Rikers Island could become a renewable energy and storage hub

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Image: Formulanone/Flickr.

Rikers Island, the infamous island home to New York City’s main prison complex, is to be used to explore the development of renewable energy generation and battery energy storage.

The Renewable Rikers Act, a series of bills transferring ownership of a portion of the island from the Department of Corrections (DOC) to the Department of Citywide Administrative Services was passed into law by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on 25 February. Blasio said the Act will create “a new reality” on the island, which could be used to “create a lot of renewable energy” for the city. All of the island would be transferred to the DCAS by 2027, by which point the prison complex is scheduled to close.

The two bills, Intro. 1592 and Intro. 1593, would respectively initiate the handover of control to the DCAS on 1 July and give a green light to a feasibility study for potential renewable energy projects on the island.  Intro 1592 also establishes a Rikers Island Advisory Committee, made up of people who were incarcerated on Rikers Island, immediate family of inmates, environmental justice advocates, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability (MOS), the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Sanitation and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Blasio said the group would “do a lot to determine resilient, sustainable use for Rikers Island going forward.”

Intro 1593 requires the MOS to carry out a study that would assess whether different types of renewable energy sources, combined with battery storage, are feasible on Rikers Island. The study would examine economic costs, value, rate of return and sustainability. The City is already required to complete a long-term energy plan to assess the feasibility of replacing in-city gas-fired power plants with renewable energy sources, and the new law would include the feasibility study as part of the wider initiative, which is due on 30 June 2022.

“Our biggest challenge going forward is going to be fighting climate change and protecting the city, protecting our people, protecting the earth,” Blasio said. “Rikers Island could be an important part of that as a place we could potentially create a lot of renewable energy for this city.”

New York State’s governor Andrew Cuomo laid out a ‘green economy recovery’ at the start of 2021, which is expected to result in 12.4GW of new renewables capacity and directly create over 50,000 jobs. This year, the state will contract for 23 large-scale solar farms and one hydroelectric facility with a combined capacity of more than 2.2GW.

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