Image in modal. Managing resilience is a marathon, not a sprint, said Rohit Rit" Aggarwala, commissioner of New York City's Dept. of Environmental Protection and its first chief climate officer. “The reality is that for the rest of my life, we are going to be playing catch up to climate change, which is changing faster than our infrastructure can keep up,” he told hundreds of attendees at ENR’s second annual NY/NJ Infrastructure Forum on Sept. 15 in Manhattan.

Managing resilience is a marathon, not a sprint, said Rohit Aggarwala, commissioner of New York City's Dept. of Environmental Protection and the city's first chief climate officer.

“The reality is that for the rest of my life, we are going to be playing catch up to climate change, which is changing faster than our infrastructure can keep up,” he told attendees at ENR’s second annual NY/NJ Infrastructure Forum on Sept. 15 in Manhattan.

State and regional agency chiefs from New York and New Jersey addressed the looming mega-challenge of readying regional energy and environmental infrastructure to meet climate change-generated needs and risks.

The city released proposed guidelines this week to implement the landmark Local Law 97, which will require 50,000 buildings to comply with operational carbon limits that will incrementally increase, starting next year, to reach a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Buildings generate about 70% of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Aggarwala predicted compliance will require an estimated $12 billion to $15 billion in upgrades between now and 2030. The law remains controversial, but the DEP commissioner said it will be one of the city’s most important tools to address climate change.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is now taking the lead on an estimated $61.5-billion program to redesign New York Harbor, but city agencies are also "actively engaged," Aggarwala said. While the program's execution will take three decades, a few related projects are already underway. These include key stormwater management efforts. Meanwhile, the commissioner said his agency will soon take responsibility in a dedicated office to oversee citywide coastal resilience.

Related to project funding, Aggarwala said the city was “structurally disadvantaged” to receive federal funding, due to population-size limits set by the state, which processes the money. He said his agency was awaiting word on potential changes to that exclusion.

Also awaited is completion, set for October, of the estimated $309-million construction of four continuously-cast reinforced concrete anaerobic digesters at the Hunt’s Point wastewater treatment plant complex in the South Bronx, to replace ones that have cracked over time.


Energized Infrastructure

Doreen Harris, president and CEO of the New York State Energy Research Development Authority (NYSERDA), noted major programs underway to develop billions of dollars of new clean energy infrastructure and expanded transmission capacity to meet state climate law mandates and increased electrical power demand. The state law sets a target for 70% renewables by 2030, and a 100% zero-emission power grid by 2040.

Harris said by 2050, state peak demand will increase by up to 80%. “We need a grid that is not only expanded, but more flexible and better able to respond to peaks and valleys,” she said.

“We are integrally involved in the investments being made in overall infrastructure,” Harris said. “Intersections between our agencies are ever more present because … we're looking at every sector of our economy.” 


Transmission infrastructure is expanding across New York state to accelerate clean energy sources. Efforts include the 340-mile Champlain-Hudson Power Express line from Canada to New York City (not pictured), a privately funded and underground high-voltage line just underway.
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NYSERDA’S new integration analysis “lays out pathways for this economy-wide transition,” Harris said. “Wind, water and sunlight will actually be the primary sources of the powering of our economy moving forward,” she added, with low-carbon fuels such as bio-energy and hydrogen set to be tapped for hard-to-decarbonize sectors.

Harris emphasized new transmission construction as the “unsung hero” to reach emission reduction targets. “Our investment to build out our infrastructure to support these goals is truly historic,” she said, terming it the largest transmission construction effort in New York in the last 50 years.


Pushing the Transition

Projects include U.S.-side construction now getting underway for the 340-mile Champlain Hudson Power Express, an estimated $6-billion direct-current buried cable that will carry high-voltage hydropower from Canada to New York City, which is still mostly powered by natural gas. The state-sanctioned project, under development for 13 years, is privately funded by investor giant Blackstone.

Construction began last November in upstate New York, with work getting underway in June on the project's converter station in Astoria, Queens, with Kiewit Corp. as lead contractor.

"We are actively building this project as we speak,” Gene Martin, president of Blackstone's unit, TDI, told Forum attendees.

He said the line will provide about 20% of the energy needed in New York City, replacing power lost by nuclear power plant closure in the region. Once operating in 2026, the cable will be the largest transmission line in the U.S. built entirely underwater and underground.

“It’s an interesting world we are in, in terms of political aspirations and what we want to achieve to get to that renewable economy,” said Martin, a former AECOM executive.

Harris said new local and bulk transmission projects, which she termed "game changers," are set to deliver one-third of New York City's annual electric consumption. Infrastructure also is underway to meet the state mandate to generate 9 GW of offshore wind energy by 2035. The state's first project, the 132-MW South Fork Wind off Long Island, is set to complete construction this year. Work also is underway in New York City and elsewhere to develop major new ports for project component assembly.

But Harris acknowledged recent construction cost headwinds, "significant and unforeseen by the industry," which have offshore wind developers in New York, as well as in New Jersey, seeking contract adjustments and raising concerns about added project delay.

