NJ Transit moving forward with natural gas power plant

Autonomous micro grid designed to keep regional rail lines running during blackouts

NJ Transit plans to autonomously power several rail lines in the Northern New Jersey region.
NJ Transit plans to autonomously power several rail lines in the Northern New Jersey region.

NJ Transit is rolling out a resilience program which aims to provide reliable power to portions of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, NJ Transit’s Morris and Essex Line, and the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail. The program will create an autonomous power grid that will keep several regional rail lines up and running during extreme weather events that cause commercial power blackouts.

The agency plans to open a natural gas power plant in an industrial zone in Kearny on a property currently owned by the Hudson County Improvement Authority. The plant would generate between 104 and 140 megawatts on a 24/7 basis, and would channel power across transmission lines to several substations in Kearny, Jersey City, Bayonne, Hoboken, Weehawken, Union City, and North Bergen.

The power generated from the microgrid would be used for various operations and signal systems, and would electrify tracks. The microgrid would be capable of disconnecting from a traditional grid to operate autonomously during brownouts or blackouts that occur on commercial grids as a result of extreme weather events.

The project will be bankrolled almost entirely by Federal Transportation Authority relief grants that were awarded to NJ Transit in 2013 in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

In 2013 the agency was awarded more than $409 million. Since superstorm Sandy hit, the primary focus was to bounce back from the damages by restoring infrastructure. Now, NJ Transit reports it is focused on enhancing the survivability of its transportation network.

With the advent of the microgrid project designed to keep NJ Transit’s services up and running in future extreme weather events, it received another grant from the FTA for almost $46 million, and about $15 million from New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund.

First public hearing 

At the first public hearing, focused on the power plant that would supply the microgrid system, NJ Transit officials said that they aim to begin construction on the plant in 2021. They believe the project will take four years to complete. Construction would bring about 250 construction jobs, and 30 permanent jobs once the plant is up and running.

Representatives from various labor groups support the project, both for the economic impact that the system would have by reducing disruptions for regional commuters, as well as for the local employment the project would bring in.

Heads of various environmentalist organizations weren’t thrilled about another natural gas power plant being proposed. The other is the North Bergen Liberty Generating plant.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that Kearny has been dealing with a number of environmental issues, including the town’s crusade against elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide emissions at Keegan landfill, and a chemical fire at a local chlorine plant which temporarily shut down the Pulaski Skyway last month.

“The agency wants a natural gas plant for their microgrid instead of using renewable energy,” Tittel said. “It’s sort of like having a horse pull your Tesla. That’s the opposite of resilient.” He also said that government agencies should be leading the way in a transition to renewable resources.

Agency officials maintained that, to get the project operational, renewable power sources aren’t viable as an alternative to the central power plant. There isn’t enough acreage for wind farms or solar panels on the town’s Hackensack River peninsula.

The central power plant would be about 2.5 miles away from the nearest residential area in Kearny.

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