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State makes $1.1 billion investment in Niagara Power Project

The state’s largest power plant, the Niagara Power Project, is getting a $1.1 billion investment over 15 years to replace, refurbish and extend the life of its equipment at one of its two facilities.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s clean energy goals include transitioning the state to 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040.

One way to achieve that, said New York Power Authority Project Management Vice President Patricia Lombardi, is to make sure the Niagara Power Project’s main facility, the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, is modernized.

“The Niagara Power Project is a hydroelectric facility. By nature it is clean, renewable generation," Lombardi said. "It is a plant, a facility that is unique in its operation. So it’s really important that we keep that plant reliable and running.”

A big portion of the project is improving the control systems. Lombardi said that includes cyber security.

“There’s definitively a technical component in terms of design. We’ll certainly be looking for new technologies," she said. "The last time the plant really had a significant investment was 25-30 years ago. So things have changed along those lines.”

NYPA’s Board of Trustees approved the investment at it’s July 30 meeting. Lombardi said NYPA officials have been looking where to target investing over the past two years.   

“We’ve been doing some performance testing, targeted analysis to really look at the critical infrastructure there. We did go through an effort where we basically put sensors across the entire machine and we monitored it for a period of time to really look at where we needed to gear the investment,” she said.

At $1.1 billion, this becomes the largest capital project in NYPA’s history. Work will be handled in four phases. Besides the control systems, they include an inspection of the Robert Moses plant’s penstocks, refurbishing the 630-ton crane that enables mechanical work at the plant, and building a new backup control room and replacing old mechanical parts.

"The first major milestone where we'll really be able to see something in the field will be the upgrade of the controls for the first unit, which is scheduled to start in the fall of 2020, and wrap in to the earlier part of 2021. And through that time frame we will be letting contracts for equipment, the major pieces of components. We'll be doing a lot of work in the background," Lombardi said. "Then really the first unit overhaul if you will, the first main mechanical and electrical upgrade, will come through in about 2023. Then we'll do about one overhaul roughly every eight or nine months."

Lombardi said while 15 years seems like a long time frame, they have to overhaul the plant while it is still operating.

“There’s only a certain number of units that can be down at one time for us to meet our capacity commitments. So an analogy is out there that we are trying to fix the airplane while it’s still flying,” she said. “It’s just important, all the thought that’s been put in to this program, that we do take it in a staged approach. We do move carefully, move ambitiously, but carefully to really make sure we can keep the plant up and running and meet our capacity commitment.”

State officials say the initiative will support an estimated 60 union construction jobs throughout all four phases. Work is planned to begin later this year.

The Niagara Project has been operating since 1961.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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