ConEd East River Generating Station

October 25, 2010

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Consolidated Edison is one of the largest investor-owned energy companies in the United States, with approximately $14 billion in annual revenues and $33 billion in assets. The company provides a wide range of energy-related products and services to its customers through a number of subsidiaries, including Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc., a regulated utility providing gas, electric, and steam service in NYC and Westchester County NY. In 1823, Con Edison’s earliest corporate entity, the New York Gas Light Company, was founded by a consortium of New York City investors. In 1824 New York Gas Light was listed on the New York Stock Exchange, and holds the record for being the longest listed stock on the NYSE. In 1884, six gas companies combined into the Consolidated Gas Company. The New York Steam Company began providing service in lower Manhattan in 1882. Today, Con Edison operates the largest commercial steam system in the world, providing steam service to nearly 1,600 commercial and residential establishments in Manhattan from the Battery to 96th Street. Con Edison’s electric business also dates back to 1882, when Thomas Edison’s Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York began supplying electricity to 59 customers in a square-mile area in lower Manhattan. On January 1, 1998, following the deregulation of the utility industry in New York state, a holding company, Consolidated Edison, Inc., was formed.

Con Edison declared full commercial operation of its East River Repowering Project on April 5, 2005, when the second of two natural-gas-fired steam generators began providing power to New York’s electricity grid.  The first unit had become operational on April 1, 2005.  In full operation, the units produce approximately 350 megawatts of electricity. According to the ConEd website, The repowering of Con Edison’s East River generating station was undertaken to enhance an already environmentally beneficial steam system, and is capable of producing 3.2 million pounds of steam per hour.”

Residents of the area have not been so thrilled with the physical sites’ effect on their neighborhood. In 2008, public hearings concerning Con Ed’s pollution permit were held in which many believed that regulations have not been stringent enough in capping harmful emissions from the facility, as reports of asthma has been rampant at the nearby Jacob Riis Apartment Complex. ConEd officials discussed the opposition by of the initiative to build their stacks higher, which was rejected by the company due to cost. Supporters of raising the height believe it would help disperse particulate-matter pollution more widely, lowering the levels of pollution concentration to which those living close to the plant are exposed. ConEd officials said that the reason for increased asthma and air pollution is due to the local residents’ proximity to the F.D.R.

Another neighborhood concern is the extreme narrowing of the bike path that runs along the east river directly in front of the plant. The path narrows to a staggering four feet wide and proves very dangerous for bikers and pedestrians, who are pinned between the F.D.R. and a wall of the plant. Revisions are trying to be made to the entire east side path, with the ConEd plant itself being one of the biggest obstacles getting in the way of that. As of today, the prospective solutions to this problem would involve complex real estate issues in which the UN would give up two of its buildings on East 45th Street, and a controversial proposal to build part of a contiguous pathway over the water.

The final element to consider is the plant’s neighborhood effects in terms of emissions. The processes that takes place within the plant are reverse osmosis and a process known as electrodeionization. Con Edison’s Waterside Station uses natural gas as its primary fuel. It is also claims to have the most up-to-date emissions control technology. Overall air quality in New York City will benefit as the project’s overall annual emissions will be significantly less than those of the Waterside Station it is replacing. Two water sources are available to the East River Station through the New York City potable water system: the Catskill/Delaware watershed and the Croton watershed. However, due to construction activities on the supply aqueduct, water from the Croton watershed has not been supplied and the system to date has been fed exclusively from the Catskill/Delaware watershed. Backwash and rinse flows from the multi-media filter cleaning sequence are directed to an auto pulse filter (APF) system for treatment prior to discharge to the East River. For a more in-depth explanation of the plant’s operations:

Essentially, it appears as if ConEd is taking a very pious angle and proclaiming to be saving the world with their east river repowering project, and there appears to be some grains of truth to its benefit, but it cannot escape what it is: a large industrial behemoth in a congested, urban residential area, the combination of which is appearing to prove harmful to the people they serve and the residents that surround it.

-Gabrielle Dutz

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