Proposed Power Plant Sparks Debate in New Jersey

Debate continues over a proposed $1.5 billion power plant that would be built in North Bergen, New Jersey, and would send electricity to New York City. The project includes a 1,200-MW combined cycle facility, along with a 6.5-mile 345-kV underground and submarine cable that would go through Bergen County, under the Hudson River, and connect to a substation in Manhattan.

Local officials see the plant as an economic boon to Bergen County. Environmentalists see it as a step back for the state and its clean energy goals and question the need for a plant serving out-of-state interests.

Diamond Generating Corp., a Los Angeles, California-based subsidiary of Mitsubishi, is developing what’s known as the North Bergen Liberty Generating Project, which is sited in an industrial area of North Bergen near the Meadowlands sports complex, home to the NFL’s New York Giants and New York Jets. A concrete plant currently operates on the site but it is zoned for a power generation facility. Local officials say a power plant is a better use of the site and say it would not have a negative impact on the area because it is far from any residential areas.

“While this project is still in the planning stages, we believe it represents a tremendous opportunity to secure the township’s tax base in the coming decades and continue to keep property taxes stable,” North Bergen spokesman Phil Swibinski said in a statement earlier this week.

“I want more information on this, but the face value is that this is a positive for both New Jersey and New York,” Jim Kirkos, president of the Meadowlands Chamber of Commerce, told northjersey.com. “The economies go hand in hand, and this project has a lot of potential for both.”

Diamond Generating did not immediately respond April 12 to a request from POWER for a status update on the project. The company operates four power plants in California and has other U.S. plants operated by Tenaska, representing more than 57 GW of generation. It already has begun the permitting process for the new plant with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). Brian Hague, a company spokesman, in an earlier statement said the plant would be “the most energy-efficient and environmentally sensitive electric-generating plant in the region.”

The area already is home to a large power plant—the Bergen Generating Station—operated by Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG). That facility is a 1,229-MW gas-fired combined cycle plant in Ridgefield, New Jersey, that sends power to the surrounding area and also to New York City via the Hudson Project, a 345-kV line that runs through the Edgewater Tunnel, then under the Hudson River to a Consolidated Edison substation in Manhattan.

Hague earlier this week said the company has been “meeting for several months with elected officials, state agencies and community stakeholders in both New Jersey and New York to determine if its proposed project is environmentally and economically feasible.”

Documents from the company’s planning consultants show that the plant would connect to the Transco pipeline, operated by The Williams Companies, to receive feedstock natural gas. It also would need a connection to the Bergen County Utilities Authority across the Hackensack River in Little Ferry, New Jersey, to receive treated wastewater to cool the plant.

Con Edison has said the plant’s power would go into the regional electric grid after arriving at the company’s Manhattan substation and might not exclusively serve New York City.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, who took office in January, has worked with state lawmakers to promote clean energy initiatives. Proposed legislation includes credits for nuclear energy for its zero-carbon output (which has brought its own debate), energy-efficiency standards to promote reduced electricity consumption, and incentives for solar and wind. The state has a 100% exemption from state sales tax for purchases of home solar systems. Murphy also has ordered the state to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast, designed to lower carbon emissions across the region from fossil fuel-powered generation. Coal plants have been retired in the state in recent years.

Environmentalists say the new Bergen plant goes against those clean energy plans. They also say it’s a setback for the Meadowlands area, which for years was both a legal and illegal dumping ground for trash. The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission was established in 1969 to help clean up the area; at the time, officials said there were about 1,900 acres of unregulated landfills in the region.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, told POWER his group has several objections to the proposed plant. “It’s a massive plant in the middle of an environmentally sensitive area, and it’s going to end up hurting the Meadowlands,” he said in an April 12 interview. “It will be one of the largest emitters of pollution in the area.

“What we find most objectionable about it is the power company makes the money, New York gets the power, and we wind up with the pollution. New Jersey needs another fossil fuel plant like we need another Superfund site,” Tittle said.

Bill Sheehan, director of the Hackensack Riverkeeper group, told The (Bergen) Record newspaper he questioned the benefits for New Jersey residents of building a plant in the state that would serve New York. Local media reports said the environmental groups were not aware of plans for the new Bergen plant until this week, though the NJDEP received an application from Diamond for the plant’s air permit in July 2017.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine)