Ulster power plant plan nixes fossil fuels

The developer of the controversial Lincoln Park Grid Support Center late last week announced plans to eliminate all fossil fuel generators from their initial proposal as part of a hybrid design, and will instead opt for a battery-only system. The change was announced Friday, Feb. 1 by Town of Ulster Supervisor James Quigley III and heralded by previously vocal opponents of the project. 

Quigley said an informal presentation of the changes would take place at the Feb. 7 town board meeting, and that the new Lincoln Park Grid Support Center plans would likely soon be sent to the planning board.

As originally conceived and if it were approved, the GlidePath-run power plant would have operated on a small parcel of a 121-acre site off Frank Sottile Boulevard. According to developer Lincoln Park DG LLC’s former plans, a building housing the equipment would have stood between 30-40 feet in height; an exhaust stack would have risen above thestructure at a height of 100 feet, which had been scaled back last year to around 80 feet. The project would have included a 20 megawatt (MW) lithium ion battery array, and natural gas-powered reciprocating engine generators which would also use on-site low-sulfur diesel stored in a tank if the gas supply is disrupted.

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Instead, only the 20 MW battery system remains in the new plan, eliminating the exhaust stack, gas-powered generators, and air emissions, with the concept of supporting the electric grid across Ulster County. The new design also moves the project to the northeast side of Frank Sottile Boulevard, setting it back further from nearby residences.

The ball had been in the developer’s court since last autumn, as they sought to address concerns from town officials and the public, often represented by a coalition of environmental advocacy groups. Many issues were brought to the fore during sometimes contentious public forums.

Quigley said the changes as presented in the latest proposal are significant enough that the project could now be likened to that of any other similarly sized building, around 30 feet tall and 35,000 square feet.

“Given the reduced amount of environmental impacts, the project turns out to be nothing more than the same set of facts that we are presented with when we build a 35,000-square-foot warehouse,” Quigley said. “It’s a building, just like any other building. We face this question every day when we have a car dealership, a gym, or whatever other type of building that’s the same size that gets presented to the Planning Board. If it meets the zoning classifications and it’s not hazardous, it’s an easy thing to consider.”

Quigley said that a battery-only project was seen as possible as early as last spring. “If anybody had been paying attention, they would have noticed a shift in the state’s energy policy that started last March, that culminated in an announcement [in June] by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of a battery initiative,” said Quigley. “The reason that the [environmental impact statement] was dragged out was because we noticed that change, and it provided a path to getting a project that was good for the community and good for the energy grid.”

The Energy Storage Roadmap was announced by Cuomo on June 21, 2018, identifying the development of clean energy technology as crucial, including a statewide battery storage target of 1,500-megawatts by 2025.

“My bottom line is, is that throughout this process, with all the reactions, no one has taken enough time and put enough focus on the process that took place in Albany, and said, ‘Thank you, Governor Cuomo for changing the energy policy,’” Quigley said. “GlidePath from the beginning said they would have preferred to do a battery-only project because they were a battery company. Regulations in New York State did not allow that [until last June].”

Members of the coalition originally opposing the project released a joint press release last week, lauding the changes in the proposal.

“ The announcement by GlidePath, the developer from the Midwest, to withdraw its original plan and replace it with a battery storage facility is welcome news to our town’s citizens,” said Laura Hartmann, chairwoman of TownOfUlsterCitizens.org. “This fracked-gas and diesel power plant would have doubled the Town of Ulster’s carbon footprint if the plant became operational, but their new proposal for a storage-only facility is a way to keep our local environment clean and preserve generated power which would otherwise be lost to the grid. GlidePath has considerable experience with battery-storage plants, but they had no experience with burning gas and diesel for electricity.  This project is more in line with the values of Ulster County’s commitment to renewable initiatives.”

KingstonCitzens.org is also part of the coalition, and the group’s director and lead organizer Rebecca Martin noted the work done by environmental groups and local officials alike, including the Ulster County Executive, also a vocal opponent of the original proposal.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to our group of dedicated coalition partners for their collaborative efforts to transform a fossil fuel project into a renewable one,” said Martin. “They worked tirelessly to provide support to not only the public but also our elected and appointed officials for the past 16 months. The innovative and forward thinking approach advocated by our elected officials — and especially County Executive Mike Hein — will benefit the Town of Ulster and County for years to come and, more broadly, communities across New York State who can implement similar localized collaborative efforts.”

Hayley Carlock, director of environmental advocacy for Scenic Hudson, said the change in the proposal was “great news for Ulster and the entire Hudson Valley.”

“Moving away from polluting fossil fuel plants that contribute to climate change and investing in renewable energy is a win-win proposition,” Carlock said. “This victory is a testament to the power of citizen engagement. Informed and determined community members led the charge in fighting this project, and won. We look forward to reviewing the details of GlidePath’s new proposal.”

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