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N.Y. Tests Turbines to Produce Power

In this 2006 photo, a Verdant Power turbine is lowered into the river off Roosevelt Island. This one failed.
In this 2006 photo, a Verdant Power turbine is lowered into the river off Roosevelt Island. This one failed. (Associated Press)

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But the capacity of the turbines is not the only stumbling block. There were years of environmental testing on the site, including an investment of more than $2 million to monitor the impact on fish and migratory birds. Both have avoided the big, clunky turbines thus far, Taylor said, but regulations require ongoing inspections.

The city needs new ways to generate energy because existing transmission lines from upstate are inadequate and the city's needs are growing, said James Gallagher, energy expert at the city's Economic Development Corp.

"We need generation within the city, and anything we can add in terms of clean, efficient, new generation, has a value to it," he said.

He and other analysts say tidal power is a small piece of the city's energy equation. In fact, New York is learning the rules of the game for its own brand of urban sustainable energy production: The winds and waters of this port city can be harnessed, but only in certain places. Tidal power is reliable, but small-scale. Wind power is cheap but rare. Solar power is unreliable, inconstant and expensive but easy to install.

Experts warn that before these alternatives are widely adopted, New York will have to upgrade its antiquated grid system, which is currently incapable of incorporating a great deal of power from multiple small sources.

The city's peak energy consumption is 12,000 megawatts at any given moment, said Stephen Hammer, the director of the Urban Energy Program at Columbia University. "The question is, 'What's our goal? How much of that 12,000 megawatts total do we want to try to achieve? What kind of cost burden do we want to bear to achieve it?' "

So far, support has been relatively strong on Roosevelt Island, the quiet community between Manhattan and Queens that is the project's base. Developers began building that support in 2001, long before any installation, beginning with neighborhood meetings.

"I think it's a great thing," said Pia Doane, 63, speaking as she shopped for fruit at the Gristede's supermarket the project powers. She said she'd rather live in view of a turbine than a smokestack, such as those at the massive power plant just across the water, which she calls Asthma Alley. "This current has a big force," she said. "We should use it."

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