Details on Keith Schue and Jay Egg's work recognized by the Constellation Prize
By changing investments affecting the Sheridan Avenue Steam Plant (left) and Empire State Plaza (right), Schue and Egg have helped to create a more sustainable future for the capital of New York and an example of renewable energy innovation for the state.
Since 2017, Keith Schue and Jay Egg have partnered with the environmental justice community of Sheridan Hollow and the Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy (SHARE) to advocate for innovative renewable engineering solutions that can meet energy needs of the Empire State Plaza (ESP) in Albany, NY.
For over 100 years, residents of Sheridan Hollow have suffered with pollution caused by the combustion of coal, oil, natural gas, and garbage at a steam plant in their community that delivers heat through a half-mile-long tunnel to the state Capitol. Since construction of the ESP in the 1970s, steam produced in Sheridan Hollow has also been used to operate centrifugal chillers for cooling. Then in 2015, the New York Power Authority (NYPA) proposed the installation of gas-fired turbines in the community as part of a combined heat and power (CHP) microgrid to serve the Plaza. Patterned after a project at Rikers Island prison, the proposed co-gen plant would have operated around the clock, perpetuating an archaic combustion-based system of heating and cooling, and burning nearly 50 percent more gas in Sheridan Hollow than today.
Seeing a better solution, geothermal consultant and author Jay Egg wrote a 2017 article in Renewable Energy World titled “CHP Project for Empire State Plaza Misses the Mark.” Together with Egg, Keith Schue, an electrical engineer and co-chair of SHARE’s science committee, critiqued NYPA’s plan and advocated for alternatives. The solutions they proposed included geothermal heating and cooling using water from the Hudson River for thermal exchange, renewables installed locally and within the larger “macro” grid to offset electricity use, and batteries for short-term storage and peak shaving. Coordinating with SHARE, Schue and Egg prepared technical comments, delivered presentations, and met with agencies, legislators, and community groups. Their work culminated in the preparation of a comprehensive report by SHARE’s Science Committee titled “Meeting Energy needs of the Empire State Plaza without Fossil Fuels.” The 36-page document described a credible plan for transitioning government buildings in Albany to renewable heat and power while ensuring resiliency and support for critical loads during emergencies. It also exposed significant errors in NYPA’s analysis of greenhouse gas emissions and efficiency.
As explained by Schue and Egg, NYPA’s CHP proposal would have undermined the state Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), which emphasizes the protection of environmental justice communities, mandates significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and calls for at least 70% of New York’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030. They pointed out that geothermal projects have been successfully pursued in urban environments more intense that Albany—like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City—and that other states, including Michigan, Oklahoma, and Colorado, have even implemented geothermal heat exchange within their own capitol buildings. Calling state agencies out in an op-ed, SHARE’s Science Committee urged NYPA to pivot 180 degrees, reject outdated fossil fuel solutions, and develop a comprehensive strategy for phasing in renewable heat and power.
Success came on September 18, 2019, when NYPA announced that it had abandoned plans for a fossil fuel microgrid in downtown Albany. Instead of installing gas-fired turbines in Sheridan Hollow, NYPA committed to replacing the Plaza’s primary steam-driven chiller with water-cooled electric chillers and installing efficient lighting throughout the complex equivalent to more than the additional electric load. The state will also enter into a contract for development of a large solar farm to offset half of the Plaza’s electricity along with local battery storage. Schue, Egg, and SHARE are hopeful that these actions are just the beginning of work to make the state capital an example of carbon-free innovation.
NYPA's original plan would have locked Sheridan Hollow into decades of increased fossil fuel combustion and exacerbated a history of toxic emissions within an environmental justice community located in the shadow of the Governor’s office. Schue and Egg made sure the future looks different.
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