By David Cruz
The Planning Board of the City of Newark approved the construction of a 655-megawatt natural gas power plant in the city’s Ironbound section, despite opposition from community activists and environmentalists.
The Ironbound is one of Newark’s most vibrant neighborhoods, but it’s also the part of town that is most affected by the environmental impact of industrial areas like the one off Wilson Avenue, where Hess and a number of other companies share the neighborhood with sewerage and chemical plants and detention facilities.
This is where Hess is proposing to build its natural gas power plant, a plant they say meets stringent emissions standards and will provide much needed energy to a growing region. The nearest home to this facility is a mile away, but the smell from this area can waft all the way downtown. Hess says its power plant would actually improve the air quality by making older plants obsolete. But residents say that not only sounds funny, but it smells funny.
“There’s going to be an additional 1.5 million pounds of air pollution a year and 2 million tons of CO2 that are going to be released [from the proposed plant],” said Kim Gaddy, who chairs the Newark Environmental Commission, “and that’s not even counting the impact it will have on our ozone.”
Mayor Cory Booker’s office had no comment on the Hess proposal. They referred reporters to Deputy Mayor Adam Zipkin, who issued this statement:
“The proposed new Hess natural gas power plant which received City Planning Board approval will utilize the best available technologies and be one of the cleanest fossil fuel power plants ever constructed. The city’s independent experts have scrutinized the potential impact of this proposed plant on Newark’s air quality. Based on the results of that analysis, we believe that the project is likely to result in a net improvement to air quality by allowing the more polluting generators in our area … to run less often. The project will also bring other important benefits to the city — construction jobs, funds to support workforce training and job placement activities, and funds for air quality improvement projects including boiler upgrades, tree planting, asthma mitigations, anti-idling and truck route enforcement, and air quality monitoring.”
The city’s expected to get more than $20 million in givebacks from Hess, including $5 million for a fund targeting recreation and other projects in the Ironbound — to be controlled by Ironbound Councilman Augusto Amador. Amador abstained from voting on the matter because he gets a pension from another energy company, but has expressed concerns about air quality issues. Gaddy says, in the end, a sellout is a sellout.
“The reality is that land was condemned by the City of Newark and they said you can come up with a plan before we take it, so they could’ve come up with solar, they could’ve put wind there,” she said. “I mean why would you accept the first project that they give you, so you sell us out for $24 million and you’re talking about a $52 billion company that’s probably going to make at least a million dollars a day for 40 years. Profit, so who sold who out?”
Hess representatives declined to comment on the proposal. The state’s Department of Environmental Protection has the final say on the issue. It plans to hold a hearing some time next month, although environmentalists say they will try to get that pushed back to the fall. Barring that, Gaddy says the fight may end up in court.