UPPER EAST SIDE — The black smoke that sometimes belches from the Con Edison smokestack along the East River at 74th Street will soon get a lot cleaner.
The energy utility is converting its steam plant from running on the heavily polluting No. 6 oil to running on gas, officials told Upper East Siders at a Community Board 8 meeting on Wednesday.
The $83 million conversion of the 74th Street station will reduce the plant’s output of nitrogen oxide gases — which contribute to smog and acid rain — by 50 percent, which is equivalent of taking 16,000 cars off the road, said Jim Shannon, project manager for Con Edison.
It will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 percent and greatly reduce emissions from the smokestack, Con Ed officials said.
"This is a tremendous improvement to air quality," Shannon told DNAinfo of the plant that spews out 2 million pounds of steam an hour, serving most of Midtown and uptown.
It was good news for the Upper East Side, which may have among the most coveted zip codes in the city, but also has some of the dirtiest air, according to the Health Department. Building emissions from dirty Nos. 4 and 6 heating oil is one of the main culprits.
"This is a major facility that will be switching to natural gas," Community Board 8 member Chuck Warren said. "It’s a good thing and an important thing for our neighborhood."
The move will save Con Edison "millions," Shannon said, noting that the savings will be passed onto the company’s 1,800 steam customers. He couldn’t provide exact numbers since the prices of oil and gas fluctuate.
The conversion will help the Bloomberg administration’s goals of greening the city, Shannon noted. But, perhaps more importantly, it will help the utility meet changing state and federal environmental regulations that take effect in 2014.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation will require the 50 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules on boilers will require cuts on hazardous air pollution, Shannon explained.
For the project's first phase, the utility will lay down 2,300-feet of a 12-inch gas main, from First Avenue and East 71st Street to its building along the FDR and East 74th Street. Street work on First Avenue was slated to start in June, but had to be moved up to March, so it could wrap up before the Department of Transportation’s begins installing its First Avenue bike lane, Shannon said.
The entire gas main street work is expected to be completed by the year’s end, Shannon said. The second phase of the project, inside the facility and on its roof, is slated to finish by December 2013.
As Con Ed converts its own building to natural gas, some of its customers in the neighborhood are also switching from oil to gas. (Three underway right now are buildings at 180 East End Ave., 317 East 74th St. and 250 East 87th St., Con Ed officials noted.) State Assemblyman Dan Quart recently introduced legislation to provide tax credits to residential buildings to spur the push to convert from dirty No. 4 and 6 oil to cleaner oil or natural gas.
Con Edison is also planning a project next year to add a silencer to the smokestack at East 74th Street to quiet it down, offiicials said.
The utility is also converting a plant on West 59th Street to natural gas.