NJ Transit Withdraws Air Permit to Quash Concerns about Microgrid

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NJ Transit withdrew the air permit applications for a 140-MW natural gas-fired power plant in an effort to quash concerns it would be included as part of a planned microgrid.

NJ Transit light rail trolley stopped at the Washington Park station. By LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES/Shutterstock.com

Earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy asked the NJ Transit’s board to withdraw the permits, saying the power plant didn’t line up with the state’s climate policies. New Jersey law requires the state to cut its carbon emissions by 80% below 2006 levels by 2050.

The issue centers on the NJ Transitgrid, a $577 million microgrid designed to provide reliable service on a key portion of the rail system between New York City and northern New Jersey.

The project was conceived after Superstorm Sandy caused widespread lengthy power outages along the East Coast in 2012. Two years later, the Federal Transit Administration awarded $410 million for the project.

In October, NJ Transit decided to pull the gas-fired power plant from the project and explore the possibility the microgrid could be served entirely by renewable energy. However, the board left air permit applications in place at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, raising concerns the power plant could still be built. 

Committed to microgrid

“The NJ Transitgrid remains a critical resiliency project that will provide uninterrupted power to key segments of our rail system when power to the existing grid is unavailable,” NJ Transit spokeswoman Kate Thompson said Jan. 19. 

“While NJ Transit is committed to building this project, we are also wholly committed to ensuring we maximize clean energy in this project that is consistent with Gov. Murphy’s Clean Energy Master Plan,” Thompson said.

Thompson said a new air permit application will be filed for the project after the transit agency makes a final decision on the microgrid’s design.

RFQ deadline approaches

The agency is accepting “statements of qualifications” from potential project bidders until Feb. 8 (RFQ No. 20-055).

NJ Transit plans to select up to four prequalified bidders for the project, with a request for proposals set to be issued in December. The agency plans to select a winning bidder in December 2022.

The prequalified bidders will receive stipends designed to foster “the most creative, environmentally sound bid proposals.” The board authorized NJ Transit to grant a total of $3 million in stipends.

Environmental groups praise decision

Environmental groups praised the transit agency’s decision to pull the air permits.

“It’s an important win in killing an unnecessary plant that would have been the biggest source of pollution in the state,” said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club director. “More importantly, it prevents a dirty facility to be built right in the middle of an environmental justice community.”

By setting a goal to develop what would be the largest renewable energy powered microgrid in the world, NJ Transit has an opportunity to create a more resilient public transportation system while positioning New Jersey to have a leading clean energy sector, according to the Sierra Club and other groups.

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