Home > Uncategorized > Debunking NJ Transit Lies About A Proposed $546 Million New Fossil Power Plant Boondoggle

Debunking NJ Transit Lies About A Proposed $546 Million New Fossil Power Plant Boondoggle

Documents Show NJ Transit Lied About Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Federal Funding Driving Christie Era “Resilience” Project

New Fossil Power Makes a Mockery of Gov. Murphy’s Climate & Energy Policies

[Update – letter to DEP below]

Because I’ve followed Trenton environmental politics for over 35 years and witnessed the decline and corrupt degradation, I’m a skeptic and often a cynic. But this one was so bad it shocked me.

This one illustrates what legendary investigative journalist IF Stone wrote: the damning facts are in plain sight, in government documents. (but do journalists even read the documents anymore?)

NJ Transit (NJT) is proposing to build a $546 MILLION new fracked gas fossil fueled 140 megawatt power plant in the Meadowlands in a floodplain and on a toxic waste site, adjacent to a Superfund site, along the Hackensack River, in an air quality non-attainment area with glaring environmental justice issues in Kearny NJ, and while the public is diverted and preoccupied by a deadly pandemic. They put a 0.6 megawatt 4 acre solar farm as lipstick on this pig and portrayed it as a cutting edge energy and climate project.

Can it get any worse?

Just think what more than half a billion dollars could do to address NJ Transit’s infrastructure deficits or advance energy efficiency and renewable energy (instead of building a fossil dinosaur).

Here is the clueless NJ press coverage, which totally misrepresented the project as a done deal, with approvals:

In fact, the project faces huge regulatory and economic hurdles and tremendous public opposition. The “lights” are all flashing red, not green.

I) Orwellian Justification

In order to distract from the facts, the project is euphemistically disguised as the incredibly misleading – “NJ Transit Grid Traction Power System”.

The fossil fueled project is described as a “micro grid”, a path to NJ’s clean energy economy, and that will reduce current greenhouse gas emissions. 

Here’s the complete public notice – it would make Orwell blush.

Screen Shot 2020-05-12 at 5.36.03 PM

The fossil project was conceived of, planned, designed and funded YEARS BEFORE GOV. MURPHY’s tenure. Obviously, it can not be reframed as implementing his Executive Orders and climate and energy policies.

II) NJ Transit Project Contradicts Gov. Murphy’s Clean Energy And Climate Policies

The NJT fossil fuel power plant proposal comes at a time when Gov. Murphy has promised to make deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and issued a series of Executive Orders to transition to 100% renewable energy.

At a time when Murphy’s BPU has adopted an Energy Master Plan that seeks to implement that goal.

And at a time when Murphy has issued an Executive Order that directs NJ DEP to enact regulations to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

[Note: the project quietly submitted air quality permits to DEP last year, so even if DEP were to adopt future regulations on greenhouse gas emissions, this project would be exempt from them.]

All this, while environmental groups are demanding that the Gov. impose a moratorium on new fossil infrastructure.

III) NJ Transit Flat Out Lies About Greenhouse Gas Emissions 

NJ Transit’s fracked gas fossil fueled plant would emit about 650,000 tons of greenhouse gases, not counting all the “lifecycle” methane emissions resulting from fracking wells, gas pipeline leaks, and fugitive emissions at compressor stations (none of which were even considered in the “environmental impact statement” (EIS), which was so cursory it was really an “environmental assessment”).

So, as I read the various NJ Transit documents, I was shocked by the claim by NJ Transit that their new 140 MW natural gas plant would REDUCE overall total greenhouse gas emissions by displacing more carbon intensive power plant capacity on the PJM grid.

So, I looked at the numbers.

The NJT gas plant would emit about 650,000 tons of GHG per yer (NOT considering upstream lifecycle emissions from the gas infrastructure, e.g. fracking, fugitive emissions, pipeline and compressor station emissions and leaks etc. This could be another 20% more equivalent GHG emissions).

But, NJT claims: (@ p.36)

“to provide significant environmental benefits by displacing and eliminating hundreds of thousands of tons of GhG emissions each year through generation of power for its own loads and to dispatch into the regional electric system.”

Figure 2-2 on page 37 estimates these NET total GHG emission reductions would range from 50,000 to almost 500,000 tons per year .

