By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]
When Governor Hochul announced last month that Long Island City’s Ravenswood power plant had been selected to receive investment towards developing an offshore wind farm, Claudia Coger’s phone began ringing off the hook.
“I got so many calls from people, you know, ‘we got it, we got it!’” laughed Coger. “I was ecstatic about it.”
Coger, an 88-year-old resident of Astoria houses, former Tenants Association president and lifelong activist, admits she might have heard “a little whisper” of the news before it was made official to the public. She has been heavily involved with the process of advocating for a cleaner Ravenswood, working with Rise Light & Power, the company which owns the power plant, to create a shared vision of how a wind-powered Ravenswood could engage and benefit her community.
Flanked by multiple NYCHA campuses—Astoria, Queensbridge and Ravenswood Houses—the Ravenswood power plant has been in operation since the early 1960s, marking the skyline with its three towering smoke stacks and emitting pollution that gave the neighborhood the nickname of “asthma alley.” Rates of asthma are higher among the public housing residents near Ravenswood than in the rest of Queens.
Ravenswood holds over 20 percent of the city’s generating capacity. Its transformation will involve building a wind farm in the Atlantic, 54 miles from the shore, connected to the plant through underwater cables, to replace one out of three of the plant’s fossil fuel generators.
Rise Light & Power has been poised for some time to invest in this massive transition to renewable energy, as well as in local community organizations providing education and workforce development services.
What’s in store for Ravenswood’s neighbors?
“It’s a slew of these investments,” said Costa Constantinides, CEO of the Variety Boys and Girls Club and former City Council member. “There are a number of nonprofits that are getting investment and job placement and job capacity building.”
Rise Light & Power committed an investment of $1.5 million dollars towards the construction of a new teen center at the club, which Constantinides said will serve 16,000 youth and provide a safe space, recreation, and academic and career training resources.
LaGuardia Community College is another recipient of these funds. Attentive Energy One committed $10 million to the college for the purpose of building the proposed “Queens Offshore Wind Training Hub.” The hub is meant to offer both short-term certificate programs and academic degrees relevant to offshore wind development, as well as a business incubation program.
Attentive Energy One plans to build an Operations and Maintenance Hub directly on-site at Ravenswood—a locus of decent jobs engaging with the many moving parts of capturing wind power and transitioning the plant.
“Maintaining the infrastructure that’s here, managing the offshore wind facility, keeping a warehouse fully stocked with the spare parts and consumables needed by the offshore wind farm, and then crewing that vessel,” are all different roles that will be anchored to the O&M Hub, Rise Light & Power CEO Clint Plummer said. Building and maintaining the turbines themselves may involve week-long excursions out to sea, he explained.
“We’re basically we bring in a large number of folks, those folks will go on the vessel for a week at a time, go out to the wind farm, come back in, old crew goes off, new crew comes on.”
Attentive Energy One plans to retain and retrain union workers currently at the plant, as well as hiring new workers to expand the team. The potential of a hyperlocal talent pipeline and workforce for this new era of Ravenswood, with well-paying union jobs available to the communities hit the hardest by the plant’s negative health impacts thus far, is exciting for advocates.
Paul Lipson, a consultant with Barretto Bay, explained that very few residents of Ravenswood, Astoria, or Queensbridge NYCHA Houses are employed by Ravenswood as of now.
“We have this huge potential labor force directly across the street,” Lipson said. “Part of getting this right is this transition has to be about creating opportunity hyperlocally.”
“The goal here is for us to be able to develop a workforce training program so that when other offshore wind projects that use Ravenswood need the workforce, that we have that workforce ready, and that that workforce to the greatest extent possible is coming from the local community,” Plummer said.
Coger said that she’s spoken with Rise Light leaders about job training programs specifically for residents from the surrounding NYCHA campuses.
“We haven’t come back to the table just yet,” Coger said. “But we’ll be getting to that, most certainly. If I’m at the table, it most certainly won’t leave the table.”
Plummer said that the company is “deep in the process” of finalizing their contracts with NYSERDA at the moment. After they conclude that process, he said, they can begin to flesh out the specifics of a workforce training program.
Attentive Energy One’s timeline is more or less aligned with the state’s CLCPA deadline for 70 percent renewable energy by 2030. Plummer explained that the project is staring down a “complex regulatory regime,” and laid out the different steps that should unfold over the decade.
The company has submitted almost all of its major permit applications; the last of them should be submitted by the middle of next year. From that point, it will likely take two years until all permits necessary to build the project are approved. During these years, Plummer said, “there’s going to be a great deal of engineering surveys, community engagement, stakeholder meetings, getting feedback and adapting our construction plans to what we hear from all the project stakeholders.”
This phase should close out by the late end of 2026, at which point Attentive Energy will proceed with the actual construction of the wind farm—they expect this to be a three and a half year process, ending in late 2029 or 2030.
How long until a fully renewable Ravenswood?
Ravenswood currently uses two 400 megawatt generators and one 1000 megawatt generator (each with its own striped smokestack.) Attentive Energy One’s wind farm will hold 1400 MW of generating capacity, and will replace one of the existing 400 MW generators.
Sid Nathan, Vice President of External Affairs at Rise Light & Power, explained that this wind-powered 1400 MW is what’s necessary to reliably replace 400 MW of capacity in the system due to the intermittency of wind itself.
“You want to be able to overcompensate with the amount of renewables you’re injecting into the grid,” Nathan said.
To convert Ravenswood to fully renewable energy, completely removing the disproportionate burden of air pollution on its neighbors, Rise Light & Power would need to secure two more awards like the one they’ve now received from NYSERDA—and see through two more renewable energy development projects at the scale of Attentive Energy One. The state’s goal is to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, setting a de facto deadline.
Plummer is cautiously hopeful about Ravenswood’s prospects of meeting it.
“I think to the extent the administration continues with its march on procuring these large scale resources, like offshore wind…I think that can be achievable,” Plummer said. “That’s not entirely in our hands, though, right? Because the only way Attentive Energy is going forward is because we received this award from the state. We put together a team, made a proposal to the state, they ran a competitive process, and we were selected in it. The state has all the institutions, it’s got the infrastructure necessary to undertake additional future procurements like this. And we believe that they will, but until the state actually acts on those—you know, we can’t do it by ourselves.”
Coger is excited about what’s to come for future generations in her community, especially considering that youth have already been involved in rallies and other events promoting a renewable Ravenwood.
“This is something that will move on with history,” she said. “It won’t stop just with the seniors.”
She expressed deep gratitude for Rise Light & Power’s engagement in the community.
“I’m 88 years old, and I’ve seen a lot of different things in my life where we had to stand outside of the fence while decisions were being made for our lives,” Coger said. “But this has us included. And I think that is so important.”