The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Posts Tagged ‘Big Allis

unseeing eyes

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Roosevelt Island, in today’s Newtown Pentacle.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The path of penitence and perdition once led inexorably to Welfare Island, where Nellie Bly spent ten days in a mad house. Here in the Ravenswood section of Queens, the mad cries of a thousand lunatics once carried across the East River from a nearby East River island, which was once known as Blackwells and later as Roosevelt. A prisoner created cacophony of hammers striking rocks provided a rhythm for the screamers, as did the sound of the work mills operated by mission orphanages and municipal poor houses.

Today, one can merely walk, drive, or bike over the Roosevelt Island Bridge, eschewing any of the water borne transportation options once offered exclusively by Policemen and NYS mental health officials.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My purpose in visiting the island is discussed over at my Brownstoner column today, although the subject of that post is not the only reason that a humble narrator journeyed here. Paranoid wonderings about the true nature of those little metal and or plastic cuffs on the ends of shoe laces notwithstanding (they are called Aglets, by the way, and their purpose is sinister), one had elected to visit the fairly new FDR Four Freedoms Park. As my walking tour schedule and obligations for 2014 have been fulfilled – my weekends are mine to do with as I wish once more so off a humble narrator shambled.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Perambulation to and onto Roosevelt Island, due to the multiple inborn flaws and infirmities (as caused by degenerate behavior, an atavist outlook, and or certain weaknesses of character and constitution that can be described as constituting a disease process) which afflict one’s constitution, was quickly achieved but soon degenerated into a weak gait which might only be called a “scuttle.” The long periods of physical inactivity, brought on by a recent spate of storms and unstopping rain, seem to have sapped ones endurance and stamina. Perhaps, local honey would help.

Accordingly, a thoughtfully placed wall was leaned upon, and the shot above was captured. That’s Big Allis across the river, over in Ravenswood.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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the dark moor

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Lucid and unwholesome, witness this sky flung perspective of the backbone of New York City- vantaged from several hundred feet above the Newtown Creek and it’s little known tributary- Whale Creek, and high atop the digester eggs of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Gaze in wonder at the majesty of western Queens.

Additionally, click here to see this view reversed, and witness the parallel horizon of infinite Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the Thomas D. Witte tugboat maneuvering a barge into position at the SimsMetal dock, and the rusty crossing in the background is the non functioning swing bridge which spans the larger Queens side tributary of Newtown Creek called Dutch Kills.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the LIRR moving along the ancient rail tracks which have blessed the industries and cursed the residents of this area since the early 19th century. The general area that the locomotive track is passing through, employed to this very day by petrochemical interests, is the former Queens location of Standard Oil at Newtown Creek.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the distance, from left is Lindenthal’s magnificent Queensboro, the Big Allis power plant, the omnipresent Sapphire megalith, the high flying Long Island Expressway, and a substantial portion of the vast industrial quarters of Long Island City which I call “The Empty Corridor“.

Project Firebox 24

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

On the corner of Vernon Avenue at 38th, in venerable Ravenswood, stands this soldier of the city.

Clearly overburdened by duty, task, and “what could happen”- it nevertheless stands a lonely vigil as the throbbing harmonics of Big Allis wash over and through it.

What sights has it known, here in the fortress neighborhood of western Queens, and what stories might it tell?

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 27, 2011 at 2:53 pm

down interminably

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

A recent walk through Ravenswood, which is an ancient neighborhood found on the industrial western coastline of Queens, left an impression that the place has been undergoing some sort of siege for an interminable period. High masonry walls with imposing fences and warnings of 24 hour video surveillance admonish the passerby. At the crown of every barrier or at the angled corners of buildings one observes the “devil’s rope” with its wired barbs and razor edges. Everywhere dogs slaver at the end of long chains, hungering for delight.

