Peaker plants are a problem. These are power plants that only run when electricity demand is high. In addition to being more expensive to operate than other power plants, peaker plants are far worse for the environment. To further compound the environmental issues, peaker plants are disproportionately located in or near lower-income communities. In the State of New York, a third of peaker plants are located in environmental justice communities*, contributing to pollution-related health crises and compounding underinvestment in community health.
Three-quarters of a million New Yorkers live within one mile of a peaker plant, where the air quality is at its worst. The highest concentration of peaker plants is along the East River, where 78% of the affected population is part of a low-income group or a community of color. Peaker plants emit twice as much carbon dioxide, and twenty times the amount of nitrogen oxide. Many run on fuel-oil or kerosene, both highly polluting. In the Mott Haven and Melrose neighborhoods of the Bronx, which are surrounded by peaker plants, the rate of emergency room visits for children with asthma is triple the citywide rate. In addition to respiratory issues, peaker plant pollution is a risk factor for heart disease and cancer.
Then there’s the economic burden peaker plants carry. Because the plants are older—47 years old on average, which is well past normal retirement age—they are less efficient, and therefore more expensive to operate. At their worst, peaker plants are 1,300% more expensive than the average cost of electricity in New York. The EPA projects that the number of 90 degree days in NYC will triple in the next 30 years, which means higher energy demands and more peaker plants in use.
At Windmill, we care deeply about environmental justice and sustainability. We’ve launched a first-of-its-kind demand response program to help mitigate peaker plant dependency. You can learn more about our demand response initiative here, and about our environmental commitment here. If all ACs in New York City were part of this automated power reduction program, we could retire more than half (12) of the city’s peaker plants and save more than $100 million per year.
The good news is that there are long term solutions to the peaker plant problem. New York State established targets for energy storage—1500 MW (megawatts) by 2025 and 3000 MW by 2030—which would create power reserves, serving as an alternative to peaker plants. In addition, the State set out plans to decommission peaker plants with the highest nitrogen oxide emissions between 2023 and 2025.
Peaker plants hurt people and the environment. We can limit our dependency on dangerous energy sources by participating in demand response programs. Even if the impact of one person is small, collectively our actions make a huge difference. Consider joining up with local environmental justice organizations and advocating for cleaner, sustainable energy for everyone. To find an environmental organization or cause to support near you, check out the following lists:
For New Yorkers, check out the NY Environmental Justice Alliance to stay up to date on local environmental campaigns.
*The California Environmental Justice Alliance defines an environmental justice community as “neighborhoods surrounded by freeways and industrial facilities, small towns without clean drinking water or sidewalks and excluded from public investments.”