In the East River, Verdant Power Sleeps With the Fishes

One of Verdant Power’s tidal turbines prior to installation in the East River.

Apparently, you have to read British newspapers to catch news about innovative environmental developments in New York City. The Guardian looks at Verdant Power, a small company that is working with the State to develop hydro-electric power right here in the East River.

The state is teaming up with a Virginia company to use the East River for a unique experiment in renewable energy: Six giant turbines are being placed underwater in a $7 million project to harness the energy of the tides and produce electricity. One of the 16-foot-diameter, windmill-like turbines is already operating, supplying power to a grocery store and a garage on Roosevelt Island. The other turbines are being installed over the next two weeks.

Hydroelectric and wind power operate on similar principles, with water or air turning turbines. But those projects require dams or windmills, which can be costly, intrusive and objectionable to environmentalists.

Project organizers say this is the first time the underwater-turbine concept has been used in the U.S.

Beth Fertig also did a story as part of WNYC’s Feeling the Heat series, a couple of weeks ago. 

  • Actually, one city media outlet, City Limits, thoroughly covered this back
    in January:

    City Limits covers the environment, environmental justice, economic justice,
    workforce development, affordable housing, homelessness, and the city
    politics and policy that influence all of these things.

    The Guardian took their story from AP.

  • Samo

    The NYtimes covered this a few months back as well. I know for a fact that they had a video about the turbines but I can’t recall if they had an article on it as well.

  • Ace

    FATHER: Over there, that’s Brooklyn . That’s where Spike Lee lives.

    SON: Hey, there’s a man swimming in the water.

    FATHER: Naw, that’s probably just a dead body son. You see when the mob kills someone they through the body in the river.

  • jmc

    They don’t generate that much power, though… only a few megawatts. We will still need a great deal more nuclear power to reduce carbon emissions.

  • brent

    Yes, they generate very little power- especially when you factor in the humongous amounts of energy needed to construct and maintain them.

  • Correction noted. We will keep our churlish media criticism to ourselves — especially when it’s not correct!

  • guy with no beard

    More feel good BS. Do we really think we can build our way out of the corner we’ve painted ourselves into? Machines are the problem, not the solution. When (if) we buy our selves some extra time with conservation, renewables and god forbid nuclear, what will we do with that time? Spread democracy, reverse the cancer of growth and respect the planet and other living things?

    How much fossil fuel is used mining the metals and supporting the whole manufacturing, maintenance and power distribution process for these turbines? How about the same for all the end uses and users of its power? Can’t we think about what’s next rather than trying to come up with ways of keeping what clearly doesnt work going?

  • The thing I like about this project is that the power is being generated on the site where it is being used.

    This is a good way to think about energy, create it exactly where you need it. Transporting electricity over long distances is expensive and inefficient.

    It also address our local energy needs without looking to the rest of the state to install new infrastructure just for us.

  • Jerry

    Verdant Power’s electrical generation efficiency appears very limited, as opposed the money it costs to produce there turbines. In final summation what is cost per kilo watt hour. It must be very costly for such a little amount of electrical power. There are other experimental Hydro turbine technologies that produce much more power and for alot less money. I feel sorry for the investors on this project.

  • Irv Kole

    Actually, the turbines are not very expensive to build. Today, they are custom built, one at a time. Soon, they will mass produced and the price will drop.

    The final turbine will produce dozens of megawatts – depending on design and location. But what is important is that they are enviromentally neutral, create no gases or polution, produce very little noise below the water, have proven not to bother fish (this has been extensivly studied by several non-profit envro groups), and they can produce energy locally! For me, a very important thing is that the turbines, when installed in a production situation, will be well below the water surface providing clear access for boaters and fisherman while not obstructing the scene.

    The turbines are not the end-all and be-all, they are meant to be used where they “fit”. Even if they don’t provide all of the power a locality needs, they DO reduce the load on the grid. And that is good.

