A group of engineers and social scientists recently announced the The Constellation Prize to reimagine the role of engineering in society. The award celebrates engineers and their community collaborators whose work promotes environmental protection, social justice, human rights, and peace. The prize seeks to nurture a network of like-minded practitioners pushing the boundaries of engineering to create transformative modes of engagement, research, development, and design. The inaugural set of recipients celebrates four individuals and groups based in the United States for their work in Engineering Education, Biodiversity and Indigenous Rights, Community Collaboration, and Policy Impact.
PHCPPros Columnist Jay Egg, CEO of the geothermal consulting firm EggGeo, and Keith Schue, an electrical engineer and technical advisor for the Sheridan Hollow Alliance for Renewable Energy (SHARE), have received tribute for their contributions toward Policy Impact. Their efforts have championed renewable energy, and demonstrably helped move the Empire State Plaza, New York’s center of government in Albany, away from fossil fuel combustion.
“Their success demonstrates how the engineering profession can be operationalized to work in coalition with frontline environmental justice communities, potentially resulting in environmental protection and climate justice outcomes,” said A.J. Schneller, an assistant professor of environmental studies and sciences at Skidmore College who nominated Schue and Egg.
Responding to plans by the New York Power Authority (NYPA) to install gas-fired turbines in Sheridan Hollow to heat, cool, and power the Plaza, Schue and Egg analyzed what had been proposed, exposed flaws, and advocated for alternatives. Referencing state mandates for action on climate change, Egg noted, “The state would be installing a stranded asset. The gas-fired plant would be illegal before it finished its useful life.”
Solutions proposed by Egg and Schue included geothermal technology for heating and cooling, renewables to offset electricity use, and efficiency improvements. They authored technical reports on the feasibility of alternatives, gave presentations, and met with agencies, legislators, and community groups. In 2019, NYPA abandoned its plan to install gas turbines in Sheridan Hollow in favor of electric-driven chillers, a solar complex to offset electricity, and efficient lighting. Details on how their work led to changes in the state budget can be found on www.constellationprize.org.
“To be successful, you need to have the science and an understanding of what is possible," Schue reflected. "But you also need activism and people to really push for what should happen. If we had either one of those things, but not the other, it would not have been enough.”
More information on the project can be found in Egg's February 2021 column for PHC News magazine, "How New York's State Capital Switched Off Natural Gas."
A full list of the 2020 recipients of The Constellation Prize can be found at www.constellationprize.org/winners, as well as more information about their projects and the selection process. The inaugural virtual award ceremony will take place on Feb. 24 at 4 p.m. ET. Those interested in attending can register online.