Bayonne passes resolution opposing proposed PVSC power plant in Newark

North Bergen is still 'searching for the truth'

Bayonne has joined municipalities in Hudson County in opposing a proposed power plant in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark.

The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) is proposing to construct a gas-fired power plant in the Ironbound neighborhood of Newark. The planned Standby Power Generation Facility was proposed as part of a resiliency project in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy to provide back-up power to the facility.

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Residents and activists have been rallying municipal governments to oppose the plant, as they did with the proposed NJ TransitGrid fracked-gas power plant in Kearny. Many are concerned that the plant would likely be used more than just in a back-up scenario, adding to pollution in the surrounding area.

Last June, the PVSC announced that it plans to reevaluate its current proposal for the power plant at its sewage treatment facility in Newark after community members and environmental activists from across the region opposed the plan in favor of renewable energy.

Regardless of the announcement, activists are keeping the pressure on PVSC by rallying municipalities across the state to pass resolutions opposing the plant in lieu of cleaner energy alternatives. And Bayonne is their most recent victory.

The Bayonne City Council voted unanimously at its May meeting to approve a resolution that opposes the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s proposed gas-burning power plant. The resolution supports the use of a renewable energy-based hybrid micro-grid powered primarily by solar and battery storage for PVSC to achieve its resiliency goals.

Road to passing the resolution

In February, Sam DiFalco addressed the council on behalf of the Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Coalition, founded amid the opposition to the proposed power plant in North Bergen that continued that activism to oppose the gas-fired power plant by NJ Transit in Kearny. DiFalco noted that Bayonne had opposed the Kearny power plant via resolution in the past and asked the council to do the same of this proposal.

“We were so appreciative of the Bayonne City Council in the fall of 2020 passing a resolution against the proposal by New Jersey Transit to build a power plant not far from bayonne. in Kearny. Now our coalition is concerned about a similar proposal by the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission. This is yet another major source of air pollution that will negatively impact Newark and the surrounding region. Right downwind is Jersey City and parts of Bayonne. We’re really concerned about this. This is a public agency that has received a taxpayer-funded grant to build this power plant. We are not opposed to them building resiliency so they can have their own backup sources of power, but we’re calling on them to do it with renewable energy.”

DiFalco asked the council to pass a resolution against the PVSC proposal in Newark and in favor of renewable energy alternatives, as the council had done with the NJ Transit proposal in Kearny.

“I’m speaking tonight to ask if the Bayonne City Council will consider passing a resolution against this project,” DiFalco said. “I’m calling on Governor Murphy to direct PVSC to use a federal FEMA grant and invest it in renewable technology instead of a power plant. That would be in line with his own environmental justice and clean energy goals for New Jersey. We seriously hope you reconsider this for your next council meeting in March. Again, thank you so much for the leadership you’ve already showed for the environment by passing that resolution a year and a half ago against the proposal by NJ Transit.”

Bayonne council on board… twice

City Council President Sharon Ashe-Nadrowski noted the council had received the model resolution earlier that day and would have passed it right there, but due to the new rule regarding add-on resolutions she said it would be on at the next meeting.

“I did put on the one for Kearny, and I have every intention of bringing forth the one that you sent us,” Ashe-Nadrowski said. “I couldn’t agree with you more. We are all about clean energy and renewable energy. Just like what was proposed in Kearny, we are downwind of this. We’re just across the bay here. So it will be on for consideration next month. I appreciate your stewardship and following up on these and holding people accountable.”

At the March meeting, the resolution passed without comment as part of the consent agenda, which was moved and voted on as a whole. However, when the Bayonne Community News reached out to the City Clerk’s Office for a copy of the resolution, BCN was told it was removed from the agenda.

First hand recollection from this journalist and footage of the meeting posted online by the city confirm there was no mention of the resolution removed at the March council meeting. Public Information Officer Joe Ryan and Law Director Jay Coffey were not familiar with the resolution or its removal at the meeting. And Ashe-Nadrowski didn’t know what happened either.

Nothing came of the resolution at the April meeting. But in May, the resolution again appeared on the agenda. This time it was on the end of consent agenda, and it passed unanimously for the second time.

Bayonne now joins much of the rest of the county, including Jersey City, Hoboken, Weehawken, West New York, and Secaucus, among potentially others, in opposing PVSC’s current proposal.

North Bergen resident petitions township

Meanwhile, one other municipality is still weighing the initiative: North Bergen.

Resident Bill McClelland previously petitioned the township to pass such an initiative. However, Township Counsel Tom Kobin said at the time that the township was still reviewing some aspects of the resolution. At the April 6 meeting of the North Bergen Board of Commissioners, McClelland again addressed the board, urging the commissioners to take action.

