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Scenic Hudson: Move On From Fossil Fuels

Governor Andrew Cuomo has worked hard over the last four years to stop oil and gas infrastructure projects, while the Trump administration promoted pipelines and gutted federal laws aimed at curbing climate change. Now, with a new administration ready to take the reins, Cuomo will have an ally in the White House.

In a historic action, President-elect Joe Biden named climate change as one of his top four priorities, and his cabinet appointments promise an aggressive environmental policy agenda. So, the governor will have a friend in D.C. supporting his work to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

Cuomo has an impressive track record of blocking destructive fossil fuel projects before they pollute the state’s air and water. But New York State has yet to act to stop a proposed natural gas-fired power plant which Danskammer Energy wants to build along the Hudson River in Newburgh.

The developer’s own application to the state’s energy facility siting board said greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed plant could be as much as 4,000 percent more than the existing Danskammer plant. Harmful air emissions will increase dramatically region-wide, but especially in Newburgh, where some communities are already identified by the state Department of Environmental Conservation as disproportionately impacted by pollution.

The power plant’s greenhouse gas emissions would fly in the face of the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which the governor himself championed. And it would likely be at odds with new federal regulations expected from the Biden administration aimed at lowering fossil fuel pollution.

Beyond the climate catastrophe which the Danskammer project would help quicken, and the asthma and other health issues it would aggravate, the dirty power it would create is completely unnecessary.

The New York Independent System Operator monitors the reliability of the state’s power system and coordinates the daily operations to distribute the electricity supply. According to a 2018 reliability needs assessment conducted by the independent system operator, even after Indian Point’s closure, there will be no problems with electricity reliability for the region’s standard ten-year planning window without a new Danskammer plant. 

New Yorkers in the Hudson Valley and beyond are looking to Governor Cuomo to put an end to this dangerous project. Earlier this year, he denied two companies which were planning to build pipelines that would have carried natural gas to New York from Pennsylvania.  The rejection of these projects was a huge relief for those of us working to protect the state’s environment and public health. But more needs to be done. 

To help steer the project down a cleaner path, Scenic Hudson, the organization where I work, and its partners have developed an alternative concept for the Danskammer site. Instead of fossil fuel-driven power generation, it could be used for battery storage of energy to help balance the intermittency of renewable energy resources. This clean energy design would bring long-term economic benefits to the community without the health hazards.

Until then, the energy facility siting board should make clear to the developer that it faces certain defeat for this wrongheaded project. And Danskammer Energy should scrap its plans for a power plant, and instead contribute to a clean energy future with battery storage for solar and wind power. 

The only way New York can reach its ambitious goal of zero net emissions is by denying any, and all, fossil fuel projects proposed in the state. And that requires the continued leadership and influence of Governor Cuomo.

Ned Sullivan is president of Scenic Hudson, an environmental advocacy organization.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors.They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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