RECAP: Thermal Energy Network Forum on “Empowering New York's Clean Energy Revolution for a Sustainable Future” 

New York City, NY – As the climate crisis looms and the world collectively seeks solutions to mitigate its impact, New York City took center stage during Climate Week.

In an exciting collaboration, Upgrade New York, Building Decarbonization, the NY League of Conservation Voters, the Decarbonization Coalition, Rise Light and Power, and the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition NY presented – "Empowering New York's Clean Energy Revolution: Unveiling Thermal Energy Networks for a Sustainable Future."

This groundbreaking event took place on Tuesday, September 19, 2023, from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM at the Steamfitters Local 638 Training Facility, located at 48-03 32nd Place, Long Island City, NY, 11101.

Over 100 people attended ranging from labor leaders to utility executives, thermal energy companies, and public officials including: NYS Senator Jessica Ramos; Senator Kristen Gonzalez; Assemblymember Emily Gallagher; NYC Councilwoman Tiffany Caban; along with representatives from Senator John Lew’s Office and the Queens Borough President’s Office.

The event kicked off with a welcome address by New York League of Conservation Voters Presidetn Julia Tighe who highlighted the importance of collaboration to solve climate challenges.  She noted that the partnership with the Building DeCarbonization and labor groups through the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition resulted in the historic passage and ratification of the “Utility Thermal Network & Jobs Act” into law in 2022.

The forum is a continuation of the work to access renewable “ground” energy sources on an affordable, reliable basis to decarbonize New York’s building stock, which is responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions.

Ms. Tighe welcomed international representative of the United Association and member of the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition-NY John Murphy to introduce the keynote speaker, National Grid President Rudy Wynter.

Prior to the keynote address, Mr. Murphy expressed his belief in the power of thermal energy networks (TENs). He emphasized their potential to share thermal energy efficiently and reduce the strain on the electric grid, particularly during peak seasons. Murphy explained how these underground networks can feed ground source heat pumps, boasting efficiency levels between 300% and 500%.

Murphy reminded the audience of the monumental energy pipeline project undertaken during World War II due to attacks on U.S. oil tankers by German submarines. The U.S. government commissioned two pipelines totaling 2,729 miles, completed in just 350 days.

He also highlighted how the United States installed 1.5 million miles of natural gas distribution lines in the 1950s and 1960s, serving over 40 million customers in 20 years. Murphy's message was clear: "Our trade unions and utilities will be able to do the same job, if not much more, to provide our state with renewable energy through thermal energy networks."

National Grid President Rudy Wynter echoed the enthusiasm for thermal energy networks. He expressed excitement about the opportunity to decarbonize the heating sector and transition to cleaner sources, such as geothermal and waste heat from wastewater treatment facilities.

Mr. Wynter emphasized the importance of coordination, planning, and investments in the energy transition. He acknowledged that it will take time but highlighted New York's unique coalition of utilities, advocacy groups, and labor partners as a powerful force driving change.

"The number one thing when we think about the energy transition is that we need a lot of coordination, a lot of planning, and also a lot of investments to make that happen," said Wynter. "With that coalition, we can move this forward."

Panel Discussions: Unveiling Possibilities and Community Benefits

Following Mr. Wynter's keynote, two engaging panel discussions took place – "The Possibilities of Thermal Energy" and "Realizing Community Benefits." They were structured as follows:

Panel 1: The Possibilities of Thermal Energy

·       Moderator: Lisa Dix, Building Decarbonization Coalition

·       David Orellano, ConEdison

·       Aaron Miller, SHARC Energy

·       Justin Gundlach, Department of Public Service

·       Tom Kelly, SUNY Purchase

·       JP Flaherty, Tishman Speyer

Panel 2: Realizing Community Benefits

·       Moderator: Brett Thomason, Enterprise Association Steamfitters Local 638

·       Melissa Brotherson, Full Time Instructor UA Plumbers Local 1

·       Nicole Bertrand, Executive Vice President of Construction Skills

·       Sid Nathan, Vice President, External Affairs Rise Light & Power

These discussions brought together a diverse group of leaders from various sectors to explore TENS as sustainable energy solutions and the steps necessary to get the workforce ready to build the new clean energy system. 

Key Thermal Takeaways

SUNY Purchase College revealed that they are pursuing a thermal energy network at their campus. “Preliminary calculations estimate 9 acres can satisfy the entire campus’ [48 buildings’] needs and future expansion,” said Purchase College Senior Energy Manager Tom Kelly.  The projected benefits include:

·       100% Clean, Carbon-Free Electricity by 2040

·       100% Reliability

·       Utilization of Existing Ice Storage System

·       Value Creation via Renewable Energy Tax Credits: Investment Tax Credits and Production Tax Credits

·       Additional Financial Boost from the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act

·       Prevailing Wage and Apprenticeship Program for the 10 year Construction Period

Con Edison discussed their current thermal network proposals before the Public Service Commission, including a neighborhood system in Mt. Vernon, NY.

SHARC Energy’s Aaron Miller credited John Murphy and the Clean Energy Jobs Coalition for helping stakeholders realize the value waste energy thermal projects. He emphasized the role SHARC’s innovative technology can play in reducing the cost of heating and cooling water systems for buildings along with its ability to create dispatchable, emission free electricity.

SHARC referenced two projects underway in New York City, one of which at the Amalgamated Housing, and another system they installed in Vancouver, British Columbia, that is generating 3 megawatts of carbon free electricity for 20 million square feet for residential, commercial, and institutional use in the Southeast False Creek neighborhood.

Video footage and more details from the program will become available in the near future.