Cuomo’s New Regulations on Peaking Power Plants

Governor Cuomo recently announced a proposal for stricter regulations on ozone standards. The proposed regulations include restrictions on emissions and increased controls on New York’s dirtiest power plants, called peaker power plants, which produce exceedingly harmful emissions during the ozone season.

Peaking power plants are power plants that are only used during times of high electrical demand, like during hot summer days when consumers crank up their air conditioners and demand for electricity peaks. Dozens of peaker plants are scattered across the state, and many are about 50 years old.

They tend to be older and less efficient power plants with simple cycle and regenerative combustion turbines, which cause high nitrogen oxide emissions. While they do not run regularly, these outdated plants emit 30 times more nitrogen oxide than a modernized natural gas-fired power plant. When they do operate, these turbines account for more than a third of daily nitrogen oxide emissions. The smog caused by peakers can cause breathing issues for vulnerable groups such as older people, children, and those with respiratory ailments. These problems are made even worse because peaker plants are disproportionately located in environmental justice communities.

New York State’s stricter ozone standards would specifically establish lower thresholds for emissions of nitrogen oxide in smog-heavy regions such as the New York City and Long Island area. The peaker plants in this region account for 3,500 megawatts of potential electricity, which is slightly less than 10% of New York’s potential electricity from all energy sources.

The proposal would begin phasing in ozone requirements from 2030 to 2050, creating an acceptable transition period for owners of peaker plants to either shut down their plants or update the technology to cleaner sources of energy. The proposal encourages owners of peakers to invest in renewable energy or battery storage since the falling cost of batteries has made them a realistic alternative. Both renewable energy and storage can replace peaker plants when back-up power is needed on high demand electricity days, removing any need for peakers.  

If enacted, New York’s nitrogen oxide regulations would be the strongest in the region.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is currently analyzing comments from stakeholders in preparation for the June proposal. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the Department of Public Service are also making plans to provide storage incentives. The Department of Environmental Conservation is set to hold three public hearings in May.

NYLCV will continue to fight for more standards like these that improve air quality for New Yorkers.