Environmentalists urge NJ Transit to halt Kearny gas plant plan

Officials say renewables aren’t reliable enough for the job

By: - April 14, 2022 7:23 am

NJ Transit officials have proposed a power plant in Kearny to to prevent service interruptions like those seen in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. (Fran Baltzer for New Jersey Monitor)

Environmental activists descended on an NJ Transit board meeting Wednesday to urge members against a revived proposal for a gas-burning power plant agency officials say is needed to ensure trains can keep running when a storm hits.

During the board’s nearly four-hour-long meeting, environmentalists warned about the plant’s impact on residents in its proposed home of Kearny and in outlying communities, charging Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has forsaken its environmental commitments.

“I’m asking you to carry out the duties you promised to fulfill when you were nominated, namely providing oversight over transit management’s financial and environmental decisions,” said Ken Dolsky, a member of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition. “It’s obvious New Jersey Transit management decided to only request bids for a gas power plant as its initial vehicle for powering the transit grid.”

There was no vote scheduled on the power plant proposal at Wednesday’s meeting.

The power plant proposal in Kearny has a long history. It was conceived to prevent service interruptions like those seen in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. NJ Transit tabled the plan in October 2020 after more than a year of lobbying efforts from environmental activists and officials in outlying towns.

Transit officials said they would look to find a renewable alternative but left the door open for a fossil fuel plant if renewable sources were found unfeasible.

When the agency reopened its request for proposals in December, a natural gas plant again appeared favored. Officials said renewable energy technology had not advanced far enough to be a workable solution.

NJ Transit board member Bob Gordon told activists the energy storage technology needed for their plans “doesn’t exist today.”

“And if you want to challenge me on that, I encourage you to point me to a mass transit system somewhere on the planet that can generate the power and has the storage capability to operate when the sun isn’t shining,” he said.

Gordon, a former assemblyman and state senator, also holds a seat on the Board of Public Utilities.

Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti, who is chair of the NJ Transit Board of Directors, noted a decision is still months away and warned further delays could expose the state’s transportation network to severe interruptions. She chided activists for assuming the board had already made a decision on which proposal to support.

Not all of the testimony the board heard Wednesday urged against the creation of a gas plant.

Michael Makarski, an official from the Engineers Labor Employer Cooperative Local 825, echoed board members’ concerns about the feasibility of an electric plant. Makarski also touted the jobs the project would create.

“This electricity has to come from somewhere,” he said. “Now, the board has heard from some of the paid environmental lobbyists that this can be done using renewable energy and that we have to stop traditional fuel sources immediately. However, here we are, April 13, 2022, and here’s the problem: We don’t have renewable energy at any scale to power New Jersey Transit.”

The push against the Kearny plant proposal comes as environmental activists question Murphy’s commitment to his climate goals.

Earlier this week, Empower NJ — a coalition that includes the New Jersey Sierra Club, Food and Water Watch, and Environment New Jersey, alongside a bevy of other environmental and progressive groups — charged the governor has abandoned those goals, citing a rise in greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel projects approved during his tenure.

Paula Rogovin, a member of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition, said activists “no longer see evidence of that commitment to renewable energy.”

“I have learned not to believe in promises,” she said.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.