New York's Cooperative and Condominium Community

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High Demand May Short-Circuit Switch to a Clean Electric Grid

East Village, Manhattan

Local Law 97, electrification, peaker plants, co-op and condo boards, renewable energy.

"Peaker" power plants like this one in the East Village help the grid meet high electricity demands.

April 21, 2023

Electrification is the reigning buzzword as New York City's building owners, including co-op and condo boards, struggle to reduce their buildings' carbon emissions to meet caps and avoid fines under Local Law 97. Electrification involves ditching fossil fuels and powering building systems with clean electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and hydroelectric.

But a green electric grid may take longer and cost more than anticipated, Crain's reports.

The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) warned in its latest quarterly report that New York City has an “extremely narrow transmission security margin” beginning in 2025 and could fail to meet electricity demand. As a result, the city might need to rely for longer on polluting “peaker” power plants, which are used during times of peak energy demand.

Capacity concerns are a result of plans to decommission or retrofit peaker power plants, which tend to be located in or near low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, like the plant at East 14th St. and Avenue C in the East Village. The retirement arises from state rules finalized in 2019 aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.

In its report, NYISO stressed the urgency of reliability. Agency officials warned in December that if the massive Champlain Hudson Power Express fails to stay on track, the city could face electricity shortages and other grid troubles. The power transmission project is expected to carry renewable energy from hydroelectric dams in Quebec to the five boroughs.

“Some generation affected by the [state’s] peaker rule may need to remain in service until CHPE or other permanent solutions are completed to maintain a reliable grid,” the report reads. “Without the CHPE project in service by 2026 and other offsetting changes or solutions…the New York City grid as otherwise planned could not provide reliable service for the forecasted system conditions.”

A rising increase in demand for electricity, largely due to the electrification of buildings and transportation, is another key factor. NYISO said the gap in capacity could be between 120 and 350 megawatts — enough to power tens of thousands of homes — by 2025. The report also highlighted heat waves as a serious risk to the grid, even with capacity currently at sufficient levels to meet consumer needs.

Paul DeCotis, a senior partner with technology consultant West Monroe, points to heat-related stress as the most pressing threat to New York’s electricity infrastructure. “If you’re in the 90s for a period of time," he says, "the transmission lines start to sag because they’re also letting off heat, and that’s when they’re most dangerous. Or a transformer on a pole could blow because it’s overheated.”

DeCotis believes the question with electrification is not if, but when. “I think that the state is on a path to what people refer to as a clean energy future,” he says. “But it’s going to take a little longer and is likely going to be more expensive, I think, than most people anticipate.”

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