The battle lines are drawn on a proposal to place a gas-fired power plant in the Meadowlands.
Regional business leaders in North Jersey praise the proposal as a potential economic catalyst and jobs creator, even though the power generated would be consumed a bit more northward — in New York City.
“We’ve got a history of supporting both road and infrastructure and utility infrastructure,” Meadowlands Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jim Kirkos said recently.
But the borough council of nearby Ridgefield approved a nine-page resolution in June opposing the plant, arguing it would generate pollution and greenhouse gases, and pose a risk to the area’s environment and public health.
It’s worth noting Ridgefield already is home to PSEG’s massive Bergen Generating Station, which generates 1,200 megawatts of power and has previously been ranked the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in the state.
Gov. Phil Murphy recently noted in brief public remarks that the power plant proposal is still in its early stage of review.
“This is, I believe, far from over,” Murphy said.
Officially dubbed the North Bergen Liberty Generating Plant, the $1.8 billion facility would be constructed on Meadowlands acreage in North Bergen and would generate an estimated 1,200 megawatts of power for New York.
The plant is being proposed by North Bergen Liberty Generating, a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Diamond Generating Corp. Diamond is owned by Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), a unit of Japan-based Mitsubishi.
North Bergen Liberty Generating officials are looking to build the plant on a 15-acre empty and remote tract of land, formerly a quarry site in the industrial part of town.
“It’s a horrendous site that is totally deteriorating, so the building of that site will actually be good for the site,” Kirkos said.
Site proposals call for the station to feed power into New York via underground cables, which would be laid at the bottom of the Hudson River and then surface in Manhattan onto a power grid separate from New Jersey’s own grids.
A variety of other township, business and construction and trade officials tout the project’s regional economic benefits. Construction of the plant could generate up to 2,200 construction and trade jobs, Kirkos estimated, though once completed the plant will be staffed by just 33 permanent workers.
“It represents a really tremendous opportunity to attract a very large, new tax ratable and do it in a way that does not impact neighborhoods, does not create any additional demand for additional services,” North Bergen Township spokesperson Philip Swibinski said.
The township and owners of the power plant are hammering out details for a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement.
“This facility will provide jobs for hundreds of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, laborers, operating engineers, dock builders, pipefitters, boilermakers, painters, glazers, cement finishers, roofers and all the other men and women in the building trades,” Hudson County Building & Construction Trades President Patrick Kehller said in a statement.
The proposed power plant has drawn heavy opposition from environmental groups.
On June 26, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection granted six permits to North Bergen Liberty Generating, which made its construction even more of a possibility.
The six permits allow the company to temporarily disturb 1 1/2 acres of wetlands vegetation, while permanently disturbing a tenth of an acre, so it can build two storm water outfall structures near the site of the plant.
Another permit allows the company to lay the power cables at the bottom of the Hudson River. But the plant’s owners still need permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
The move by the DEP prompted further outcry, as well as a protest by environmental activists July 10.
“Constructing a massive power plant and strong diesel fuel on-site risks damaging the surrounding Meadowlands ecosystem,” read a post on the protest’s Facebook event page. “Wetlands help filter our water and minimize damage from flooding. Flooding in the area is expected to increase and intensify due to climate change and sea level rise.”
About 20 groups organized the protest, including Environment New Jersey, Food & Water Watch, the Hackensack Riverkeeper, Clean Water Action and New Jersey Sierra Club.
“This area is a gem and a unique ecosystem. Building onto and next to wetlands, streams and on the waterfront of the Hackensack River is an environmental outrage,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in a statement.
The power plant could run counter to Murphy’s 2050 goal, which calls for 100 percent clean and renewable energy by 2050, according to Doug O’Malley, who heads Environment New Jersey.
“To generate 1,200 megawatts of electricity through solar and wind would require a land area the size of Bergen and Hudson counties combined,” said David Deutsch, vice president of development for North Bergen Liberty Generating. “There just is no room anywhere in the region to build such a green source of electricity without destroying open space.”
“The project won’t move forward unless it meets all the state’s standards in terms of environmental protection,” Swibinski noted. “We wouldn’t want to see it move forward if it didn’t meet those standards.”