night (December 18 of last year), and expressly said that they were "not question-and-answer sessions"---in effect telling the community residents who came to the hearings that any questions they might have were not important and they didn't really deserve any answers. The hearings appear to have been an exercise in letting the affected communities vent some spleen, but not an attempt to really deal with their legitimate concerns.
Zeltmann is careful to mention that NYPA is a "state-owned electric utility that uses no tax dollars." So where do they get their funding? Who pays its officers? Who pays for its considerable public relations effort, if not the taxpayers? It would be illuminating (so to say) to learn who is financing NYPA, and whose interests it might be serving other than those of the public.
Zeltmann darkly suggests that a power "crisis"---similar to the one now taking place in California---awaits New York if the new generators are not built and on-line by June 1. But deregulation has been carried out very differently in the two states. Private utilities in California, for example, cannot pass on increased fuel costs to their customers, as New York power companies can. Once again, Zeltmann is trying to frighten the public into following NYPA’s plan, but not doing very much to back up his case.
Silvercup Studios, a TV and film production outfit, owns land right beside NYPA's Long Island City turbine site and wants to build a soundstage on it. Zeltmann dismisses their claim that the noise caused by the turbines will make it impossible to produce movies on the site. Zeltmann would have us believe that noise from the 59th Street Bridge will overwhelm any modest noise made by the turbines. But readers should visit the site. The bridge is a good hundred yards away or more, and doesn't make much more noise than the other car, subway, and airplane traffic that assails the neighborhood. The turbines, however, are being built right next door to Silvercup's proposed soundstage. According to Zeltmann, when they shout "Quiet on the set!" at Silvercup, they'll be getting more noise from car traffic a hundred yards away than they will from the rumbling of the turbines right next door. What else does he hope we'll believe?
NYPA, and indeed many elected officials in New York, say over and over again that New York City "needs" more power generating capacity. But they never bother to back up such statements. They seem to think that all they have to do is just keep repeating it and people will accept it---even if it isn't true.
Blackouts and soaring electricity prices have sent California reeling this winter, and a similar situation could descend on New York City by summer — unless we work fast. To avoid a crisis, we must ensure that there is enough power to meet the growing demand sparked by the state and city's economic boom. That is our only option.
The New York Power Authority is taking action to prevent the threat of brownouts, blackouts and high prices this summer by installing 10 small gas turbine generators at six sites in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. (We're putting in an 11th unit in Suffolk County to help Long Island avert its own summer power problems.)
The state Department of Public Service; the Independent System Operator, which runs the state's power transmission system, and the state Energy Planning Board have concluded that more capacity is needed to avert a shortage this summer. Only the gas turbines, with a combined output of more than 400 megawatts, can be ready in time.
The power authority, a state-owned electric utility that uses no tax dollars, is spending an additional $5 million on each unit to provide the most advanced environmental controls to reduce air emissions and noise. These plants will therefore be the cleanest power plants in the city.
After reviewing thorough environmental assessments, the state Department of Environmental Conservation issued pollution-control permits for all the sites except Staten Island's, which was chosen after the others. (Action there is pending.) Working with the DEC, the authority has pledged to achieve zero net emissions by fully offsetting emissions from the new units through reductions at other city sources.
Unfortunately, several organizations that are well aware of these facts and of the authority's exemplary environmental record have sued to block these new power sources. A separate suit filed by Silvercup Studios, a television production company, seeks to halt installation of two units on Vernon Blvd. in Long Island City, Queens. It claims the minimal noise and vibration from the generators will thwart plans to build studios and an apartment building. In fact, the turbines will not affect the Silvercup proposal and will be all but swallowed up by noise from the Queensboro Bridge. Nonetheless, the authority has offered repeatedly to work with Silvercup to address its concerns. Regrettably, our offer has been rejected.
The company instead is insisting that the authority move the gas turbines to another Queens location, on Borden Ave. We analyzed two sites there over several months and were told time and again by Con Edison that suitable gas and electric connections could not be available in time for this summer.
Even if these obstacles could be overcome at the alternate sites, a move at this late date would rule out operation by summer because of requirements of land acquisition, environmental assessment and surveys, design and engineering, and demolition of existing structures.
For all of Silvercup's professed problems, it's worth noting that the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce and the Central Astoria Local Development Coalition — groups with more than a passing interest in the Queens economy — support the gas turbine initiative.
Make no mistake. The two ill-advised lawsuits really aren't aimed at the authority, but at every home, hospital, senior citizens center and business that will be victimized by power failures and rising prices.
Keeping the lights on is a vast effort that also must include aggressive energy conservation programs. Without the authority's energy-efficiency projects at more than 540 New York City schools and other public buildings, two more gas turbines would be required. But, as California has taught us, power plants built with utmost respect for the environment are also needed — and quickly. It's a lesson we dare not ignore.
(Zeltmann is president and chief operating officer of the New York Power Authority.)
|This site brought to you by the Kann For Council Campaign, 2001. Last updated July 12, 2001.|