Greening New York's Subways

Alison Lake, David Biello Jun 14, 2006

I recently had an opportunity to tour the MTA subway division's latest facility--a 95,000 square foot railcar maintenance building nestled amidst the wetlands to the south of Shea Stadium. The enormous building sits near the end of the 7--or purple--train line and is expected to clean and care for the 400 or so cars that travel back and forth between the borough of Queens and midtown Manhattan.

Begun before the LEED era, the building does not look particularly green. It is made of unassuming bricks, mortar and cinderblock and generally presents a dull red facade. But inside those walls and covering the roof are the visible indicators of an energy transformation. A 100-kilowatt array of solar photovoltaic cells harvests the sun's rays along the roof's southern exposure. And a 200-kilowatt natural gas-powered fuel cell juts up on the northern side, capable of supplementing or supplying the building's energy needs.

These technologies won't just cut the facility's electric bills; they will cut its pollution profile. Combined they will avoid the emission of more than 500 tons of carbon dioxide, along with tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and acid rain-causing sulfur dioxide. "By using 100 kilowatts of [photovoltaic] capacity, reduction in carbon dioxide emissions equals the emissions from driving approximately 225,417 miles in an average passenger car," the MTA writes in its detailed description of the site. That's one heck of a commute.