South Bronx eyed as converter station location for 2 renewable energy proposals

Out of seven renewable energy proposals sent to NYSERDA, two renewable energy projects could include energy and air quality improvements to the Bronx, but also include installations of high-voltage converter stations in the South Bronx.
Photo CleanPath NY

By the end of the year, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) is hoping to procure innovative renewable energy projects that will transition New York City away from fossil fuel-fired generation dependency and create a renewable energy private sector that can create a wealth of new jobs in the city.

Out of the seven proposals sent to NYSERDA, two renewable energy projects, if selected, could bring heightened qualitative energy and air quality improvements to the Bronx, but also include unpopular installations of high-voltage converter stations in the southern portion of the borough.

Excelsior Connect, an underground renewable energy superhighway project proposal that aims to connect wind energy from upstate New York’s Sullivan County to Queens, is eyeing several undisclosed South Bronx locations for its AC/DC converter station.

This proposed transmission line will originate in Utica and follow the New York State Thruway right-of-way into New York City, where it will enter through the Bronx and terminate at the Rainey substation in Queens. The project would address the congestion issues between upstate and downstate regions and span more than 108 miles.

If sited in the Bronx, very few locations would be viable, according to energy experts.

Two possibilities along the stated right-of-way include the privately held Fordham Landing site west of I-87 and north of Roberto Clemente State Park, and northern portions of Van Cortlandt Park, which is bisected by the highway.

Excelsior Connect officials did not confirm nor deny those locations with the Bronx Times, however, they did tout the benefits of the South Bronx as a connector point.

“There are mass benefits to the residents of the Bronx when it comes to the Excelsior project, including and most importantly a higher quality of life,” said Sebastian Libonatti, vice president Business Development for Avangrid Networks, Inc. “Also, a lot of this project will not be seen by the public, because it’s underground so Bronx residents can experience the benefits of clean energy without the eyesore that wiring can bring to neighborhoods.”

Avangrid’s proposal, Excelsior Connect, would deliver clean renewable generation into Queens, helping retire higher emitting generations of New York City’s fossil fuel dependency and improve air quality.

Another project, Clean Path NY, a proposal that encompasses a 1,300-megawatt, 176-mile high voltage direct-current power superhighway from Delaware County to New York City that would run underneath the Hudson and Harlem rivers, has received pushback from Bronx officials in the past.

When CleanPath NY was first pitched in early 2021, the plan was to construct a high-voltage DC to AC converter station and a seven-story containment structure on a one-acre site at Bronx Terminal Market at East 151st Street and Exterior Street.

The project — which boasts $12 billion in savings to New Yorkers and would create more than 10,000 jobs while eliminating 39 million tons of CO2 emissions over the next 25 years — received concerns from Bronx residents that an installation of a converter station would be detrimental to the public health of a district that is already considered “asthma valley.”

Representatives from U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres’ office told the Bronx Times that their office received a promise from CleanPath NY officials, in writing, that it would not construct or install a converter station in the district.

Another partner in the CleanPath NY proposal is the New York Power Authority, which currently operates six fossil fuel-fired  “peaker” plants in New York City, including in Mott Haven and Port Morris.

A spokesperson with the New York Power Authority told The Times, that “if [their] proposal is selected, locations and specifics of the CleanPath NY project would be discussed with local communities” in regards to infrastructure plans for affected neighborhoods.

CleanPath NY also states that it will invest $70 million in environmental justice programs specifically in the Mott Haven and Hunts Points sections of the South Bronx, and the project would lead to billions in health savings in vulnerable communities across the state over the next two and half decades, the proposal says.

NYSERDA’s CES White Paper found that without displacing a substantial portion of the fossil fuel-fired generation that New York City currently relies upon, it would be unable to accomplish New York’s plan to supply 70% renewable electricity by 2030.

A NYSERDA spokesperson told the Bronx Times that a decision on a project could be made by the third quarter of 2021, which ends Sept. 30.