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SCS Energy Scraps Plans for Controversial Coal-Fired Plant

Stiff opposition from administration, and unproven technology, spell the demise of PurGen One.

The developer of a controversial coal-fired power plant in Linden has quietly pulled the plug on the project.

SCS Energy LLC, a Concord, Mass.-based private power development company, noted on its website that the PurGen One project in Linden is no longer active. SGS Energy is moving the commercial design to a project in California.

The scrapping of the project is not much of a surprise given the widespread opposition to the facility -- not only from environmental groups, but also more formidably from the Christie administration. It has vowed not to allow any new coal plants to be built in New Jersey.

At a hearing in the summer of 2011 on a revised Energy Master Plan, former New Jersey Board of Public Utilities President Lee Solomon flatly said, “That project is not going forward. There will be no PurGen.’’

Even without that opposition, however, the project faced enormous hurdles, not the least of which are economic. With the steep drop in natural gas prices, coal plants in New Jersey no longer are considered base-load generating facilities, which typically run 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That change is status makes them a less attractive investment.

The 750-megawatt, $5 billion project also relied on unproven technology to capture greenhouse gas emissions and pipe them 140 miles, burying them deep below the ocean off the coast of Atlantic City. The plant would have been built on a 106-acre tract, formerly the site of a DuPont manufacturing facility.

The proposed site often triggered enormous controversy over various development schemes. These included designating the site as a hazardous waste incinerator and a garbage barge transfer station.

SCS Energy did not respond to a call for comment.

At one point, in the face of opposition from the Christie administration, there was some speculation that the company might seek approval to build a natural gas power plant instead of one fired by coal, but those plans never came to fruition.

The Christie administration backs developing natural-gas-powered plants, going so far as to award generous subsidies to two projects in Newark and Woodbridge. Incumbent power suppliers, however, are trying to block those plants from being built in a challenge in federal courts.

Meanwhile, in a move officials in Maryland and New Jersey say may make it more difficult to establish new power plants in the region, the operator of the nation’s largest power grid is moving to revamp its rules governing which generating units are called on to provide the reserve capacity to keep the lights on.

Environmentalists hailed the decision to abandon the project.

“This victory is the first in a long, continuing fight to stop the fossil corporations from burying carbon dioxide beneath the oceans and the land,’’ said Peter Montague, an environmental activist. “The false promise of carbon sequestration is diverting us from real job-creating solutions like energy efficiency and renewable sources of power.’’ (Carbon sequestration is a process that removes carbon dioxide from power plant emissions and stores it where it will not be released into the atmosphere.)

Given the recent efforts to roll back environmental laws both in Trenton and in Washington, Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, described the decision to drop the project as a big victory for grassroots groups. “The governor’s position helped,’’ Tittel added.

“This is a wonderful victory for the environment over dangerous dirty coal,’’ he said. “Stopping this dirty coal plan will lead to clean energy and green jobs.’’

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