If you follow Bellman’s Creek upstream, past the white egret, you’ll find a 15-acre site for the proposed North Bergen Liberty Generating project. It’ll be an enormous, gas-fired power plant that would churn out 1,200 megawatts of power. It’s energy destined solely for New York City, via an underground cable, to help replace power lost when the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant closes in 2021.
“We regard it as an affront to the protection of the Meadowlands,” said Capt. Hugh Carola, program director at the Hackensack Riverkeeper.
That’s 7,000 acres of protected wetlands. The Riverkeeper acknowledges that the power plant’s sited at the edge of the Meadowlands, in an industrial zone. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection just issued six initial permits recognizing it’s a conforming use.
“I realize those 15-acres were used as a concrete-smashing facility. They’re not pristine acres,” said Carola. “But the idea of shoehorning a gas-fired power plant next to Bellman’s Creek, a tributary of the protected Meadowlands, just makes no sense to any of us in the conservation community.”
Environmentalists protested Tuesday, pointing out the plant will also release greenhouse gases into New Jersey’s atmosphere, in an area that often suffers from poor air quality.
“We don’t want the power plant there, because, number one, the power’s for New York City,” said Paula Rogovin, who heads the Coalition to Ban Unsafe Oil Trains.
“I think it’s ridiculous that they would put it in Bergen County. I don’t think it belongs in New Jersey,” said Bergenfield Mayor Norman Schmelz.
Critics say Gov. Phil Murphy in May signed an executive order requiring 50 percent of the energy sold in New Jersey to be from renewable sources by 2050, and also ordered New Jersey to rejoin RGGI, a regional greenhouse gas initiative designed to reduce emissions. They said granting permits to this project runs counter to Murphy’s green energy standard.
“You can’t hide behind your words and say one thing and do the opposite, because all you’ve said about reducing greenhouse gases and dealing with climate change is hot air if you let this plant go forward,” said the director of New Jersey’s chapter of the Sierra Club, Jeff Tittel.
“This is, I believe, far from over, based on every assessment I’ve had. And this is one of these ones where you’ve got to call balls and strikes. We’re very early in this process right now, and so I would say ‘to be determined’ on where we come out on this,” Murphy said.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection notes, “The facility requires additional approvals and permits, including an air operating permit, from the DEP and other agencies. These permits will be subject to thorough DEP review …”
Meanwhile, North Bergen’s balancing concerns for the wetlands against economic benefits. The $1.5 billion plant represents a couple thousand construction jobs, and maybe a couple million bucks in payments in lieu of taxes.
“The project will utilize the latest technology. It’ll be the greenest possible plant of this kind in the country,” said Now Bergen spokesperson, Phil Swibinski. “We believe that it’s the right thing for the township. We believe that it will have no adverse effect and that it’s a tremendous financial opportunity.”
In a statement, the company adds, it will build ” … the safest, cleanest electric generating facility that current technology allows. … NBLG is voluntarily participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to offset 100% of its net CO2 emissions. Additionally, 130% of the allowable NOx and VOC emissions from the facility will be offset by the regional purchase of Creditable Emission Reductions,” the statement continues.
Initial permits from the DEP kick off a long, complex regulatory process for this project. Expect both the advocates and the opponents to keep the heat turned way up.