This article was written for the Lackawanna Coalition by Ken Dolsky of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition, which has been leading the effort to ensure that any new NJ Transit projects use clean, renewable energy as much as possible, in compliance with our state’s new environmental-justice legislation. The views expressed are specifically those of the DGTM Coalition; the Lackawanna Coalition is in alliance with their goals.
NJ TRANSIT plans to build its own power plant in Kearny in order to power selected trains when it loses commercial power, as happened for several days after Hurricane Sandy. NJT has $512M in grant money to build this system. Its original plan was to build a 140MW gas plant. However, in 2020 Governor Murphy directed NJT to redesign the project primarily using renewable energy. NJT spent 2020 “reimagining” the framework for the project and issued an RFP at the end of 2021, which was expected to follow the Governor’s direction. Instead, NJT’s RFP is only requesting a gas plant and appears to have never intended to follow the Governor’s directions.
The RFP requests proposals that utilize fossil fuels now along with an undefined transition to be “carbon neutral” by 2050. The RFP is completely silent as to when this transition would occur or even start. Even assuming this is to be a transition to clean renewable energy, this approach will allow the plant to burn gas for many years.
Unlike its specific design of a gas-based solution, the RFP left the design and specifics of a solar/storage solution completely up to the bidders. It provides no design, no specs, no land, no support for acquiring land and no support for leasing terms and conditions for solar, yet claims to be unbiased. Clearly, NJT stacked the deck in favor of gas.
NJT is not even asking for an initial plan to use renewable energy, as it is likely afraid the renewable energy proposals will be more cost effective than the gas plant. If NJT thinks that solar/storage won’t be viable for its immediate needs, why not solicit full solution bids and be able to prove its premise? The Don’t Gas the Meadowlands (DGTM) Coalition has worked with solar experts and evaluated space for solar near the project and concluded that solar is completely feasible now and will very likely have better long-term financial benefits over a gas plant. All of this information was provided to NJT during 2019 and 2020.
NJT is also hiding behind the Energy Master Plan target date of 2050 to fulfill its commitment to using renewable energy. No NJT document or statement prior to the RFP ever said this could wait until 2050.
NJT’s gas plant will increase NJ GHG emissions by 600,000 million metric tons (MMT) per year, so transitioning to truly renewable energy will only reduce the increase in emissions this plant will have caused. This will do nothing to reduce GHGs by 80% by 2050 as described in the EMP.
There is no reference in the RFP of the need to comply with NJ’s Environmental Justice (EJ) law. Building what would be the 5th fossil fuel power plant in one of the most polluted communities in the country flies in the face of New Jersey’s landmark EJ legislation, S232, which was passed to protect vulnerable residents from facilities such as this.
NJT is spending its one time grant on the wrong technology that will produce the worst results in terms of air quality/health, climate change and financial benefits for NJT. They are purchasing a dead end technology that will decrease in value vs. a technology that will increase in value.
The DGTM Coalition is asking NJT for a clear and compelling explanation for excluding a renewable energy proposal, including an analysis that will allow NJT to compare the long-term financial benefits and costs of owning a gas plant versus owning a renewable energy plant. Assuming no receipt of such an explanation, we are demanding that the RFP require bids on renewable-energy solutions that can be implemented now in order to provide this comparison. At the same time we are asking Governor Murphy to reiterate his 2020 demand for a solution that will maximize the use of renewable energy.