    Take care…


  • Jerry

    I beg to differ, the turbines are probably site specific, predicated on each sites specific water flow. So the thought of cookie cutter production of the Verdant power turbines is null and void. I am quite sure engineering design and tooling is expensive. I agree some power is better then nothing, and any power produced will be helpful.
    The rumor around New York City is that Verdant Power Turbines have completely failed on 2 separate occasions. Given Verdant’s fail rate, very limited power production, and cost to produce, I reiterate, I feel sorry for the investors who funded this project. Hopefully Verdant can turn it around.

  • Goodweed of the North

    The only requirement to operate this turbine is water flow, and I would suspect that a 4 to 5mph flow would suffice. As for being site specific, that is only partially true. If water flow is variable, then simply feathering the blades should suffice to adjust the machine into the proper rpm range for maximum efficiency. Also, By using more pewerful rare-earth magnets, and lighter conductors, the generators can be made substantially more efficient as well. There are places where such units could supply great amounts of energy, given the substantial mass and viscosity of water compared to air. And as water applies much more force per unit volume at a given speed than does air, the system should be able to be scalled down considerably relative to wind generators, and so be built at much less cost.

    I am certain that a competent team of engineers could work out the bugs and make this a viable system for any place that has a few miles of constant volume water flow at sufficient speed. I live in such a place. In fact, we have a hydro-electric power plant right now. Imagine how much more energy could be created by augmenting that plant by placing these units in the power-canal that feeds the hydro-plant. And that water flows through the power canal non-stop, 365 days of the year.

    Seeeeeya; Goodweed of the North

  • Jerry

    Just south of the Roosevelt Island Bridge to Queens rise the smokestacks of KeySpan’s giant Ravenswood electricity generating station, a behemoth that runs on natural gas and fuel oil.

    North of the bridge, black cables snake out of the churning surface of the East River. They connect a makeshift control room inside an old shipping container on the island to a battery of futuristic mechanisms that could shape an energy future that does not pollute or use foreign oil — if a five-year-old company named Verdant Power can work out all the bugs.

    Weeks after they were formally dedicated by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, six underwater turbines that turn the river’s currents into electricity have been shut down for repairs and a basic redesign. The East River’s powerful tides have been wreaking havoc with the giant turbine blades since the first two were installed in December.

    “But the good thing is that there’s more power in the East River than we thought,” said Mollie E. Gardner, a geologist for Verdant Power, which owns the equipment.

    This is the reality of new energy projects, which often seem more attractive on paper than they do in practice. Verdant’s principals, along with the state officials who have supported the project with large grants, say the setback is only temporary, even expected — a way to work out the kinks before moving onto the next, expanded phase.

    Despite a string of mishaps that has taken a bit of the luster off the project, there is still sufficient optimism about tidal power to attract investments, and even some old-fashioned competition.

    It has been a rough eight months for Verdant. Days after the first two turbines were lowered into the water, the East River’s powerful currents sheared off the tips of several blades about a third of the way down.

    New blades were ordered, made of a cast aluminum that theoretically would hold up better. They replaced the ones that were broken, and were also installed on four more turbines that were lowered into the river’s eastern channel earlier this year.

    Together, the turbines were capable of producing about 1,000 kilowatt hours a day of clean electricity. But the East River tides have proved too formidable even for the stronger blades, putting excessive strain on the bolts that hold them to the turbine hubs.

    To keep them from coming apart, all six of the 20-foot-tall mechanisms, which resemble ship propellers on masts, have been shut down for repairs and may not be back in operation until November.

    “The only way for us to learn is to get the turbines into the water and start breaking them,” said Trey Taylor, the habitually optimistic founder of Verdant Power.

    From the surface of the river, there is no sign that anything has gone wrong. The Gristedes supermarket and the Roosevelt Island Motorgate parking garage, which were being powered with electricity generated by the turbines, have not gone dark. They are still plugged into the city’s traditional electricity grid and may well be receiving electricity generated at the old Ravenswood plant across the river.