What happens around here at night, which has made such armoring necessary, one is forced to wonder.

from barbwiremuseum.com

THE INVENTION OF BARBED WIRE

Joseph F. Glidden of Dekalb, Illinois attended a county fair where he observed a demonstration of a wooden rail with sharp nails protruding along its sides, hanging inside a smooth wire fence. This inspired him to invent and patent a successful barbed wire in the form we recognize today. Glidden fashioned barbs on an improvised coffee bean grinder, placed them at intervals along a smooth wire, and twisted another wire around the first to hold the barbs in a fixed position.

THE BARBED WIRE BOOM

The advent of Glidden’s successful invention set off a creative frenzy that eventually produced over 570 barbed wire patents. It also set the stage for a three-year legal battle over the rights to these patents.

THE FATHER OF BARBED WIRE

When the legal battles were over, Joseph Glidden was declared the winner and the Father of Barbed Wire. The aftermath forced many companies to merge facilities or sell their patent rights to the large wire and steel companies.

ACCEPTING THE DEVIL’S ROPE

When livestock encountered barbed wire for the first time, it was usually a painful experience. The injuries provided sufficient reason for the public to protest its use. Religious groups called it “the work of the devil,” or “The Devil’s Rope” and demanded removal.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Take this snazzy little number, occupying a 2,500 square foot lot, the dwelling offers a princely 1,250 square feet of living space, 2 parking spots, and it’s historic.

It has a long history in Ravenswood- this structure was built all the way back in 1927, before Big Allis or the Roosevelt Island Bridge. When it went up, along with the rest of 9th street, this was the border of sanity and wholesomeness. Next stop after Ravenswood were the asylums and orphanages of Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island).

Futilely have I sought tales of escaped lunatics swimming here during escape attempts, but I’m certain that in 1927, the communal sounds of lament and madness would have been omnipresent.

from wikipedia

  • 1637 – Dutch Governor Wouter Van Twiller first purchases the island, then known as Hog Island, from the Canarsie Indians
  • 1666 – After the English defeat the Dutch, Captain John Manning seizes the island, which becomes known as Manning’s Island.
  • 1686 – Manning’s son-in-law, Robert Blackwell, becomes the island’s new owner and namesake
  • 1796 – Blackwell’s great-grandson Jacob Blackwell constructs the Blackwell House, the island’s oldest landmark, New York City’s sixth oldest house and one of the city’s few remaining examples of 18th-century architecture
  • 1828 – the City of New York purchases the island for $32,000
  • 1832 – The city erects a penitentiary on the island.
  • 1839 – The New York City Lunatic Asylum opens, including the Octagon Tower, still standing. The Asylum, which was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, at one point holds 1,700 inmates, twice its designed capacity.
  • 1852 – A workhouse is built on the island to hold petty violators in 220 cells.
  • 1856 – The Smallpox Hospital, designed by James Renwick Jr. opens; later, when it falls into disrepair, it will be known as the “Renwick Ruin”
  • 1858 – The Asylum burns down, and is rebuilt in the same location.
  • 1872 -The Blackwell Island Light, a 50-foot (15 m) Gothic style lighthouse now on the National Register of Historic Places, is built by convict labor on the island’s northern tip under Renwick’s supervision.
  • 1889 – The Chapel of the Good Shepherd, designed by Frederick Clarke Withers, opens.
  • 1895 – Inmates from the Asylum are transferred to Ward’s Island, and patients from the hospital there are transferred to Blackwell’s Island. The Asylum is renamed Metropolitan Hospital.
  • 1909 – The Queensboro Bridge, which passes over the island but does not provide direct vehicular access to it, opens.
  • 1921 – Blackwell’s Island is renamed Welfare Island
  • 1935 – The penitentiary on Riker’s Island opens, and the last convicts on Welfare Island are transferred there.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One common remark, whether it be from Charles Dickens or Nellie Bly or the host of sensationalist writers who described the island of asylums and orphanages in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, commented on the chorus of sobbing and madness which arose from the populations of lunatics and (what we would describe in modernity as developmentally disabled) retarded children imprisoned there. The fate of such unfortunates in early modern times was not a happy one, and analogies to both the German writer Kafka and the English asylum known as Bedlam are appropriate.

