After more than a year of protests on land and even in the water, environmentalists got their wish. An NJ Transit project to build a back-up power system to keep trains running will be fueled by solar and battery storage instead of natural gas.
“We are reimagining the project to make it more environmentally friendly,” said Kevin Corbett, NJ Transit CEO, at Friday’s Alliance for Action transportation conference. “The goal is to get to 100% renewable energy. We want to make it as green as possible.”
The project, known as Transitgrid, has been opposed by environmentalists and 13 Hudson and Bergen county towns and cities that passed resolutions opposing the project because it would worsen pollution in North Jersey.
The 140 megawatt generator is part of the larger NJ Transitgrid Power System, a $546 million project that would provide electricity to Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, parts of NJ Transit’s Morris and Essex lines and the Hudson-Bergen light rail in case of a power outage. The project is partly funded with $410 million in federal Hurricane Sandy resiliency funds.
NJ Transit provided few details about how this will change the project, though its board of directors plans to meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday. Corbett said more information would be available as the agency reshapes the project to make it better.
“NJ Transit is committed to an approach that maximizes the use of renewable energy sources, consistent with Governor Phil Murphy’s Energy Master Plan,” said Jim Smith, an agency spokesman.
Environmentalists who opposed the plan for its potential to add to the state’s air pollution, spoke regularly at NJ Transit board meetings for months and even held a floating protest in the Hackensack River.
Opponents flooded Murphy’s office with letters and calls opposing it. Politicians like State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg spoke against the natural gas-fueled Transitgrid. Many opponents said the original power plant design was in direct contradiction to Murphy’s executive orders and policies.
“This is a big win for the environment. NJ Transit listened,” said Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who was first to raise concerns. “It will be cheaper and this will create a lot of jobs. This is a culmination of public outcry.”
NJ Transit is scheduled to have a meeting to educate interested contractors and construction companies on Oct. 28, Corbett said. That is ahead of a request for qualifications being put out.
Environmental groups also had a meeting about Transitgrid with NJ Transit last week that was promised in September by Transportation Commissioner Diane Guterrez-Scaccetti, NJ Transit’s board chairwoman.
“NJ Transit made a commitment at the September Board meeting that they would meet with representatives of the, ‘Don’t Gas the Meadowlands Committee,’ and they kept their promise,” said Paula Rogovin, a coalition member. “We eagerly await to hear more about their next steps.”
Opposition went into high gear after an agency environmental impact statement said solar and renewable energy sources were “not practical or feasible” because of the cost, location and the ability to fulfill “rapidly fluctuating” demands for electricity. Opponents argued that conclusion was based on outdated information and drafted a document showing how the technology has evolved.
“We believe, if this is an open process and they get to look at all the alternatives, they will choose a solar hybrid instead of natural gas,” Tittel said. “They can make money off it by selling extra energy, it is more cost efficient to build, it will be more resilient and people will breathe easier.”
A solar panel field will require hundreds of acres, more land than the 48-acre site that that Transitgrid has, Tittel said. However, three nearby capped landfills in the Meadowlands could provide the additional property, since solar panels are an approved use for closed landfills, he said.
If built as a solar and battery power plant, it would be a first in the nation, Tittel said.
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Larry Higgs may be reached at [email protected].