Today’s Solutions: September 26, 2021

Power plants that rely on fossil fuels are already bad enough, but what makes these polluting plants even worse is that they are disproportionately located near communities of color.

In a study from the University of Washington and Stanford University, researchers found that Black, low-income Americans face the highest risk from power plant pollution. Such is the case in New York City where a number of old power plants are located in communities of color in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. These are neighborhoods that are already burdened with health risks such as heat vulnerability.

While there is certainly nothing positive about these facts, we do have good news. Last week, the New York Power Authority (NYPA), a publicly owned power utility, announced an agreement to work with environmental justice groups on a plan to transition six natural gas-fired power plants in New York City to cleaner technologies.

What makes this agreement especially encouraging is that the six facilities in question are “peaker plants,” which are designed to fire up only during times of peak demand, such as hot summer days when New Yorkers crank up their air conditioners. Most of the city’s 16 peaker plants are at least 50 years old, and some run on especially dirty fuels like oil or kerosene. And as we mentioned earlier, they are disproportionately located in communities of color.

Beyond the negative health effects, these communities also suffer financially from peaker plants, which cost New Yorkers an estimated $450 million per year to run for no more than a few hundred hours. This is reflected in higher energy bills.

In order for the NYPA to transition its six plants to clean technologies, the two parties agreed to “evaluate the potential to replace existing peaker units” and “augment or otherwise install renewable and battery storage systems” on these sites and in surrounding communities. NYPA will hire two consultants: one to evaluate various clean energy options, and a second to provide an independent assessment to the newly formed PEAK Coalition, an alliance of five leading environmental justice groups working to replace fossil fuel peaker plants with renewables. All data and analysis will be shared between the parties.

Eddie Bautista, executive director of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, which is one of the members of PEAK, said these provisions would even the playing field.

It should be noted that the NYPA’s six peaker plants were all built-in 2001 and are some of the newest and cleanest in the city. However, new state regulations will require many of the older plants to shut down in the coming years, whereas NYPA’s plants are already in line with the forthcoming pollution limits. By focusing on the “newer” peaker plants, the PEAK coalition is effectively working to eliminate all of these polluting power plants from the city.

At the Optimist Daily, we find it refreshing to see an energy utility company show willingness to cooperate with environmental justice groups. As this story develops, we’ll make sure to keep you updated.

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