Hudson reporter – a clean energy source officials cheer $1 8b natural gas fueled plant environmentalists wary gas pains or contractions

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A company called North Bergen Liberty Generating—a subsidiary of power producing company Diamond Generating Corp—formally announced plans last week to bring a $1.8B natural gas combined cycle power plant to North Bergen. If no delays occur, the plant could start construction next year and be operational by 2022.

On April 25, project officials and local politicians met at the plant’s proposed 15-acre site near Railroad Avenue and 94th Street by Bellman’s Creek, currently occupied by a construction demolition recycling facility, but zoned for a power plant. It would power 1.2 million residences in New York City, with none in New Jersey.

The project, which is awaiting approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Environmental Protection Agency, would be a financial boon for North Bergen, New Jersey, and New York, officials said at the meeting. It is located within the Meadowlands District, but does not encroach on its wetlands.

(Toward the week’s end, Town Administrator Chris Pianese said the town is negotiating a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with NBLG. Because the talks are preliminary, officials aren’t sure how much the PILOT will bring in for the town, including after it expires. PILOT money tends to go toward the town’s tax levy.)

NBLG says the plant would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With the imminent closure of the Indian Point nuclear facility in New York, “it is imperative that a clean, reliable electric generation facility is constructed to meet the area’s rising energy demands,” NBLG added, in a press statement.

However, though natural gas does reduce carbon emissions by 50 to 60 percent when burned in a plant, compared to emissions from a new coal plant—according to the Union of Concerned Scientists–it is still a fossil fuel at day’s end. It’s composed primarily of methane, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet by 86 times as much as carbon dioxide, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

While people regularly use natural gas as a fuel for heating and cooking, and it is considered safe at lower levels, it also emits nitrogen oxides—a precursor to smog–when burned. Last year, CO2 emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas usage increased 1.7 percent globally, according to the International Energy Agency, an energy forum to help ensure energy security for 28 member countries.

“We need to be transitioning away from fossil fuels and to clean energy,” said Jeff Tittel, director for the New Jersey Sierra Club, which promotes responsible use of the earth’s ecosystems. He argues the project impedes Gov. Murphy’s statewide push towards clean energy.

“I’m just really upset that once again, here we are in the Meadowlands—we worked very hard to make sure the Meadowlands is clean and green—and along comes this plant at this stage of my life,” Sheehan said. “I need a fight, and I’m going to give them one.”

When the power plant reaches the end of its life cycle, Sheehan also suspects the owner will claim it is a stranded asset and use it as a tax write-off for years, tying up land acres that could go to better uses. Stranded assets are properties that have become obsolete or non-performing. They are becoming more common among power plants, which are seeing their economic lives curtailed due to transitions to a low-carbon economy (e.g. initiatives such as the Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the global temperature rise this century below two degrees Celsius.)

“The issue becomes, how do you provide this much generating capacity through renewables?” Hague asked, after the conference. He said solar power options would need land six times the size of Central Park to generate as much capacity as the plant. Wind turbines, he said, would need space the size of Hudson and Bergen counties combined to create the same amount of generating capacity.