London’s repurposed coal plant can inform repurpose for Huntley Power Plant

An extended visit to London recently, that included cheering for our Buffalo Bills, also provided a pleasant surprise at the London NFL experience, which was held at the recently completed Battersea Power Station redevelopment.

While the NFL experience was fun, my attention was consumed by what they had done with a former coal power plant that had been dormant for decades.  The new facility features shops and restaurants, and 1800 residential housing units adjacent to, as well as penthouses atop the facility, all with themes that reflect the former 509 MW power generating facility and its 42-acre footprint.

Having retired from the Union that represented the employees at the Huntley and Dunkirk coal-fired power plants, including a two-year, full-time advocacy effort to see Huntley re-imagined, the energy portion of London’s Battersea redevelopment drew particular interest.  The facility provides its own energy through a combined heat and power function on site, including thermal chillers.  While fired by natural gas, it’s extremely energy efficient, and climate change resilient.

The public-private partnership was completed after detailed evaluations of what made sense at the site, and in their case, indoor shopping, dining and walkable living – all adjacent to public transit, made the most sense for crowded London.

Witnessing other regions successful redevelopment of former coal power plants can inform and encourage our own challenges at sites like Huntley.

Having been on the roof of Huntley numerous times, the view is spectacular up and down the Niagara River, watching the water rush under the Peace Bridge along with mist from the falls.  While condos and/or townhouses would be amazing, London has a much larger demand for housing, and while we are a climate refuge area, the Huntley footprint might have higher uses at present.

New York has invested billions over the last couple of decades on contracts for wind and solar, yet not one life was saved from the investments during last winters storm.  Tens of billions more are in the queue for even more renewable energy projects, while New York currently has the lowest per capita carbon emissions in the entire country.  Here’s hoping the cost moves the global emissions needle.

How might Huntley serve as both a prudent renewable energy investment, along with resiliency from future severe weather?   For one, there is a 230kv cable in the Huntley switchyard that terminates in downtown Buffalo at a major substation that serves the City.  What used to be fed from Huntley power generation could spring back to life in a “microgrid” concept, powered by hydrogen and solar from Huntley and peripheral brownfields.

National Grid switchyard adjacent to the dormant Huntley Plant.

Bright minds that understand the full energy potential should be engaged to discuss the potential for hydrogen production and other energy efficiencies to assist neighboring industries that employ thousands in high value jobs with upcoming carbon reduction obligations mandated by New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. (CLCPA)

Hydrogen fuel cells are emerging as the preferred clean energy technology for commercial vehicles.  For example, Cummins Engine in Jamestown has committed $452 million into a new “fuel agnostic” engine line that includes zero emission hydrogen propulsion for large commercial vehicles where battery technology is insufficient.  The CLCPA has “environmental justice” obligations to reduce emissions in densely populated areas, where garbage trucks, buses and plows leave behind noxious diesel emissions.

The Huntley property sits smack-dab in the middle of the Niagara River “Greenway Corridor” and has fallen way behind other areas that have made multi-million investments, such as Canalside.  The Tonawanda corridor is long over-due for State attention to the beautification goals contained in the legislated Niagara River Greenway Commission.

You need to pay close attention to this sign down the bike trail from Huntley that identifies the “Historic” original canal corridor.

Don’t blink or you’ll miss the embarrassing little patch of grass that “celebrates” the portion of the Erie Canal that was filled in decades ago.

State and Federal leadership should assemble a team made up at a minimum of the New York Power Authority, NYSERDA, Empire State Development and accompanied by the University at Buffalo for a hydrogen/clean energy center of excellence at the Huntley site.   Local utilities should be fully engaged.

Private Developers should be invited to explore additional development value at the site, perhaps celebrating the “City of Light” history with a grand power city pub that served “Edison Ales” and “Westinghouse Whiskies”.  The space is adequate for banquet halls co-existing with clean energy development.  The site has also been suggested for indoor food agriculture.

If leadership would imagine full potential at the site, I suspect NRG would be approachable to partner or part with the facility.  At the very least “teaching them to fish” might inform clean energy repurposing of numerous other dormant coal facilities they own around the country!

Lead image: Wikimedia Commons

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