At one time, the state was practically begging the energy sector to build new natural-gas plants. Not anymore.
Competitive Power Ventures, the owner of a 725-megawatt power plant in Woodbridge Township, is seeking approval to build another natural-gas plant adjacent to its existing unit in the Keasbey section of the community.
The project is the latest seeking to cash in on the cheap natural gas provided by plentiful supplies that have been exploited in the Marcellus Shale formation of Pennsylvania, a trend that has driven down both electricity and heating costs for consumers and businesses.
The proposal is the fourth natural-gas plant seeking necessary approvals from local and state permitting authorities. But it also raises questions about whether the sector has absorbed the message from the Murphy administration that it wants to have 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
Besides the new plant in Woodbridge, there are proposals to build gas-fired units in Cape May, in the Meadowlands in North Bergen, and along the Musconetcong River in Holland Township.
During the Christie administration, the state was so anxious to get power plants built and thus bring down high energy prices that it proposed subsidizing three new facilities to the tune of more than $1 billion. The plan was scrapped once it was ruled illegal by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nevertheless, two of the three units that would have been subsidized ended up being built, including the Woodbridge Energy Center facility by CPV. Since then, two other natural-gas plants also have been built — also without subsidies.
“These natural-gas projects are being driven by market forces, not by state policies,’’ said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst with Glenrock Associates in New York City.
Before the state deregulated the energy sector, it required power suppliers to prove there was a need for a new generating plant through something called a certificate-of-need process. That hurdle was removed when the state broke up its electric and gas monopolies, leaving the decision to owners and investors in power plants, regardless of state policies.
CPV did not respond to an email or a phone call about its latest proposed project, which was scheduled to go before the local planning board last night as a proposal to subdivide a portion of the property to allow construction of the Keasbey Energy Center.
Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac, a member of the planning board, also did not respond to a call or an email.
To some environmentalists, the push to develop more natural-gas capacity is misguided — given New Jersey’s push to curb emissions contributing to climate change.
“We have already seen four new natural-gas plants built,’’ noted Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Now we see four more coming online in one year. We’re going to see a major increase in greenhouse-gas emissions.’’
The state has adopted a law that aims to curb carbon-forming pollution by 80 percent from 2006 levels by 2050, a target that recent studies have indicated will be difficult to achieve.
The Woodbridge Energy Center began operations in January 2016 on the brownfields site of a former chemical plant. It provides power to about 700,000 homes.
The state is currently accelerating plans to develop offshore-wind farms along the Jersey coast, a top priority of the Murphy administration. By 2050, the state wants to build 3,500 megawatts of offshore-wind capacity off the coast, the most aggressive goal in the nation.
Environmentalists say the new natural-gas plants conflict with that target.