But, the NJT analysis uses ONLY FOSSIL FUEL SOURCES in their “displacement” analysis, not the actual mix of fuel type generation sources to the PJM grid – or the dramatic expansion in planned/projected renewable energy that will soon power the PJM grid.

So, I looked up the most recent PJM fuel mix (for 2019), and 18% is zero carbon nuclear, with about another 10% low or no carbon renewables (wind, solar, hydro, geothermal), see pie chart: (and this does not include GHG emission reductions from energy efficiency or demand management).

Use of the actual carbon emissions from the current PJM fuel mix more than wipes out NJ Transit’s  alleged “displacement” GHG emissions reductions.

The “baseline” for any comparison of GHG emissions should be alternative renewable power sources.

I can’t believe they would make exaggerated and false claims on something so critical (i.e. GHG emissions) and so easy to debunk.

On top of this obvious lie, the project assumes that the 140 megawatts in power it generates would displace more polluting current fossil power. This not only ignores low/no carbon nuclear and renewable source of energy to the (current or planned) PJM grid, it has no basis in regulatory reality. There is no regulatory requirement that each megawatt from NJ Transit fossil be displaced by another dirtier fossil plant. More likely, the existing fossil sources that power the PJM grid would continue to operate, would not be displaced, and/or the PJM grid (or PSE&G) would export their power or allocate it to serve new growth or backup reserve power.

They don’t even examine the economic reality of their assumption.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg of lies deployed to sell this boondoggle.

IV) Federal Funding Is Driving Project, Not Energy or Climate Policy

I found this gem, in “errata” to revise the text of the Final EIS. It’s part of a disingenuous and cynical effort to claim that the project is consistent with Gov. Murphy’s climate related Executive Orders (28 and 100) and Energy Master Plan. The revisions delete original language and replace it with spin.

But the revised text that is most revealing is excerpted below. It  reveals that FEDERAL FUNDING is what limits the use of off shore wind as a NJT power source, instead of this new $546 million fossil boondoggle. Federal funding  – not technology, economics, energy policy, or greenhouse gas emissions – is what’s driving this boondoggle. NJT is only building it because the feds are picking up the tab.You see, the project is 75% federally funded (only 25% NJ Transportation Trust). Here it is (excerpt of full text, emphasis mine):

1.5.2.9 Chapter 7 – Greenhouse Gas Emissions (p. 17-18)

• Section 7.4.5, page 7-7, includes the following text, revised and supplemented as shown

“Offshore wind energy is an emerging technology. The NJ TRANSITGRID’s design does not preclude the incorporation of the emerging technologies. In keeping with the purpose and need for the proposed Project and consistent with the source of funds for the proposed Project, offshore wind in itself will not satisfy the resiliency and reliability needs of the proposed Project at this time. Therefore, while NJ TRANSIT will likely be using offshore wind energy by 2050 through regional PJM grid, under the current funding, regulatory conditions, and grant requirements, it is not feasible to include offshore wind as a potential replacement to natural gas generation for the proposed Project.”

The “feasibility” of wind has nothing to do with the performance of energy technology, greenhouse gas emissions, or economics. The federal funding won’t allow it.

V)  Original Project Justification Revised

In an extraordinary example of revisionism, the entire purpose and justification of the project is being re-written.

The project was conceived and designed in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

But it is now being sold as a project to implement Gov. Murphy’s climate and energy policies.

VI) Energy Justification Would Cripple Renewables

This issue gets fairly technical, but basically the NJT document lays out the rationale for integrating fossil with renewables, while rejecting the feasibility of 100% renewables.

This alleged infeasibility is due not only to the so called renewable power “intermittency” problem (i.e. sometimes the sun don’t shine and the wind don’t blow), but due to additional technical, regulatory and economic factors and barriers.

To their credit, NJT documents directly engage the issue and pose the question (starting on page 7):

As indicated, NJ TRANSITGRID is being designed to take advantage of anticipated mid- term to long-term technical innovations that will provide a path to net-zero by 2050 for the New Jersey power generation sector. However, this statement may raise the question on why NJ TRANSITGRID would not just go to net-zero power production right away? Why not go immediately to net-zero power production using large-scale renewable energy resources (such as grid-scale PV) coupled with energy storage?