Of course, just as it is today, having such an institutional neighbor enriches the local economy. A mental hospital needs workers, and employs a vast supply chain to bring the necessities of life. Everything from vegetables to gurneys must be brought in, maintenance of boilers and the machinery of such places must be performed, and a vast staff of quasi medical workers are required. In many towns and cities across modern America, the local prison has replaced the industrial mill as the principal employer, and the prison industry is one of the fastest growing sectors of the United States economy.

from pbs.org

Corporations are running many Americans prisons, but will they put profits before prisoners?

A grim new statistic: One in every hundred Americans is now locked behind bars. As the prison population grows faster than the government can build prisons, private companies see an opportunity for profit.

This week, NOW on PBS investigates the government’s trend to outsource prisons and prisoners to the private sector. Critics accuse private prisons of standing in the way of sentencing reform and sacrificing public safety to maximize profits.

“The notion that a corporation making a profit off this practice is more important to us than public safety or the human rights of prisoners is outrageous,” Judy Greene, a criminal policy analyst, tells NOW on PBS.


– photo by Mitch Waxman

That nameless thing which has never drawn a breath, whose queer intelligence lurks within the spire of the sapphire megalith and gazes hungrily down upon the world of men, encourages and makes such a prison economy viable. It will ensure that new laws and restrictions are put in place by an army of loyal acolytes that suck at it’s poison teats, and its many servants in the media conglomerates continue to propagate a general aura of fear and loathing of “the other” suggesting the presence of a predatory element amongst the populace which makes the existence of such institutions seem not just necessary but prudent. More importantly, this prison industry is extremely profitable, and above all else that thing in the megalith encourages profit.

In the early 21st century, prison technologies now adorn private homes of substance and taste, and Orwell’s Big Brother need not surveil the streets for the private citizenry has already installed video security systems and razor wire which accomplish the goal for it. The gaol needs no walls, for terror has made us all inmates.

from wikipedia

In 1984, there is a perpetual war between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, the super-states which emerged from the atomic global war. “The book”, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchic Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein, explains that each state is so strong it cannot be defeated, even with the combined forces of two super-states—despite changing alliances. To hide such contradictions, history is re-written to explain that the (new) alliance always was so; the populaces accustomed to doublethink accept it. The war is not fought in Oceanian, Eurasian or Eastasian territory but in the arctic wastes and a disputed zone comprising the sea and land from Tangiers (northern Africa) to Darwin (Australia). At the start, Oceania and Eastasia are allies combatting Eurasia in northern Africa.

That alliance ends and Oceania allied with Eurasia fights Eastasia, a change which occurred during the Hate Week dedicated to creating patriotic fervour for the Party’s perpetual war. The public are blind to the change; in mid-sentence an orator changes the name of the enemy from “Eurasia” to “Eastasia” without pause. When the public are enraged at noticing that the wrong flags and posters are displayed they tear them down—thus the origin of the idiom “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia”; later the Party claims to have captured Africa.

“The book” explains that the purpose of the unwinnable, perpetual war is to consume human labour and commodities, hence the economy of a super-state cannot support economic equality (a high standard of life) for every citizen. Goldstein also details an Oceanian strategy of attacking enemy cities with atomic rockets before invasion, yet dismisses it as unfeasible and contrary to the war’s purpose; despite the atomic bombing of cities in the 1950s the super-states stopped such warfare lest it imbalance the powers. The military technology in 1984 differs little from that of the Second World War, yet strategic bomber aeroplanes were replaced with Rocket Bombs, helicopters were heavily used as weapons of war (while they didn’t figure in WW2 in any form but prototypes) and surface combat units have been all but replaced by immense and unsinkable Floating Fortresses, island-like contraptions concentrating the firepower of a whole naval task force in a single, semi-mobile platform (in the novel one is said to have been anchored between Iceland and the Faroe Islands, suggesting a preference for sea lane interdiction and denial).



