The four red and white smokestacks that loom over the western edge of Queens are a familiar sight to New Yorkers, but a plan to convert the Ravenswood Generating station to 100% renewables could mean that their days of spewing smoke are coming to an end.
Ravenswood currently supplies about 20% of NYC’s electricity by burning natural gas and oil, running four large generator, the largest of which is nicknamed Big Allis. As Solar One got to see on a field trip there many years ago, the amount of fuel required to keep the turbines spinning at Ravenswood is awe-inspriing…and terrifying. It also contributes to some of the worst air quality in town; child asthma rates in the three NYCHA housing developments that surround the plant are significantly higher than in the rest of Queens.
Its emissions are also at odds with New York’s ambitious climate goals, which is why the current owner, Rise, Light and Power, is working on a plan to convert to zero-emissions, 100% renewable generation.
The company has proposed a transition to wind, geothermal and battery storage to be financed through their own capital, plus local and state grants. The project cost has yet to be fully determined, but the payout could be huge in terms of the health of the surrounding communities, the stability of the waterfront facility and the impact that NYC has on global emissions and climate change in general.
The decade-long transformation to renewable energy at the plant has already begun. Rise, Light & Power has retired nearly all of its gas peaker units. In its place, on the north west corner of the site, will be the largest battery storage on the East Coast, Ravenswood CEO Plummer said, for up to 300 megawatts. The plan calls for taking their three oldest generators offline, including Big Allis.
The site is also well positioned geographically for the state’s overhaul of the energy grid, which is pivoting toward wind, solar and geothermal power. Part of the renovation plan is to connect the plant to renewable power sources upstate and offshore in the Atlantic Ocean. The plant is tied directly into the grid, which makes it an ideal spot for running transmission lines like an extension cord that plugs into Ravenswood like an outlet. From there, the energy can be delivered directly to homes and businesses. Plummer believes this could be a model for the transition for other fossil fuel-powered generation stations.
“It’s a green transition and both of those words matter,” Plummer said. “It has to be a transition because you can’t flip a switch and make it happen. It also has to be green because we recognize the reality of climate change and more broadly the challenges of energy security.”