NJ Transit opts for green energy, ending plan for gas-powered plant

Opponents fought development in Kearny, saying it contradicted Murphy administration’s energy goals
Credit: (AP Photo/John Seewer)
File photo: A natural gas powered plant

NJ Transit has shelved a plan to build a 140-megawatt natural gas plant in Kearny, and instead shifted its focus to building a microgrid powered entirely by renewable energy and battery storage.

The swing away from a fossil fuel-driven project marks a huge victory for a broad coalition of environmental organizations and the 16 local communities that had opposed the project in Kearny, arguing it would contradict the Murphy administration’s own clean-energy goals and climate change initiatives.

In the end, the NJ Transit board of directors bowed to those concerns, opting for a more environmentally friendly approach to address resiliency issues needed to handle power outages during extreme storm events.

“The plan to build a massive fracked gas power plant was a disaster for clean air and our climate,’’ said Food & Water Action organizer Sam DiFalco. “Communities across the state came together to tell Governor Murphy to find a better alternative, and today’s announcement shows that his administration is listening.’’

Perhaps more importantly, the decision could propel New Jersey and the transit agency into a leadership role in advancing green transportation initiatives across the nation, clean-energy advocates said.

Cheaper and greener

“These alternatives are not only cheaper, but safer for us, and the environment,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Microgrids are cheaper to build, better for the environment, and will allow people to commute to work with green energy.’’

The initial NJ TRANSITGRID project was developed during the Christie administration with a new gas-fired plant as the lynchpin of the microgrid. NJ Transit was awarded $409 million in federal funds for the project, which will now be allocated to a renewable energy alternative. The total project cost is estimated at $546 million.

In addition, the agency will set aside $3 million in incentives to encourage developers to come up with environmentally sound renewable energy alternatives.

“We will be incentivizing the national and international developer community to come up with the most innovative designs that will allow us to maximize the use of renewable energy for this project,’’ Kevin Corbett, president and CEO of NJ Transit, said at the agency’s board meeting Wednesday. “Our commitment is to deliver a project that meets the needs of our riders and remains consistent with Gov. Phil Murphy’s Energy Master Plan.’’

Under the agency’s timetable, it hopes to award a contract to build the green microgrid in 2022. The agency also created a committee to ensure that renewable energy is incorporated into the power reliability project. It plans to retain a renewable energy consultant to oversee the project.

In moving forward with the renewable energy alternative, some advocates noted that permits granted to the natural gas-fired plants were not withdrawn. “The air permits need to be withdrawn,’’ said Ed Potosnak, director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters.

The reversal occurred in the wake of a recent report from the state Department of Environmental Protection that suggested much steeper cuts in the use of fossil fuels are needed to achieve the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 2006 levels by 2050.