    While KeySpan is the largest distributor of natural gas in the Northeast, it is also the largest privately owned generator of electricity in New York State, and its Ravenswood station provides about 25 percent of New York City’s electricity needs.

    KeySpan also has taken an interest in its upstart neighbor. The corporation has entered into a strategic partnership with Verdant to pursue tidal energy.

    The idea of generating electricity by harnessing the power of a flowing river — called hydrokinetic energy — is attracting growing attention.

    Basically, the East River turns the turbines’ blades as it flows past. The turbines, like windmills, generate electricity that is channeled through wires to a central control unit and from there to the existing electricity grid.

    Hydro turbines have a few advantages over windmills. While winds are erratic, tides can be charted by the minute, which allows power companies to know exactly when the turbines will be generating power.

    Verdant chose the East River because it is fast-flowing and is close to where the energy it produces would be used. The East River’s unique character also played a role. The river’s tide changes direction each day, flowing north and then turning around and pushing toward the ocean.

    But just before the tide shifts, there is a window of about 45 minutes of calm that allows Verdant to install, repair or tweak its turbines.

    The turbines — five generate electricity and one houses the dynamometer that measures water rotational speed — have been installed on the bottom of a narrow strip of the river’s eastern channel. Commercial traffic continues to use the remainder of the east channel and the deeper, more navigable western channel.

    Mr. Taylor said that despite the difficulties, the East River project has generated about 7,100 kilowatt hours of electricity, which he said was a world record for hydrokinetic power. The turbines operated, on average, about 17 hours a day until they were shut down this summer.

    The project has received about $2.5 million in support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, an agency that promotes energy alternatives.

    Paul D. Tonko, president of the authority, said that the technical problems had not been a major concern and that he was satisfied with Verdant’s progress. An analysis of the project’s early production record indicates that Verdant is producing energy for about 7 to 8 cents per kilowatt hour, he said, slightly higher than traditional sources at current prices for natural gas and fuel oil.

    Once the project is fully developed — Verdant plans to install as many as 300 turbines in the East River — it could generate enough electricity to power more than 8,000 homes and compete head-to-head with traditional sources, Mr. Taylor said.

    But a few obstacles still stand in the way. Mr. Taylor said the company has had to spend more than $2 million to study the impact that the turbines might have on fish in the East River. The water is monitored 24 hours a day with sonar equipment to see whether fish are harmed by the blades, which move at a comparatively languid 32 revolutions per minute.

    The company has found that the few fish who are picked up by the sonar tend to swim around the blades.

    “So far, there haven’t been any strikes,” said Ms. Gardner, the geologist who works for Verdant.

    Still, federal regulators want Verdant to conduct studies on species like sturgeon and some turtles that are rarely seen in the East River.

    “For a start-up company, this is getting pretty hard,” Mr. Taylor said. Verdant is also facing the prospect of competition — not so much from giants like KeySpan but from other alternative energy start-ups. One company, Oceana Energy, recently was granted a federal permit to install turbines in the East River just north of Roosevelt Island.

    Mr. Taylor’s company had accused Oceana of intending to simply hold the permit until it became more valuable. John C. Topping Jr., an Oceana founder, said the company is developing its turbine technology. It has about a dozen sites, including one in San Francisco and several in Alaska.

    “Our preliminary studies of the East River make it look very promising,” Mr. Topping said. “Our project is not going to detract at all from the other.”

    Verdant recently withdrew its protest of Oceana’s permit application, deciding instead to focus on fine-tuning its own technology. And it expects that competitors will be surprised when they try to lasso the wild waters where the East River enters the area known as Hell Gate, between Wards Island and Astoria, Queens.

    “I wish them the best of luck,” Ms. Gardner said.

    ENOUGH SAID !!!!!


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