“Several months ago I addressed you about a resolution that we are hoping that you will pass reagrding the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission’s plan to build a fracked-gas power plant in the Ironbound section of Newark,” McClelland said. “Many towns have already passed this resolution, with more almost every week. Right now, Jersey City, Hoboken, Kearny, Secaucus, Bayonne, Union City, Weehawken, West New York, Maplewood, Livingston, and Alpine have passed resolutions and we expect Litchfield, Hackensack, and other towns to do the same soon.” 

According to McClelland, the issue is not with the backup power plant but its use of fossil fuel. That, coupled with the instances in which it could be used and the area it would be located, have solidified his and others resistance to the plans.

“This plant is intended to be a backup power plant in case of another emergency like Hurricane Sandy, in which the grid goes down and they need backup power,” McClelland said. “But they plan to build this power plant using fracked natural gas. And as you know, this sort of thing, burning fossil fuels causes more pollution which causes more climate change… The Ironbound section has been pummeled with pollution over the decades. There’s already three other power plants in that same area… We’re in a climate crisis right now, and every single thing like this is going to make it worse.”

McClelland said that PVSC has had a decade since Sandy to come up with a better plan and they haven’t met the demands of the people in the neighborhood that they have spoken with.

“We’re just asking them to go back and work with the people and groups like ours who are giving them alternatives and want to work with them,” McClelland said.

Township maintains position 

 In response, Township Counsel Tom Kobin noted the township hasn’t passed the resolution due to two facts in that PVSC disputes, one being the idea that the power plant would be a “peaker plant.”

“I think the concerns on this are in the resolution,” Kobin said. “There’s two things that sort of jump out. One is that it’s referenced as a ‘peaker plant.’ This power plant was originally desgined that if there’s major drains on the power grid during the summer, PVSC could run this plant in lieu of using energy off the grid. But that was taken off the table. So it’s no longer a ‘peaker plant.’ The resolution provides that it is. So PVSC disputes that.”

Kobin said the township also disputed how often the power plant would run on a regular basis.

“The other thing is the resolution indicates it’s going to run one day a week,” Kobin said. “PVSC said that’s not the case, and it would be started up once a month for less than a day.”

According to Kobin, the technology to make the plant completely alternative energy is not available yet. And PVSC has been working with residents of Newark, he added.

“Right now, the technology is not there to use exclusive alternative energy on site,” Kobin said. “They can pull energy from other sources miles away, but that defeats the purpose of having an on site power plant… I think PVSC has tried and met with you guys on multiple occassions to try and figure out alternative ways. I think they do have some alternatives that could come online down the road.”

McClelland responded: “We have worked with them. They want to act like they are listening to us. And then they come right back to the same thing… They’re not listening… And my understanding is, in the most recent permit application, they are still defining an emergency as something in which you it could be a particularly hot day and they could be running this up to 24 hours a week. That has not changed.”

Sacco doesn’t want to ‘jump on bandwagon’

Mayor Nicholas Sacco, also a state Senator for the 32 Legislative District, then interjected and voiced his opposition.

“PVSC is claiming to us that it has changed and that it’s no longer a ‘peaker plant,'” Sacco said. “They’re saying the reports you’re giving are not accurate. That’s what the issue is. And I don’t want to pass something that inaccurate and jump on the bandwagon… They’re saying let’s find the real truth here and we’re trying to find out.”

According to Kobin, the township is trying to find an engineer to give their opinion on the situation so that the commissioners can decided what to do with the resolution accordingly.

“What we’re trying to do is getting an engineer to advise us on this,” Kobin said.

However, the township is running into an issue finding an engineer who doesn’t have a stake in the matter.

“I’ve reached out to several and they’re all conflicted,” Kobin said.

He continued, noting that he has seen some information from PVSC himself and that PVSC has been working with the community in response to questions from McClelland: “They’ve been holding hearings on this over years. They’re taking in all different alternatives. They’ve haven’t invoked them apparently to you and your group’s satisfaction.”

Kobin went on to say the township wouldn’t act until the township engineer could locate another non-conflicted engineer to give their opinion.

“Until someone tells us, whose got some expertise on this, who is right and wrong, I don’t think the mayor and commissioners want to adopt something that is wrong,” Kobin said.

Still ‘searching for the truth’

Sacco echoed Kobin, criticisizing other towns who have passed similar resolutions: “A lot of towns have jumped on the bandwagon. They don’t know what they signed on to. We’re looking to see what the truth is. Whatever the truth is, we intended to be where the truth of the matter is.”

Sacco added he was impartial to both sides but that North Bergen passing a resolution would not matter: “We’re trying to be fair to both sides of this. But if we pass a resolution or not, it’s not going to change anything. It may sound good, but they’re still moving ahead where they are. The only one who could probably stop this is the governor.”

McClelland said that Murphy is looking at towns resolutions, especially with towns with track records with PVSC such as North Bergen. Sacco was still not convinced.

Some people will jump on anything just because it sounds good,” Sacco said. “It’s the wrong thing to do if we don’t know the answers. Let’s hope by next month we can get the answers.” 

However, the topic did not come up at further meetings in April nor May. 

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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