Renewable Rikers Act creates opportunity to make NYC more sustainable


The Renewable Rikers Act proposes replacing the jails on Rikers island with a solar farm, expanding renewable energy sources.

Abby Berman, Staff Writer

If you care about sustainability or clean energy, if you care about climate change – you care about the Renewable Rikers Act. It’s a local act pertaining to New York City that strives to address climate change through the use of sustainable energy.

The City of New York is in the process of closing the jails on Rikers Island by 2027. There are currently eleven jails in New York City – eight of which are on Rikers Island. The New York City Council’s plan is to replace the jails on Rikers Island with four borough-based facilities and reduce the jail capacity by nearly three quarters. 

Since Rikers Island will become open real estate, the question of what to do with the land arises. The best plan to help address issues of sustainability and set a precedent for environmental reform is called Renewable Rikers. It is an act consisting of three different bills that would turn 100 of the 413 acres on Rikers Island into a solar farm. It would replace peaking power plants, which are backup power plants for New York City that run when there is high demand for electricity. These out of date energy sources built 20 to 50 years ago burn oil and pollute the environment. 

The Renewable Rikers Act would set a precedent for other cities and organizations to use former prison land to expand renewable energy sources and invest in our future. It would show that if New York City – a populous and culturally significant city – can find space for renewable energy, other cities must be able to do the same. Even if it is only a small step towards a more sustainable future, Renewable Rikers has the potential to set an example for the future of environmental land reform. 

This plan is significantly more expensive than the other plans for Rikers Island. Other plans propose turning Rikers Island into a third runway for LaGuardia airport and developing low-cost housing in its place. However, it is important to view this as an investment in our future. Past generations have chosen not to invest in renewability because it was too expensive. We don’t have that choice anymore. If we don’t invest in sustainability, we won’t have a future. The Renewable Rikers Act is not going to solve all of our problems, but it is an important step to take towards sustainability.

You can support the Renewable Rikers Act by first finding the City Council Member that represents the district you live in by going to this website. Once you find your City Council member, click on their name to find the legislative office phone number and give them a call. Ask them to support the Renewable Rikers Act and tell them why renewable energy is important to you. If your City Councillor already supports the Renewable Rikers Act, then thank them for their support. We need to take local action as a community on this issue. This is an opportunity to not only improve our city, but to begin moving toward a future of sustainability and environmental investment.