Running Near Empty
Three years after the banking crisis and recession hit the U.S. economy, slowing investment in power resources, firms in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are trying to reenergize the sector and address future demand that will grow as the economy improves. Experts note that the pace of economic recovery will impact the sector’s ability to deal with numerous pressing issues such as meeting renewable energy goals, integrating renewable power into the grid, transmission congestion and smart grid technologies.
The New York Independent System Operator, a nonprofit company that focuses on electricity reliability, released a needs assessment report in 2010 regarding New York City’s generation needs. The report found that the city would not require any new powerplants until 2019, given current capacity. While sufficient generation capacity is not a near-term worry, the long time frames for siting new power projects, obtaining regulatory approval, securing power purchase agreements and arranging financing are a concern.
“There are a whole host of obstacles associated with building powerplants,” says Gavin Donohue, president & CEO, Independent Power Producers of New York. “So 2019 is really not that far away.”
Generation and Transmission
Despite the economic challenges, some power and transmission projects have broken ground or been announced recently. In January, the New York Public Service Commission approved plans for NRG Energy, Princeton, N.J., to construct a 1,040-MW combined-cycle power plant in Astoria, Queens. The $1.4-billion project will be built in two phases with the first scheduled for completion in summer 2013.
Pending final approvals, Advanced Power AG, a Swiss firm, will start construction of the $1-billion 1,000-MW Cricket Valley Energy in Dover, N.Y., in 2012. Completion is scheduled for late 2014.
Last summer, construction started on the $400-million Bayonne Energy Center in Bayonne, N.J. The 512-MW plant will deliver power to a Con Ed substation in Brooklyn by a cable installed 15 ft below New York Harbor. Completion is slated for spring 2012.
In Queens, Astoria Energy expects to complete a 550-MW combined-cycle generation facility in May. The $1.5-billion facility, located next to an existing 500-MW plant, is replacing an older, less efficient plant.
Two transmission projects are under development to deliver power to New York City. Pending approvals, Transmission Developers, Albany, N.Y., will start work in summer 2011 on a $1.9-billion project to bring 1,000 MW of wind and hydropower to the metro area by a 370-mile-long line originating north of the U.S.-Canada border. Completion is slated for 2014.
Developer PowerBridge, Fairfield, Conn., is targeting spring 2011 to start a proposed 660-MW transmission link between the PSE&G Bergen Substation in Ridgefield, N.J., and Con Ed’s West 49th Street Substation in Manhattan. The underground transmission line project is scheduled to complete in spring 2013.
Demand for grid stability and reliability also is spurring work. Beacon Power, Tyngsboro, Mass., is wrapping up construction of a 20-MW flywheel frequency regulation and energy storage facility. The $69-million project is installing 200 flywheels at a site in Stephentown, N.Y. “[Flywheels] offer a ‘shock absorber’ to the grid that absorbs excess electricity and injects it back instantly whenever needed, on a moment-to-moment basis,” says Gene Hunt, Beacon Power spokesperson.
Construction of the plant, led by Rochester, N.Y.-based Le Chase Construction, is slated for completion in the second quarter of 2011.
Alternative energy projects have gained political traction in recent years, but momentum is sputtering in the uncertain funding environment. Following a 2008 peak that saw 850 MW of projects, wind project construction has dropped off. Projects often rely on funding awarded through the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA).
“Looking at 2011, we know there are about 265 MW of wind [projects] that will be constructed as a result of the  NYSERDA solicitation as well as a couple of projects that already started construction,” says Carol Murphy, executive director, Alliance for Clean Energy New York.
Projects funded under that solicitation include Steel Winds II and Hardscrabble. Steel Winds will build six turbines at the former Bethlehem Steel site on Lake Erie, bringing the total number of turbines to 14 and producing a total of 35 MW. Bidding is under way. Construction is expected to start in the first half of 2011.
Work is wrapping up on the $200-million Hardscrabble wind farm in Fairfield and Norway, N.Y. Mortenson Construction, Minneapolis, Minn., is building the farm that consists of 37 turbines producing 74-MW of power. Completion is slated for later this year.
This spring, EverPower, New York, will start the 51.25-MW Howard wind project in Steuben County. Plans call for 25 turbines scattered over 5,000 acres of farmland. Completion is scheduled for late 2011.
New opportunities are beginning to emerge. In January, NYSERDA announced a $250-million solicitation to be awarded in April. Murphy forecasts that the market could see an uptick heading into 2012.
In the biomass market, Taylor Biomass Energy broke ground in December on a gasification plant that will convert organic waste into 20 MW of electricity. The $145-million facility will be co-located with Taylor’s Recycling facility in Montgomery, N.Y. The project’s EPC contractor, Darlind Construction, LaGrangeville, N.Y., will build 200,000 sq ft of new facilities and expand the sorting and separation facility to accept 450 tons per day of construction and demolition waste, 500 tpd of municipal solid waste and 100 tpd of wood waste. Completion is slated for late 2012.
In the solar market, incentives are spurring development. Under New Jersey’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, electricity suppliers must buy a percentage of their power from solar generators. Solar energy producers receive solar renewable energy certificates, which are sold to suppliers to meet requirements.
In Pilesgrove, N.J., Con Edison Development and Panda Power Funds broke ground in October on a 20-MW solar generating station. When completed in spring 2011 the $85-million project will consist of 71,400 solar panels covering roughly 100 acres.
PSE&G’s “Solar 4 All” program is targeting 80-MW by 2013. “Our investment to date is just over $200 million of the $515 million total,” says Francis Sullivan, PSE&G spokesperson.
In March, the New York City Economic Development Corp. will name a construction manager for a $10-million Smart Grid demonstration project at the Brooklyn Army Terminal and other city-owned sites. The installation will include a 600,000-kwh solar PV system, a battery storage system and a building management system. Design of the project will begin in the spring with construction completed in 2013.
“We know there are about 265 MW of wind [projects] that will be constructed as a result of the  NYSERDA solicitation.”
—Carol Murphy, Alliance for Clean Energy New York