– photo by Mitch Waxman

Modernity looks back on Blackwell’s Island, with its snake pit asylums and communal poor houses as some sort of anachronism. Left behind in the starry past, along with witch hunts and bad science, we have evolved past such childish attempts at mercy and embraced a more open and kind philosophy toward our challenged or confused or socially unacceptable brethren. This is a new age, enlightened and informed by scientific reason rather than instinct and custom. Right?

Ever wonder how they’ll describe us in 100 years, when some unborn academics perform their dissertations on the “age of terror”?

Remember, in a war of terror, whichever side scares the other more is the winner. A decade in, which side has become more terrifying to you, the nuclear armed super state with a well armed and paranoid population or the dusty mafiosos of a failed desert empire?

Incidentally, today is the anniversary of the General Slocum disaster, which was the greatest disaster in the history of New York City prior to the events of 2001, and which bears mention at this- your Newtown Pentacle.

from wikipedia

Some analysts, such as Noam Chomsky, posit that a state of perpetual war is an aid to (and is promoted by) the powerful members of dominant political and economic classes, helping maintain their positions of economic and political superiority.

Some have also suggested that entering a state of perpetual war becomes progressively easier in a modern democratic republic such as the United States due to the continuing development of interlocking relationships between those who benefit directly from war and the large and powerful companies that indirectly benefit and shape the presentation of the effects and consequences of war (i.e., the formation of a military-industrial complex).

There has been some criticism from anti-war activists and Bush critics, for example, that the Bush administration’s ties to Halliburton influenced the decision to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. These claims have been denied by the George W. Bush White House.

However, the concept of a military-industrial complex was first suggested by President Eisenhower and the idea that military action can be seen as a form of market-creation goes at least as far back as speeches beginning in 1930 prior to the publication of War Is a Racket in 1935. The economic make-up of the 5th century BC Athens-led Delian League also bears resemblance to the economic ramifications of preparing for perpetual war.

With the advent of perpetual war, communities have begun to construct War Memorials with names of the dead while the wars are ongoing. See Northwood Community Park’s memorial which has space for 8000 names (approximately 4,500 used at time of construction) and plans to update it yearly.


Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2011 at 6:39 am

noble and familiar

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Wandering aimlessly through the section of Long Island City which forms the hazed border of Dutch Kills and Ravenswood recently, your humble narrator was taken aback by the fortress like appearance of the local domiciles and businesses. Perhaps this unremarked series of blocks in western Queens harbors and shelters itself- in secret- against some unbound curse or horror unknown to neighboring communities, an invisible and omnipresent dread requiring stout gates and heavy iron clasps to vouchsafe life and limb?

I’ve never observed it in daylight, whatever this lurking fear might be, it must only come out at night.

from wikipedia

The land was acquired in 1814 by Col. George Gibbs, a businessman from New York City who developed it. Gibbs died in 1833, and the land was divided into nine parcels by three developers. From 1848, there were several mansions built on this land, but the high class housing did not survive. The spring of 1853 brought the opening of a post office of its own and country store “run by Messrs. Moore & Luyster, and Mr. Samuel H. Moore of that firm received the appointment of postmaster, handling the mails in a corner of the store.”

Ravenswood, unlike Astoria, Queens, never became a village; there was no disposition at any time to become independent as there was insufficient population or commercial activity to justify such a move. Ravenswood remained an exclusive hamlet within the Town of Newtown until its absorption with the Village of Astoria, and the hamlets of Hunters Point, Blissville, Sunnyside, Dutch Kills, Steinway, Bowery Bay and Middleton in Newtown Township into Long Island City in 1870. “Ravenswood enthusiastically accepted incorporation into Long Island City in 1870 and this absorption of the quiet village into the mainstream of commerce and industry spelled the end of the old era.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Freakish thoughts arise often during these long walks about the Newtown Pentacle, arising perhaps from the sheer oddness of what one might encounter on these perambulations- or from other strange energies encountered in the environment. When transversing the area around Big Allis and it’s various transformer farms, odd cracklings and resonances emerge from my headphones which I cannot be certain are merely electromagnetic anomalies caused by the titan powerplant. Certain evidences are consciously sought, of course, but long ago the universe was granted sway over my steps as I scuttle about the earth, and if New York City wants me to see something- she takes me there.

