Powerhouse protesters welcome NJ Transit board members to first in-person meeting

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Two NJ Transit board members and employees going to work at the agency’s headquarters in Newark were greeted on Wednesday by half a dozen demonstrators protesting the power plant construction project natural gas backup at Kearny.

Protesters handed out flyers to employees entering the building on Raymond Boulevard and addressed one of the two board members who were on their way to the 9 a.m. meeting.

Protesters and other stakeholders at NJ Transit’s first in-person meeting since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic called on the agency to review requests for proposals, or RFPs, to build the NJ Transit power plant. relief, called TransitGrid.

The 140-megawatt generator in question is part of the larger NJ Transitgrid power system, a $577 million project that would provide emergency power to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, parts of the Morris Lines and Essex from NJ Transit and to the Hudson-Bergen light rail in the event of a power outage.

The project is partially funded by $410 million in federal Hurricane Sandy Resilience Funds.

Environmentalists argue that tenders for the TransitGrid design have returned in favor of a natural gas-fired power plant and backtrack on an October 2020 commitment to use solar or renewable options as much as possible.

“That’s why we were protesting in front of (NJ Transit) headquarters,” said Paula Rogovin, a member of the Don’t gas the Meadowlands! coalition. “We need assurance that every possible effort will be made to use renewable energy.”

Environmentalists picket NJ Transit headquarters in Newark on Wednesday morning April 13, 2022. They oppose the use of a natural gas-fired power plant on Kearny to provide backup power to the rail system. (Photo by Larry Higgs | NJ Advance Media.)

Opponents argue that a December 2021 tender put a “central plant” natural gas-fired power plant back on the table, without calling for cleaner alternatives.

The plant’s potential environmental impact is that it could emit 600,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases and air pollution each year, affecting environmental justice communities with high levels of respiratory disease in Kearny, Jersey City and Newark, said Ken Dolsky, a Don’t Gas the Meadowlands! organizer. Plans also include running the plant on a regular basis and selling power to Amtrak.

But New Jersey Transportation Commissioner Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said the agency was in the middle of a procurement process that needed to happen first.

“It is not accurate to say that the council supported a gas plant,” she said. “We have rules and a process and we hope it will be a good result. We are committed to doing the right thing”

Board member Robert Gordon, who is also Public Service Board Commissionerchallenged opponents to provide examples of another transit system using a backup power system that can “generate electricity and has the ability to operate when the sun isn’t shining”.

Gordon expressed concern that the agency is using current technology that could quickly become obsolete.

“We shouldn’t lock ourselves into one technology. Clean air technology is moving at the speed of light,” he said.

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].

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