State: Power Plant Project Needs Juice

The Danskammer electric power plant in Newburgh (Photo by Tom Konrad)

Danskammer must show fit with climate-change goals 

Danskammer Energy says its $500 million proposal to upgrade a power plant 5 miles upriver from Beacon will be able to meet state greenhouse-gas-reduction goals by converting by 2040 to hydrogen or renewable natural gas derived from waste such as trash or manure. 

The state Public Service Commission, which is reviewing the project, says it wants more details. The plant currently supplies electricity only during periods of high demand.

John Rhodes, chair of the PSC and its Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment, said on Sept. 8 that Danskammer’s application for a permit to build at the site, which is on the Hudson River in the Town of Newburgh, remains incomplete without additional information, including if the use of biomass or hydrogen would even be feasible. 

The state also wants to know whether biomass and hydrogen qualify as renewable energy or a “zero-emissions” power source, and if the company is committing to their use. 

Rhodes’ letter followed a joint motion filed Aug. 28 by Sloop Clearwater, Scenic Hudson, Riverkeeper and other environmental organizations asking the state to require Danskammer to provide details or remove references to biogas and hydrogen from its application. 

While local labor unions support the project, which Danskammer says would create 450 construction jobs, environmental groups and local officials in Beacon, Newburgh, Cold Spring and Philipstown have asked the state to reject it. They cite the state’s goal over the next 30 years of replacing (with solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy) fossil-fuel-burning plants that emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. 

Under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted in July 2019, the Public Service Commission and other agencies that issue permits must determine how proposed projects would contribute to getting the state to 70 percent renewable energy by 2030, 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2040 and an 85 percent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, among other goals.

In a joint statement on Sept. 10, the environmental groups dismissed as “speculative” Danskammer Energy’s claims that its plant could be converted to use renewable energy sources.  

The Siting Board first notified Danskammer in February that its application had “deficiencies,” including how its proposed plant would meet state emission restrictions. The firm responded in July with a report prepared by a consultant that predicted that, in the decade after 2025, the plant’s power consumption would drop by 196,000 tons and its greenhouse gas emissions by 261,000 tons. Further, it said, the plant would lower emissions outside New York state by 20,000 tons annually starting in 2040. 

Danskammer on Sept. 8 argued that it does not need to “fully flesh out and commit” to biomass or hydrogen to demonstrate the proposed plant’s “consistency” with the climate act. The company said its application met statutory and regulatory filing requirements and that the pushback by the environmental groups was “yet another attempt” to delay the process. 

Michelle Hook, a representative for Danskammer, said on Wednesday (Sept. 23) that the company is “delighted” at the state’s “interest in learning more about our efforts around green hydrogen and RNG,” or renewable natural gas. 

“We are working diligently to compile all relevant information that can illustrate our commitment to helping New York meet its climate targets and potentially be a national leader on green hydrogen power generation,” she said. 

The company is partnering with Mitsubishi Power, which is developing plants in Ohio and Virginia that would initially run on natural gas and transition to hydrogen. In response, Sloop Clearwater, which is based in Beacon, said the use of hydrogen is “a long way off” and its efficiency as a power source is “highly questionable.” 

In addition to predicting that the new plant would reduce emissions, the company says its turbines would no longer be cooled with water from the river but with air. Environmental groups have long expressed concern that the intake and resulting discharge of heated water kills too many fish. 

Danskammer also says its project would generate more than $50 million in tax revenue for local governments and school districts over 15 to 20 years. 

The company submitted its application to the Siting Board in December. If and when the board, which includes Basil Seggos, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation, and Howard Zucker, commissioner of the Department of Health, determines the application is complete, it would schedule a public hearing.

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