It is best not to disobey the City.

from wikipedia

Big Allis, formally known as Ravenswood No. 3, is a giant electric power generator originally commissioned by Consolidated Edison Company (ConEd) and built by the Allis-Chalmers Corporation in 1965. Currently owned by Transcanada Corp., it is located on 36th Avenue and Vernon Boulevard in western Queens, New York.

During 1963, Allis-Chalmers announced that ConEd had ordered the “world’s first MILLION-KILOWATT unit…big enough to serve 3,000,000 people.” This sheer scale helped the plant become popularly known as “Big Allis”.

At the time of its installation, it was the world’s largest steam energy generating facility. It is located on the Ravenswood site, consisting of Units 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as several small Gas Turbines (GTs), and an oil depot. The site overall produces about 2,500 MW, or approximately 20% of New York City’s current energy needs. The current installed capacity of Big Allis is around 980 MW.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A certain commandment is “to see”. Bombarded with visual stimuli, the extraordinary nature of New York City becomes commonplace and quite ordinary in daily observance, and difficulty is found in filtering. This statuary on 9th street in Ravenswood… I don’t want to research its possible meanings or significance… find out who is represented or what tradition presents itself in style or execution…

Alright, I’m pretty sure it’s a Maronite Cross. The Maronites are a group of Lebanese Christians who revere St. Maron of Chrysostom, a city near Antioch in his time which was around 16 centuries ago. They are part of what is known as “Eastern Catholic Churches“, which may follow atavist theurgical or theological paths which differ from the “Roman Catholic” faction, yet are nevertheless in full communion with the Bishop of Rome.

from wikipedia

Saint Maroun (also Maron or Maro; Syriac: ܡܪܝ ܡܪܘܢ, Mār(y) Mārōn; Arabic: مار مارون‎) was a 5th century Syriac Christian monk who after his death was followed by a religious movement that became known as the Maronites. The Church that grew from this movement is the Maronite Church. St. Maroun was known for his missionary work, healing and miracles, and teachings of a monastic devotion to God. He was a priest that later became a hermit. His holiness and miracles attracted many followers and drew attention throughout the empire.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in the past, a simple 5 point methodology for discovering the hidden ecstasies of this ancient place has evolved around wholesale surrender to the directionless cosmos:

  • Keep, the sun on your back.
  • Turn, left only.
  • Follow, a cat- if encountered.
  • Move, in an alert fashion.
  • Interact, with the humans only when necessary.

For some reason, around Ravenswood, I always find myself heading for Big Allis. Mayhap it’s some electromagnetoception sort of thing…

from wikipedia

In bees, it has been observed that magnetite is embedded across the cellular membrane of a small group of neurons; it is thought that when the magnetite aligns with the Earth’s magnetic field, induction causes a current to cross the membrane which depolarizes the cell.

Crocodiles are believed to have magnetoception, which allows them to find their native area even after being moved hundreds of miles away. Some have been strapped with magnets to disorient them and keep them out of residential areas.

In 2008, a research team led by Hynek Burda using Google Earth accidentally discovered that magnetic fields affect the body orientation of cows and deer during grazing or resting. In a followup study in 2009, Burda and Sabine Begall observed that magnetic fields generated by power lines disrupted the orientation of cows from the Earth’s magnetic field.

Certain types of bacteria (magnetotactic bacteria) and fungi are also known to sense the magnetic flux direction; they have organelles known as magnetosomes containing magnetic crystals for this purpose.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 13, 2011 at 3:05 am

hovering above

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Recent business called for me to visit the facilities of a commercial printer which has established its physical plant in part of the former Degnon complex near Dutch Kills, which explains how and why I found myself on Monday morning enduring the single digit temperatures which made the day remarkable.