Please read their answer to that question-

They also clearly lay out the fundamental system options we are faced with: either: 1) natural gas with solar & wind, or 2) 100% renewables with energy storage.

If the State of NJ accepts this analysis, it will set a precedent and have dire consequences for the economics, regulation, and infrastructure design (the grid et al) for the entire “transition” to renewables.

VII) Project Is A Federally Funded Throwback to Sandy

This NJT project originated as part of the Christie administration’s response to Superstorm Sandy. It was designed to address the “resilience” issue and provide NJ transit with emergency power. It is now being re-framed and re-packaged as a sustainable energy project and transition to a decarbonized 100% renewable economy (by 2050).

But the NJ Transit documents reinvent this history and present the project as advancing 100% renewables and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s how NJ Transit responded to public criticism:

The proposed Project is designed to serve as a bridge between today’s available technologies and those of the future and has been innovatively designed to evolve over time. During normal operations, the power generated and used by the NJ TRANSITGRID project will eliminate the need for NJ TRANSIT to purchase power from less efficient higher emitting power generating resources, such as older coal and natural gas technologies.

But here is the actual original justification for the project, from the “Purpose and need” section of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement:

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) selected the NJ TRANSITGRID TRACTION POWER SYSTEM as one element of the “NJ TRANSITGRID” project, a Public Transportation Resilience Project in response to Hurricane Sandy. FTA’s selection of the proposed Project makes it potentially eligible for funds made available under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (Pub. L. 113-2).

Clearly, the project had nothing to do with energy or climate policy or Gov. Murphy’s Energy Master Plan or Executive Orders.

VIII) GHG Emission From The Project Are Exempt From DEP Climate Regulations

The project submitted its DEP air quality permits over a year ago. Projects are regulated based on the rules in place at the time permits are submitted, so even if DEP revises regulations, the project is exempt.

Because NJ DEP still does not have enforceable regulations on greenhouse gas emissions – and the BPU Energy Master Plan has no teeth – instead of killing the project for the right energy and climate reasons, the Murphy DEP has the authority and will need to kill the project using the Clean Water Act.

NJ Transit’s own documents explain how:

2.4.7 Water Quality Certificate

Freshwater wetlands and regulated activities in waters of the U.S. within the Meadowlands are regulated by the USACE, not the NJDEP DLUR. However, the USACE requires projects to receive a Water Quality Certificate from the NJDEP DLUR prior to the USACE issuing a permit pursuant to the Clean Waters Act of 1977 or Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, verifying that proposed projects will not negatively affect the quality of waters of the U.S. As the proposed Project includes up to 2 acres of permanent impacts to freshwater wetlands and waters within the Meadowlands District, a Water Quality Certificate will be required.

IX) How has this remained below the radar?

Will NJ environmental activists get the word out?

Will the NJ press corps expose this fraud?

Will Gov. Murphy and DEP Commissioner McCabe walk the walk and block this fossil dinosaur?

Will the NJ legislature hold oversight hearings?

Sadly, we’re not optimistic.

[Update – 5/13/20 –  I sent the below email to Ruth Foster, who heads DEP’s Office of Permit Coordination and Environmental Review, the Office that reviews Environmental Impact Statements on behalf of DEP:

———- Original Message ———-
From: Bill WOLFE <bill_wolfe@comcast.net>
To: Ruth.Foster@dep.nj.gov
Date: May 13, 2020 at 10:37 AM
Subject: DEIS NJT power plant, Kearny

Hi Ruth – I was just made aware of and read some of the documents on NJ Transit’s proposed 140 MW fossil power plant on the Hackensack River in Kearny.

The DEIS was superficial and flawed, as were your Office’s comments on it.

I realize that DEP still lacks regulations to authorize controls on greenhouse gas emissions and climate impacts, but did you even review the material regarding the claim that the plant would reduce current greenhouse gas emissions via displacement of other fossil power generation of the PJM grid?

That displacement argument was totally mis-leading because it did not consider the actual fuel mix on the PJM grid.

There were also major energy and climate technical and policy arguments made that required serious consideration by both DEP and BPU.

The EJ analysis was a joke.

When will DEP take climate and energy infrastructure project reviews seriously?

Wolfe

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