Ulster County Exec to NYS: Change Policies To Reflect Renewable Energy Push

Jun 20, 2018

The Ulster County executive is calling on two state agencies to work on policy changes to prevent energy projects like one proposed in his county from ever taking shape. Meantime, a spokesman says the proposed project would reduce the region’s reliance on large fossil fuel power plants.

It’s called the Lincoln Park Grid Support Center and it’s proposed for the Town of Ulster. The 20 megawatt natural gas fired plant would have diesel backup and battery storage. Democratic Ulster County Executive Mike Hein wants the project halted pending policy changes to allow for a non-fossil fuel alternative, such as a battery-only or battery with renewable facility.

“It is about bad public policy. There are currently regulations in New York state that work against our environment,” Hein says. “And so we’re looking to be able to change those in conjunction with the Public Service Commission, obviously folks at NYSERDA as well.”

Hein has written to both agencies saying as much, adding that it is ironic that some 100 yards from the proposed project site sits a newly operational solar array atop a former landfill that produces 20 percent of the county government’s energy. Peter Gray is spokesman for Glidepath, the Chicago-area company behind the Lincoln Park project.

“We are looking forward to having a dialogue with the county executive and explaining how we think this project is important to the future of renewable energy in New York, to integrating those variable resources with a very flexible and efficient plant that can respond as new sources of power come online, or power ramps up and down,” says Gray. “And, right now, we’re getting those same services from large fossil fuel plants. This project can come on and offline as needed and rely on batteries to be very efficient.”

Gray believes the project and existing solar array can work together, along with future renewables. A PSC spokesman says, “The two agencies are carefully reviewing the letter and look forward to discussing shared approaches to advancing Governor Cuomo’s nation-leading strategy to fight climate change and grow New York's economy.”

Scenic Hudson opposes the project based on potential air, water and visual impacts. Hayley Carlock is the environmental group’s Director of Environmental Advocacy.

“Unfortunately, there’s sort of these old, dinosaur policies in place both at the state government level and by the New York Independent System Operator, which is the private, nonprofit entity that runs our electric gird that serve to incentivize, unfortunately, just this kind of project,” says Carlock. “And I think it’s excellent that County Executive Hein has really called attention to this.”

And, she explains, there is Federal Energy Regulatory Commission policy concerning capacity zones that makes it attractive for power plant operators to locate in places like the Hudson Valley. The state PSC fought the designation, but lost. However, says Carlock, the state could come up with countervailing policies. 

“So they can step back and think, okay, there are some areas that we in New York state don’t have jurisdiction over, but what can we do to make sure that all of these great policies — 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, phasing out coal — all of these things aren’t happening in a vacuum,” Carlock says. “How can we make sure that these goals are actually met and are done, are met in a sustainable manner.”

Meantime, it would be Glidepath’s first project in New York, and first hybrid. Glidepath’s other projects are battery storage or wind energy. Gray explains how Lincoln Park would work.

“It’s going to rely on batteries, 20 megawatts of batteries, that are charged by reciprocating engines that are natural gas fired. And so those batteries and engine combination work kind of like a hybrid car, where the drive comes from the batteries and then they’re charged by the engine,” Gray says. “So you end up with less fuel consumption and a quicker, more efficient way to provide the grid support power that we’re looking for.”

Again, Hein.

“The problem is really simple. That’s where the underlying policies are promoting the use of fossil fuels over renewables. Fundamentally a bad public policy and absolutely not in line with where the governor has taken really aggressive stances on targets and where we can get better and better from an environment in New York state,” Hein says. “So this is a policy that can change, that should change, that must change or, not only will this project happen, but others just like it will begin to dye all of upstate New York, and we’re very concerned about that.”

The Town of Ulster is lead agency on the project. Town Supervisor James Quigley declined to comment. Gray says Glidepath is working with consultants to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement per the State Environmental Quality Review process. He anticipates the EIS to be ready by the end of the year and says that, if the project is approved, construction could begin in 2019.