PSEG Power yesterday broke ground for a new natural-gas-fired power plant at its energy complex in Sewaren, a $600 million project that will replace a 65-year-old unit scheduled to close when the new facility is operational in 2018.
With a bevy of dignitaries and Christie administration officials on hand, the subsidiary of Public Service Enterprise Group touted the facility, along with a nearby $125 million investment in a switching station, as emblematic of its efforts to make its power grid more resilient.
The switching station and surrounding area flooded during the Hurricane Sandy storm surge three-and-a-half-years ago, knocking out power not only to tens of thousands of customers, but also to the nearby refineries lining the Arthur Kill.
The investments are part of the $1.2 billion Energy Strong program from Public Service Electric & Gas, which was approved by state regulators in the wake of Sandy. Half of the money is going to raise and repair substations and switching stations that lost power during the storm, mostly because of flooding.
At Sewaren in Woodbridge, the electrical distribution equipment was raised above federally recommended flood guidelines and the utility installed the elevated transmission facilities needed to maintain electric system reliability.
In the wake of Sandy and other extreme weather, PSE&G, the state’s largest utility, and other electric and gas companies, have ramped up their investments in modernizing their electric and gas systems, a process endorsed by the Christie administration and state Board of Public Utilities.
As part of Energy Strong, for example, PSE&G replaced about 250 miles of aging gas mains, and later received regulatory approval for a $900 million gas modernization program that involves replacing cast iron mains with new, more resilient plastic piping.
The new natural-gas power plant will be a 540-megawatt facility with state-of-the-art technology to produce electricity in a cleaner, more efficient plant than the unit it is replacing, according to Ralph Izzo, PSEG chairman, president, and CEO.
Noting the devastation caused by Sandy, Izzo said, “it is clear we needed to make our systems more resilient in the wake of severe weather.’’
The project is the latest gas-fired plant to be built, tapping cheap and plentiful supplies of the fuel in neighboring Pennsylvania. Three other new units are already operating or about to come on line, and a fourth is scheduled when the B.L. England coal-fired unit converts to gas in the next few years.
The spurt of new generation is welcomed by the business community, not only for bringing jobs and investment to New Jersey, but also for helping to lower what have been historically high electricity costs in the state. The environmental community has a different perspective, saying the growing reliance on the fossil fuel could exacerbate climate change, which they say already is wreaking havoc in New Jersey.