The Hoboken City Council took a stand against a proposed fracked-gas power plant that NJ Transit plans to build along the Hackensack River in Kearny as part of their transit microgrid project.
After hearing from several members of the public who discussed the effect the power plant would have on the environment and public health, the council unanimously adopted a resolution, sponsored by Councilman James Doyle and Councilwoman Emily Jabbour, opposing the power plant and urging the agency to use renewable energy.
The council’s vote marks the first vote a municipality has taken against the power plant after several grass roots campaigns and environmental activists held informational forums, spoke at NJ Transit board meetings, and conducted outreach to try and build local support against the plant.
The power plant is part NJ Transit’s $546 million NJ Transitgrid, which aims to create an electrical microgrid capable of supplying reliable power during storms or other times when the centralized power grid is compromised.
The idea of this system is that the grid will provide electric power to northeastern NJ Transit facilities powered by a 140 Mega Watt natural gas-fired power generating plant.
The purpose of the proposed project is to enhance the resiliency of the electricity supply to the NJ Transit and Amtrak infrastructure to minimize public transportation service disruptions.
According to NJ Transit the region’s public transportation infrastructure is vulnerable to power outages due to the nature of the existing centralized power distribution system and the intensity and frequency of severe weather events.
In 2012, Superstorm Sandy caused widespread and prolonged power outages that severely affected NJ Transit’s rail service.
It resulted in power outages to 8 million customers on the East Coast and approximately 2.6 million regional utility customers over a period of about 15 days and caused an estimated $50 billion in damage, according to NJ Transit.
As a result, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) selected the Transitgrid project for a $546 million grant under the Emergency Relief Program.
Public opposes power plant
According to the resolution and members of the public, the power plant would be a major new source of air pollution. They said it would release roughly 571,000 tons of carbon dioxide per year in Hudson County, which already receives an ‘F’ rating from the American Lung Association for ground level ozone pollution.
“If you care about the health and well-being of our global and local environment, if you care about the health and well-being of your family, friends and neighbors, then you must say no to the proposed NJ Transit fracked gas power plant” said Hoboken resident Liz Nodoye.
“The future of social, environmental, and economic justice depends on Governor Murphy doing the right thing for NJ – rejecting this dirty pollution plant and investing our taxpayer money into a solution that moves NJ Transit towards 100 percent clean renewable energy.”
Several members of the public noted that lung health has only become more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that New Jersey’s low-income communities and communities of color have been exposed to disproportionately high and unacceptably dangerous levels of air, water, and soil pollution, which the power plant would only add to.
“Hoboken has taken historic action against the expansion of dirty, dangerous and unnecessary fossil fuel projects in New Jersey,” said Food & Water Action organizer Sam DiFalco. “The TransitGrid project would worsen already poor air quality in the region, with a disproportionate impact on low income and black and brown communities in Kearny, Newark, Jersey City and Hoboken – many of the same communities who have been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.”
He said the project contradicts Governor Phil Murphy’s 2018 Executive Order 23 which is supposed to protect the health of the state’s most vulnerable residents who already suffer from a disproportionate pollution burden in their communities.
He added that the power plant would be a long term investment in fossil fuels which undermine the governor’s clean energy plans, and urged the governor to quash the power plant and replace it with clean energy.
The resolution, adopted unanimously by the council, echoes this statement, noting that while the council supports the goal of mass transit resiliency, the energy needed to power the microgrid project could be created through solar, wind, or tidal energy systems coupled with energy storage systems such as batteries, flywheels, or supercapacitors.
“I want to thank the Hoboken City Council for having the courage to stand up to the Murphy administration and demand that we build a power plant in accordance with our values,” said Michael Watson, a member of the Hoboken Democratic Committee and president of The Climate Mobilization – Hoboken Chapter.
“The people of Hoboken don’t want to breathe in poison, and we don’t want to exacerbate climate change. What we want is to set an example for the rest of the country, to say that yes, we can power our railway systems with clean renewable energy.”
Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club Jeff Tittle said Hoboken was standing up for residents’ lungs and the environment
“Governor Murphy should look at Hoboken’s opposition as an alarm bell going off,” said Tittel. “We are in the middle of a health emergency and we don’t need more pollution and more bad air days from another fossil fuel power plant.”
NJ Transit Chief Communications Officer Nancy Snyder said the agency will seek to maximize the use of clean energy technology.
“To ensure a full understanding of the options available for further design, NJ Transit will continue to draw on the market for ideas through an RFP process, after assembling renewable team experience as part of an RFQ process, that will seek to maximize the use of renewable and clean energy technologies,” said Snyder. “This will allow NJ Transit, in the months ahead, to further enhance design in a manner that supports Governor Murphy’s clean energy goals.”
A NJ Transit fact sheet on the project claims that “state of the art emissions controls and resilient equipment would be used to maintain and monitor air quality” and notes that “while combustion technology does produce CO2 , the microgrid would be able to produce power at greater efficiencies compared to existing facilities that currently serve the mass transit grid.”
It additionally claims that the project would also reduce the need for less efficient transportation modes by reducing power outages, which could result in reduced greenhouse gas emissions during those periods.