NEWARK, NJ – The future of a proposed “standby power plant” at a Newark wastewater facility does not appear to be set in stone.
On Thursday, the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) confirmed it will re-examine its plan to build a natural gas power plant at its existing sewage treatment facility in the Ironbound section of Newark. The commission will examine whether there are “renewable options” for the project – which has also happened in the past, said a spokesman.
The long-term proposal is part of a resilience plan that emerged after Hurricane Sandy. During the now infamous storm, the PVSC sewage facility in Newark was flooded, causing billions of gallons of raw or partially purified sewage to enter the Passaic River.
Since then, the PVSC has carried out an extensive series of renovations to avoid future disasters. Part of this plan is the construction of a 34-megawatt power plant that would provide the sewage treatment plant with emergency power in the event of a grid failure.
The PVSC described the need for such an addition in a call for proposals in 2016:
“After Superstorm Sandy, many PVSC systems suffered significant damage due to floods that inundated much of the system. These floods were partly due to the power failure at the sewage plant to design and install a standby power generation system capable of providing enough power to meet all the needs of the sewage plant in the event of a similar event. “
A PVSC spokesman told Patch that the facility would run on “the same natural gas that people across Newark and New Jersey generally use to heat their homes and get their electricity from.”
“The facility will apply state-of-the-art emissions controls with negligible impact on the community,” he said.
However, some local residents and environmental activists claim the facility, as currently planned, would be bad news for local residents.
In May, a coalition of environmental, religious and social rights organizations called for a virtual board meeting of the commission and called on the agency to put the brakes on the project.
“This fracking gas facility will continue to harm the people of Ironbound who are already inappropriately contaminated with an overwhelming number of environmentally hazardous facilities in their area,” said Maria Lopez-Nunez, organizer of the Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC).
“The sewage treatment plant should have some form of backup generator – but one that will improve our community,” demanded Lopez-Nunez.
According to the ICC, the Ironbound district has long been plagued by an oversupply of waste processing plants and other environmental hazards. These include a large incinerator on Raymond Boulevard, a rendering plant on Wilson Avenue that is accused of emitting “foul smells”, and a planned bio-solids treatment plant on Doremus Avenue.
“Newark can’t be everyone else’s dump,” agreed Kim Gaddy, a local resident who also spoke at the board meeting in May.
“We need resilience in the event of another disaster like Superstorm Sandy, but the solution cannot be to continue the legacy of New Jersey environmental racism,” said Gaddy, founder of the South Ward Environmental Alliance and national director of environmental justice for Clean Water Action.
“My family and neighbors are already suffering from toxic pollution from the nearby port, highways, airport, incinerator, many other chimneys and contaminated sites,” said Gaddy.
‘A NECESSARY COMPONENT’
On Thursday, the New Jersey section of the Sierra Club said the PVSC’s decision to revisit “renewable options” was a step in the right direction.
Acting director Taylor McFarland said renewable alternatives could include tidal, hydro or wind power, as well as battery storage and flywheels.
“We would like to thank the PVSC for taking this step forward,” said McFarland. “Now we have to make sure we hold them accountable.”
However, a PVSC spokesperson told Patch that the effort was not new; The agency has been trying to work with the community on the proposal for almost a decade.
“The PVSC does not start with the public engagement process, it opens it again,” he said. “The PVSC has held several public meetings over the past eight years to discuss this project with interested stakeholders.”
“The comments received – including those from the ICC – have been taken into account,” he added.
And unless there is a new option that has never been released before, the result can be the same. According to PVSC:
“[We] Renewable energy sources, including wind and solar energy, have already been assessed for potential use as fuel sources for the SPGF. In the opinion of the consulting engineers at PVSC, these options were not feasible due to physical and technological limitations. What PVSC is doing now is re-examining renewable options because the public has asked us to. “
Does the PVSC plan to replace this proposal with another project in Newark, including one with renewable energy?
“Not at the moment, but that’s exactly why we’re meeting with the public,” the agency told Patch on Thursday. “If another realistic, reliable fuel source can be identified, PVSC will consider that source and the next steps in the project. The standby power plant is only one component of the PVSC plan for hazard mitigation. However, it is a necessary component regardless of how it is fueled. “
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