State Gov. Kathy Hochul joined peers in key offshore wind developing states—Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island—in a Sept. 13 letter to President Joe Biden that noted the growing cost risk they say could delay his set goal to have 30 GW of U.S. projects built by 2030. 

They seek Biden's intervention to have the U.S. Treasury clarify that offshore wind projects are "fully eligibie" for federal tax credits under recent law; that wind lease revenue to the U.S. government be shared with states as called for in pending legislation; and that permit constraints be eliminated.

"Absent intervention, these near-term projects are increasingly at risk of failing," the governors said, with U.S. deployment "at serious risk of stalling" if state ratepayers alone have to absorb major new costs.

 “This reflects that we are not living in a world that is a very straight line,” Harris said. “I think it's important for all of us not to be blindly optimistic about how we get from here to there.”

Core Priorities

For the Port Authority of NY and NJ, “sustainability is one of the official core priorities," said Rizwan Baig, chief engineer, with a particular emphasis on decarbonization and reducing operational emissions. This can be seen in the authority's significant terminal construction, under way or completed, at John F. Kennedy International Airport, Newark Liberty International Airport and LaGuardia International Airport. “We have the some of the largest solar installations in the country,” he said, at facilities such as Newark Airport's ConRAC facility, and set to be a feature of Terminal 1 at JFK Airport, now being built..

Baig also said Port Authority has spent over $2 billion to date on recovery and resilience measures, with climate risk assessments and resilience action plans integral to “help manage uncertainty.”

The agency is looking to its next round of procurements, including Design/PM-CM for mass transit and airport access improvements at LaGuardia, said Baig. Plans include a new continuous electric shuttle service from the airport to the Astoria-Ditmas Boulevard subway station, which will also undergo ADA-compliance related upgrades; a bus depot; and LaGuardia Terminal C traffic improvements. Also to be announced shortly, said Baig, are two design services RFPs for site and building design for the $19-billion JFK redevelopment.

The agency is also looking at how technologies such as AI, electrification and 3D-printing can be incorporated into Port Authority plans. “We continue to examine emerging transformative technologies, expected to have significant impacts on transportation systems and [agency] business, with a focus on connected and automated vehicles and advanced air mobility,” said Baig, pointing to a just-completed autonomous shuttle safety test at Newark Airport and an autonomous shuttle demonstrations at JFK.

Coping With Project Risk

As project challenges across all sectors grow exponentially along with their size, execution risks “are more intertwined and complex,” said Jamey Barbas, a veteran regional transportation agency megaproject executive, noting schedule demand, staffing shortfalls and unforeseen costs.

“Most concerning are the stacked challenges in energy transition,” added Kent Herzog, Northeast managing director at Burns & McDonnell, who said needs for rapid electrification are “huge, not incremental."

He also pointed to talent constraints, permitting and regulatory hurdles and a lack of component standardization. “Our industry has 50 different sizes of conductors and almost every single size of transformer,” he said. “Laws put the money out there, now we have to find the resources.”

Mike Taylor, head of ports for Equinor US Renewables, noted flaws in risk allocation at the project level. He pointed to the current approach of an offshore wind project developer having to assume risk linked to costs and schedule of a grid upgrade “usually before they’re known or at least estimated to the degree any one of us would feel comfortable signing on to." 

Said Taylor: “Better allocation means better execution and lower cost to the whole supply chain." 

“Most concerning are the stacked challenges in energy transition. Laws put the money out there, now we have to find the resources."
Kent Herzog, Northeast managing director, Burns & McDonnell

Risks for infrastructure megaprojects getting underway are not just local, added Joe Cazares, program management director at Jacobs, with supply chain progress impacted by things “like containers coming through the Panama Canal and $1.6 trillion in Middle East construction sucking up a lot of the talent.”

The dimensions of infrastructure programs starting and planned pose challenges for cities like New York City, said Jamie Tores-Springer, president of its transportation agency unit MTA Construction and Development. 

“Getting new transmission to the city will be very complex,” he said, noting aspects of “building in a dense urban environment that we can’t change.” He said owners can help by “providing lead time and predictability” in structuring procurement. Related to advance “strategic sourcing” of materials, Torres-Springer noted the benefits but said MTA still sees risk. “We’re worried we would buy something that didn’t make sense in a system, once our builder was on board,” he said.

Panelists see artificial intelligence (AI) as a potential risk mitigator but with its own limitations. Burns & McDonnell has begun using it to create an internal Chat GPT to respond to owner RFPs, “trying to create in seconds a 60% draft proposal that a human could use as a basis for a proposal," said Herzog. "We’re trying to go from a 3D modeled infrastructure project to a 60% design package with no human interaction."

Equinor uses AI for analysis of wind and ocean patterns, said Taylor, but noted that “until it gets smart enough to differentiate fake news and real news, it won't replace human common sense.” Echoed Cazares: "It’s well written, but misses the point.”

Said Barbas: “It will take three years for AI to get to a place to realize schedule optimization.”