Supersized Natural-Gas Power Plant Would Supply Energy to New York

North Bergen OK with proposed site, but administration, environmentalists argue it would add to air pollution in stressed urban area

North Bergen Liberty Generating plant (artist's rendering)
Does New Jersey need a huge new natural-gas power plant? Probably not, but New York certainly does.

That kind of explains why developers of a new 1,200-megawatt natural-gas power plant held a press conference yesterday in an industrial part of North Bergen to tout the benefits of locating a $1.8 billion generating unit a few miles away from Manhattan.

The proposal, backed by North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, also a powerful state senator, would bring enormous tax revenue to the community. But it suffers from the political repercussions of siting a jumbo power plant that provides electricity to meet New York City’s rising energy needs at the expense of increasing air pollution in an already stressed urban area.

The project would sit on a 15-acre site in a heavy industrial section of the township at 94th Street near existing energy and utility infrastructure. The North Bergen Liberty Generating plant, developed by California-based Diamond Generating Corp., would use natural gas and the latest combustion turbine technology to produce enough electricity to power approximately 1.2 million homes in New York City.

Underground and Underwater

It would send its power to the city at Con Edison’s 49th Street substation via a 345-kilovolt underground and underwater cable crossing the Hudson River. Public Service Electric & Gas once owned the line to deliver power to the city, but sold it several years ago.

“Our facility would be among the cleanest, most efficient power plants in the region,’’ said David Deutsch, vice president of development for North Bergen Liberty Generating. “Our project would provide close to a thousand construction jobs, millions in new tax revenue for New Jersey and North Bergen, and safe, reliable power for the region.’’

Sacco agreed. “This project represents a once-in-a-generation chance to add a major new source of revenue to North Bergen with no impact on residential neighborhoods and little to no strains on municipal services,’’ he said.

Air quality already an issue

Critics may offer a different view. They say the project would be built in an urban area that, like the rest of New Jersey, has never met the federal air-quality standards for ground-level ozone. Pollutants from the facility are likely to make that goal more difficult, they say.

Deutsch argued otherwise. By using cleaner technologies to run the plant on natural gas, he said the facility would create net benefits in reducing air emissions by replacing older, dirtier power units in New York City. The project would utilize technology 34 percent more efficient than the current power plants in New York, according to the company.

The project also seems to be out of step with policies being proposed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, both of whom have endorsed having 50 percent of their state’s electricity produced by renewable sources by 2030.

Bolstering wind and solar

But Deutsch said to generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity through solar and wind would require a land area the size of Bergen and Hudson counties combined. The natural gas plant is needed to bolster intermittent sources of wind and solar, he said.

In some aspects, this is shaping up as a not-in-my-backyard fight, with New Jersey, but not North Bergen, saying site the plant in another location. Deutsch said the company considered other locations, but did not mention them.

“New Jersey always has its NIMBY issues, and although serious,’’ said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst at Glenrock Associates, “those issues are virulent in New York.’’

Environmentalists were more critical. “This is a disaster on the Meadowlands,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “New York gets the power and we get the climate change.’’

“They will be building this plant with some of the worst air quality in the nation,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This will be a big test for Gov. Murphy.’’

Anticipating delays, construction of the facility could begin by the end of 2019; it could be operational by the end of 2022, according to proponents.

“This is what a regional economy and a united community is all about,’’ said Jim Kirkos, president of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce.