Designing new models of energy distribution: Hunts Point Community Microgrid, New York City

The Hunts Point Microgrid Project is an initiative of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency (ORR), designed to protect important citywide infrastructure during emergencies that threaten energy distribution and to address critical vulnerabilities for both community and industry. The project integrates energy technologies that minimize power disruption in times of extreme weather in an area that serves as a major food-supply hub located in the Bronx, New York City. Hunts Point was identified as a priority area for climate resilience initiatives after Hurricane Sandy, as the potential impacts of the storm exposed the importance and vulnerability of the food systems infrastructure in the region. The project studied the feasibility of a district cogeneration facility to provide electricity, steam, and refrigeration to local food markets, nearby businesses, and the residential community facilities in the area. In addition to its vulnerability to climate impacts, the Bronx has socioeconomically vulnerable residents - the average household income in the borough is 40% lower than the city average and 34% lower than the national average. The South Bronx, where Hunts Point is located, is 57.1% Hispanic and 39.8% Black. The South Bronx neighborhood is also home to a major wholesale food cooperative located at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, as well as 12,300 residents and one of the City’s larger wastewater treatment plants.

The flood and power impacts of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 lead the Mayor of the City of New York to establish the “NYC Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency” which analyzed climate change vulnerabilities in the region and put forth strategies for resilience. A risk and vulnerability assessment was completed based on procedures established by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to account for historic outage data as well as anticipated system-wide or building-level infrastructure outages from environmental threats such as storm surge along areas of the coastline. Funded by the City’s Community Development Block Grant - Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the project incorporates flood protection measures and power generation solutions. Hunts Point is of importance because it is home to many critical facilities that many city residents rely on, as well as home to a socioeconomically disadvantaged community of residents.

The resulting proposal of the engagement process focused on four areas: Integrated Flood Protection, Livelihood and Community Resilience, Cleanways, and Maritime Supply Chain. A year-long community engagement process identified resilient energy, within the Cleanways area, as the highest priority to move forward with in Hunts Point due to building-level power outages being a significant and shared threat to residents and businesses. The City of New York defines resiliency as “the ability to provide a reliable source of power for a given facility’s critical load for a minimum of three days in the event of a major flood or other emergency.” The resulting pilot project will develop a tri-generation microgrid system with a resilient energy generating capacity of 6.8 MW to protect the Hunts Point residential community and the Food Distribution Center from power outages in emergency events. The Hunts Point Resiliency Project provides transparency in information flows and relationship building between city planners and local stakeholders. A total investment of $71 million from HUD and City capital is dedicated to the Hunts Point Resiliency Project.

The package of technologies selected best fit all of the above criteria together. The microgrid powered by a tri-generation system supports the Produce Market and Meat Market in the Food Distribution Center with natural gas to maximize efficiency and meet sustainability goals. The grid will supply full electrical power to the Produce Market and convert waste heat to give hot water at the Meat Market and chilled water at the Produce Market. The community facility solar and storage installations provide rooftop solar photovoltaic generation and battery energy storage to primary community facilities, particularly schools. The emergency backup generation for businesses provides four mobile diesel generators with transfer switches to allow other buildings outside of the markets to connect to power during emergency periods. Each component of the pilot project has independent utility; in the event of an emergency, each technology can continue to provide energy to critical facilities, although together they are a suite of products which best alleviate climate vulnerabilities in Hunts Point. Each benefited facility will have dispatchable energy for at least three days in emergencies involving power outage.

The City assesses the effectiveness of resiliency by the following performance standards:

  1. Robustness: ability to absorb and withstand stressors and shocks
  2. Redundancy: additional channels to enable maintenance of the core functionality in an event of disturbance or system failure
  3. Resourcefulness: ability to adapt and respond in a flexible manner during stressors and shocks
  4. Response: ability to mobilize quickly in the face of stressors and shocks
  5. Recovery: ability to regain functionality after stressors and shocks

A Benefit-Cost Analysis (BCA) based off of standards set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development shows a $27.2 million net present value and a 13.6% internal rate of return, which is well above the required 7% rate. The BCA shows the extent to which the pilot project achieves resiliency and benefits the community in comparison to the costs of the project. The success of the project improves the economic, social, and physical resilience to Hunts Point in times of power outage and addresses environmental justice issues within the region. The Hunts Point Resiliency Project is estimated to be completed in the spring of 2023.


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