What was fascinating to the shivering photographer, lost in private reverie upon Hunters Point Avenue, was the realization that when it’s cold enough- the exhausts of our city’s power generating system are actually and entirely visible.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Normally, when temperatures are in the average seasonal mean, there might be a few hundred feet of exhaust visibly extant as it emanates. In extreme cold, however, one can observe long streams of heated gas pulsing upward at seemingly titanic pressure. Manmade clouds, these vertical columns retain integrity against horizontal wind shear until they achieve great height, and begin to disseminate into the swift currents of air which swirl about and over New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It is Western Queens which is the workshop of New York City, – you cannot have the Shining City of Manhattan without a Great Machine, a Newtown Creek, or a Big Allis.

Where transformer farms abound- usually at the edge of a residency zone-, an omnipresent electrical hum is detected, and all attempts to use otherwise reliable headphones with a portable music player result in static shocks and an odd crackling sound is present in the earbud monitors.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The chimney in the shot above is actually located at Roosevelt Island, some distance from my location near the 7 train and LIRR station on Hunters Point Avenue (about 2 blocks from the Pulaski Bridge). My understanding is that the gas it is emitting is actually waste steam generated from CONED‘s consolidated generating system at Big Allis, and it is included in this post purely for the extreme altitude of its projection, which- to my eye- looks to be 3 to 4 times the height of Queensboro’s highest point.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Rounding the corner from Hunters Point (or 49th Avenue) onto 21st street, the dragon herself comes into view.

Big Allis…

Wait… what was that? Dragon? Exaggerating again, making mountains from molehills again? Check out this NYTimes.com piece which displays a graphic “heat map” of air pollution in NYC which originates in this PDF from NYC.gov. Notice that brown area of specific density in the upper left corner of Queens?

That’s Big Allis.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

What I find interesting in these photos of vast agglutinations of heat and gas being propelled at high pressure into the atmosphere is not that they exist, or that the plumes of Big Allis rise beyond visibility to the undoubted mile high vaults of the sky.

The remarkable thing about the 6-8 degree (fahrenheit) temperature of the surrounding air is that one can clearly observe what is normally a largely invisible phenomena- due to condensation and the interaction between hot gas and cold air.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The far off plume in the shot above is rising from Astoria, where the shuttered Charles Polleti Power Plant shares a large industrial compound with six smaller and quite active ones. Astoria carries quite a load for the rest of the City, from a power generating point of view, with prerequisite tales of high childhood asthma rates and unusual concentrations of lung disease.

Luckily enough, the State of New York just approved an upgrade and expansion of one of those Power Plants on the northern rim of fabled Astoria. The NYPost.com report on that may be accessed here.

Written by Mitch Waxman

January 27, 2011 at 12:15 am

Like something from the 19th century…

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

Big Allis from the Roosevelt Avenue bridge on a cold and humid day, belching Dickensian clouds of steam out over the East River.

from wikipedia

Big Allis, formally known as Ravenswood No. 3, is a giant electric power generator originally commissioned by Consolidated Edison Company (ConEd) and built by the Allis-Chalmers Corporation in 1965. Currently owned by Transcanada Corp., it is located on 36th Avenue and Vernon Boulevard in western Queens, New York.

During 1963, Allis-Chalmers announced that ConEd had ordered the “world’s first MILLION-KILOWATT unit…big enough to serve 3,000,000 people.” This sheer scale helped the plant become popularly known as “Big Allis”.

At the time of its installation, it was the world’s largest energy generating facility. It is located on the Ravenswood site, consisting of Units 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as several small Gas Turbines (GTs), and an oil farm. The site overall produces about 2,000 MW, or approximately 16% of New York City’s current energy needs. The current installed capacity of Big Allis is around 980 MW.

The Ravenswood, Queens site also includes a steam generation plant consisting of four B&W boilers, commonly known as “The A House”, owned by Con Edison but run by employees of Transcanada. It helps in the supply of steam to Manhattan.

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 22, 2010 at 12:05 am

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