Con Edison has laid out a plan to power through eco-friendly changes at its landmark steam and electricity facility on 11th Avenue.
Built in 1904, the 59th Street Steam Station takes up a full city block between W58th and W59th on 11th and 12th Avenue — with a connection to the Hudson River at Pier 98. It provides heat, hot water and air conditioning to 1,550 of the most iconic buildings in Manhattan — including Penn and Moynihan Stations, MSG and the Fashion Institute of Technology. The station is one of six in Manhattan and is part of the largest steam system in North America.
The station is the only known active landmarked power plant in the country. “This is a beautiful piece of preserved history. It has provided critical and reliable support to the area for a very, very long time,” said Frank Cuomo, general manager of steam operations within Con Edison.
“The steam system will be maintained and contribute to the clean energy future of New York City, ” added Cuomo. “The station is such a critical piece of the historic fabric of the neighborhood, and has provided critical and reliable support for both the steam and electric systems in the area for a very, very long time.”
The station can produce 1.4 million pounds of steam in an hour and 20 megawatts of electricity for local neighborhoods during peak electric load events. It provides 12 percent of the Manhattan steam network’s overall steam capacity, mostly operating in the winter months, and also provides backup when other stations are closed for maintenance. Its natural gas-powered turbine helps keep lights on during peak load events like heatwaves.
Con Edison is in the midst of a Clean Air Title V operating air permit renewal application for the site, with plans to shift to greener, more environmentally friendly operating methods to cut carbon emissions.
The plan incorporates two environmentally friendly changes to its steam and electricity generation. The first is switching the backup fuel oil to cleaner burning fuel oil, which is mostly required during the winter season when natural gas supplies are constrained. Con Edison estimates this will reduce emissions of NOx and CO2 by 20% and 8%, respectively.
The second change targets the station’s electricity generation. Con Edison plans to install “water injection” controls on the natural gas-powered turbine that generates electricity. Con Edison expects this change to reduce NOx emissions by roughly 75%.
Con Edison has explored the feasibility of a solar panel installation — but this would require 3.5 million square feet (over 60 American Football fields) of sun-facing flat space to replicate the power the station is currently able to produce with the natural gas-powered turbine.
“The 59th Street station is not an ideal candidate for solar installation, due to limited roof space as well as the building heights in comparison to the north and south ends,” said Cuomo.
In August last year, Con Edison came under scrutiny for allegedly pumping chemically contaminated, heated wastewater into the Hudson River at Pier 98 for the past 20 years.
The Clean Air Title V operating air permit for the station is currently under review. A public meeting was held on September 19 as part of the renewal process. Further meetings are planned, where residents and community members can provide feedback and concerns. More information can be found about the proposals on Con Ed’s website.
W42ST reached out to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which controls the permits and licensing of the plant, for comment, but they did not immediately respond.