Bridgeport, CT – A Model for Resiliency

The pattern along the water’s edge in Bridgeport, Connecticut presents a familiar scene to New Englanders: active harbors and historic homes interspersed with blighted buildings and weathered infrastructure. The city’s architecture suggests a prosperous past and a difficult present. But this city—prone to acute and chronic flooding, and facing the ills of climate change and sea level rise—will not leave its future to chance. The City of Bridgeport has a plan to survive and even thrive in the next decades of environmental change, and may position itself as a national leader in resiliency.

Map of the study area showing proposed floor barriers and low impact development

Map of the study area showing proposed flood barriers and low impact development

In this context, “resiliency” refers to adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet. Last fall, David Kooris, former Connecticut Director of Housing, visited SWA’s Norwalk office and presented Bridgeport’s vision: Resilient Bridgeport. The project began in 2014 when the City assembled a multidisciplinary design team, led by New Orleans-based Waggonner and Ball, to prepare an integrated resilience framework for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rebuild by Design Competition. The following year, Connecticut was awarded a HUD grant of $10,000,000 to develop a plan for reducing flood risk, improving resilience for the South End and Black Rock Harbor areas, and building an ambitious pilot project in the South End that combines physical barriers and low impact development.

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Replacing Indian Point – An Update

Last year, we wrote about New York State’s plans for replacing the 2,000 megawatts of electricity provided by Indian Point. As of March 2018, Indian Point is still slated to close in April of 2021. The New York State Independent System Operator (NYISO) will reassess the plant’s retirement plan later this year and will continue reassessing this plan regularly to ensure that the state’s electricity needs are met. At the time of the initial closure announcement, the replacement plan leaned heavily on increasing transmission capacity to New York City, particularly via the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express. However, there were still some gaps between downstate’s power requirements and the total power available without Indian Point.

Indian Point Image

In December 2017, NYISO released an Indian Point retirement assessment report and concluded that downstate’s power requirements will be met, providing that three proposed power plant projects in New York and New Jersey are completed on time. The CPV Valley Energy Center will be a 680 MW natural gas-fueled combined cycle plant in Wawayanda, NY, opening later this year. The Cricket Valley Energy Center will be a 1,100 MW natural gas-fueled power plant in Dover, NY, and is slated to begin power generation in 2020. An additional 120 MW of capacity will be added in Bayonne, NJ. As of the end of 2017, NYISO has determined that all three of these projects must come online by 2021 in order for the Indian Point shutdown to go through.

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The Energy Code of the Future: Modeling and Performance-Based?

It has been clear for some time that energy codes are on course to require carbon-free buildings by 2030. Adoption at the local level will see some areas of the country getting there even sooner. For example, California has set net zero goals for its residential code by 2020. These developments have accelerated the debate about the effectiveness of energy modeling versus performance-based approaches to compliance.

Chart: Improvement in ASHRAE Standard

Improvement in ASHRAE Standard 90/90.1 (1975-2013) with Projections to 2030. Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory 2015

Let’s start with energy modeling, where change is coming for the better. In the past, the energy modeling community has been required to continuously respond to energy code cycle updates with new baseline models. That is, the bar for uncovering savings would be increased each and every time a new energy code was adopted. Following a code update, program staff and the energy modeling community would have to go through another learning curve to determine where to set a new bar and how to model the changes. Read more

Harvey and Irma: Hurricanes, Floods, and the Days After

They call it hurricane season. That time of year when tropical depressions form off the west coast of Africa somewhere north of the equator. The rotation of the earth and the prevailing winds cause these low-pressure pockets to migrate slowly westward, and if conditions are apt, pick up strength along the way.

As deadly and destructive as hurricane winds are, it is typically the associated water that causes the most physical damage: horizontal rain at 100 mph overwhelming already stressed buildings, prolonged periods of heavy rain inundating drainage infrastructure, and coastal storm surges pushing tidal waters many feet above normal.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, is seen in this NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center image from GOES-16 satellite taken on September 5, 2017. Courtesy NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center/Handout via REUTERS

As of this writing Hurricane Irma is just north of Puerto Rico with Category 5, 185 mph winds. And Harvey, a rain event lasting days and dumping up to 50 inches of rain ravaged Texas and Louisiana one week ago. Because of where and how we chose to build our communities, these disaster events will remain inevitable. There are concrete steps we can and should take to improve the resiliency and disaster resistance of the buildings we build, but in reality, much of what we built in the past is disaster prone and not resilient. Read more

Designing Solar for High Density Areas

Hear the term “solar energy” and you’re likely to think of vast fields of glistening panels and hillsides transformed into disco balls. Hear the term “solar energy” and you might picture suburban McMansions with roofs that reflect the sky. Hear the term “solar energy” and you envision… skyscrapers? Affordable housing units? Clusters of panels lurking in the crevices of a city skyline?

By 2050, solar energy is projected to be the world’s largest source of electricity, and it would hardly be reasonable to do so by means of blanketing entire stretches of usable or natural lands with sheets of silicon. Instead, part of the solution lies in designing solar for high density areas, which is quickly becoming the backbone of the solar boom, providing access to, and availability of, solar energy in densely populated areas.

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