The Constellation Prize was new to me (and most everyone) in 2020 when I got word of the nomination for some work that I had been involved in with the New York State Capitol, also known as the “Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza” in Albany.
When I found out about the nomination of Keith Schue and I for the Constellation Prize for Policy Impact, I thought that it was an honor, not expecting to receive the actual award. I didn’t exactly know how to process such an honor. The first thing I had to do was get my head around how it was that we were awarded this honor for policy change in New York state.
As I looked into the Constellation Prize, I saw that the prize sheds light on how engineering can be done to promote new modes of engagement, research, development, and design that elevate the values of environmental protection, social justice, human rights, and peace.
In our work with the Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy (SHARE), my wife Kristy and I had noted that our involvement with SHARE and the Plaza, especially in the areas of environmental justice, human rights, and reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions had been quite a long path. We owe the success to this collaboration to key people including Merton Simpson (Albany County Legislator), SHARE and Keith Schue.
As I looked further into the prize, I noticed that it recognizes thoughtful collaborations between engineers and individuals, communities, and organizations that are striving to promote these ideals.The websites states that, “In totality, we seek to create a constellation of people and efforts that can help reimagine what engineering is for.”
Before Kristy became involved, I had been treating the collaboration with Keith Schue and the SHARE as a Good Samaritan type of duty. I simply could not turn the other way while seeing that something could be done to help the community of Sheridan Hollow, and the good state of New York. When Kristy heard of this effort, it was turned from a passing contribution to a full-fledged effort to reverse the funded efforts to install a combined heat and power (CHP) plant at the Empire State Plaza.
Keith Schue and I were introduced through email in 2017 by the executive director of New York Geo, Bill Nowak. Once Keith shared what he knew from his engagement with the project, it became clear to me that the New York Power Authority NYPA did not have correct information about geothermal exchange technology. It was quite a process to convince the state of New York that the $100 million-dollar CHP Plant was not a good choice. A much better choice was to switch the existing chillers from gas-fired steam turbine chillers to electrified chillers, significantly reducing the carbon footprint to cool the massive complex. After numerous trips to New York, countless hours of meetings, and with thanks for the significant contributions from other engineering firms from around the world, we were able to prove our point.
The focus of our argument beyond reduction of GHG emissions was that the installation of natural-gas-fed electric power generators would be a “stranded asset.” Stranded assets are unable to earn their original economic return due to changes in the landscape in which the assets operate. In this case, New York’s laws regarding reduction of GHG emissions were such that natural gas (combined heat and power) power plants would be illegal, due to high GHG emissions in coming years. See the New York Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act CLCPA.
Take a few minutes to look at the other award winning projects on the Constellation Prize Website.
Who do you know that is changing the world through new modes of engagement, research, development, and design that elevate the values of environmental protection, social justice, human rights, and peace? Please share their story with the Constellation Prize Committee at this link:https://www.constellationprize.org/contact or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org