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The greener power plant

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A power plant sitting on the 29th Street pier in Sunset Park is about to undergo an environmentally friendly makeover with solar panels, “green” walls and rooftop gardens.

As they kept neighboring residents about their expansion for their Gowanus Generating Station, members of Astoria Generating Company, L.P., a US PowerGen Company, plans to add 100 to 150 megawatts of new, cleaner, state-of-the-art generation.

But while more electrical output means more noxious gasses and soot, that’s not going to be the case with this new environmentally friendly plant, which organizers say emissions will be reduced by 48 percent.

Spearheading the new design is Bob Fox, an environmental architect who is credited with creating the tallest, greenest office tower in the world and Christopher Rein, Principal and Senior Vice President of Energy and Industrial Services for the Engineering and Environmental Solutions (ESS) Group, Inc.

Both men gave Sunset Park residents and members of Community Board 7 a quick primer of the plants planned expansion during a presentation a P.S. 25, 427 38th Street, Thursday.

Located on the site of an old steel yard, the Gowanus Generating Plant came on line in 1971 after the New York City’s first major blackout.

It is currently being used as a peak efficiency plant, meaning the generator is only sparked up when demand for electricity is at its highest, like in the summer. The plant only runs five to six percent of the time, designers said.

But since the city’s population is expected to jump 12 percent by 2030, US PowerGen has put together a plan to increase its capacity by 18 percent so they’re prepared when there is more strain on the city’s electrical grid.

The expansion, which is at the heart of the South Pier Improvement Project, calls for the implementation of a new highly effective electric generation turbine, that will produce about 100 megawatts of new power.

The environmental sprucing planned for the expanded plant should reduce nitrogen oxide by 49 percent, carbon monoxide by 44 percent, sulfur dioxide by 96 percent, carbon dioxide by 13 percent.

There will also be a seven percent reduction in particulate matter belching from the plant’s smokestacks, Rein said.

“There are DEC (Department of Environmental Conservation) emission limits to the new equipment, but at the same time we have undertaken a huge effort to make emissions as clean as we can,” said Rein.

Rein said that a good amount of the particulate matter would be reduced because once the expansion is completed, the plant turbines will run on ultra low diesel fuel, which has far lower sulfur emissions when burned.

Fox said that the Gowanus Generating Station will be breaking new ground since it will be the only power plant ever to be built to Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design (LEED) specifications.

“This is the first time that any power plant has had this design,” he said. “We are going to make the place the most beautiful and green we can.”

It will also be self sustaining, Fox noted.

With solar panels collecting enough energy to keep the lights on office equipment humming, the plant could very well be taken off the borough’s electric grid when the turbines are not in use, he explained.

Even cars currently used at the plant will be traded in for hybrid, lower emission vehicles, he said. Other environmentally free additions will include walls of ivy, green roofs and an extensive on site recycling program.

“It’s going to have a bio-philic design,” Fox said. “We’re learning that people need to be in contact with nature to feel good.”

U.S. PowerGen is currently creating a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the New York State Department of Environment Conservation.

It is not believed that the changes to the plant will have to undergo a Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure by Community Board 7 to be approved.

While those in attendance applauded US PowerGen for constantly updating the community about the proposed expansion for their plant, some expressed concerns that their emission reduction estimates were not set in stone.

“What is the guarantee that these emissions would be reduced?,” Community Board 7 Chair Randy Peers. “We need a long term commitment as we move toward the ever increasing need for more energy.

Some groups attending the meeting asked US PowerGen to draft a memorandum of understanding promising to keep emissions low at the plant.

Peers also encouraged plant managers to convert all of the turbines from diesel fuel to natural gas.

Currently, about half of the 32 turbines at the site have already undergone the conversion.

Plant managers said that a full conversions would not be a sound economic move for them at this juncture, since would cost $30 million to convert all of them over at this time.

The full cost of the expansion had not been released as this paper went to press.

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