A new facility to replace Oyster Creek Nuclear Generating Station upon its closure would adequately make up for lost taxes and power generation but fall far short of providing the jobs currently offered at the nuclear power plant.
The challenge of providing opportunities for the 700-plus Oyster Creek workforce as well as the process to reach a consensus on what type of plant should replace Oyster Creek was discussed by local and state officials Wednesday night, as Congressman Jon Runyan (R-3) held a public information session at Lacey Middle School.
"To get this right we're going to need everyone's help in this process," said Runyan at a meeting in which officials from Lacey, Barnegat, Waretown and several state departments and boards discussed the task of finding a replacement for the plant, America's oldest operating nuclear power facility, which will be decommissioned in 2019.
"I realized... we needed to act quickly. We need to get out in front of this and not make it a crisis," the congressman said.
The economic impact of the closure was foremost on the minds of local officials.
"There's no question Oyster Creek represents a major economic engine," said Al Bille, deputy mayor of Barnegat. Lacey Mayor Mark Dykoff agreed, saying the plant's loss could have broad economic impacts on Ocean County beyond just the loss of jobs locally.
Natural Gas the 'Only Answer'
A natural gas facility would by far be the least costly option to replace Oyster Creek, according to data presented by Gary Finger, an ombudsman with the Board of Public Utilities, as well as representatives of Birdsall Services Group, an engineering firm.
Finger estimates it would take roughly $834 million to build a natural gas facility, excluding infrastructure costs, to replace the approximately 625 megawatts of generation capacity at Oyster Creek. In comparison, a wind-powered facility could cost upwards of $3.56 billion; biomass, $3.5 billion; and solar, $16 billion. A new nuclear facility would take years to get through the permitting process, up to seven more years to build, and would otherwise be fairly cost-prohibitive.
"The prospect of new nuclear generation to replace Oyster Creek is not likely achievable by the end of this decade," Finger said.
However, a gas-powered facility could be built in roughly three years, said Dave Most, Lacey Township committeeman and 30-year Oyster Creek veteran.
"Gas is cheap and abundant," Most said.
It also is comparatively cleaner than nuclear or coal, said Fred Fastiggi of Birdsall, but would not offer the same complement of permanent jobs as a nuclear facility.
Fastiggi said 25 to 30 fulltime jobs would likely be available at a natural gas facility, versus the 700 at Oyster Creek currently. However, he estimates property taxes or a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) windfall would likely keep pace with the revenue Oyster Creek brings to municipal coffers.
"Natural gas, clean burning, is the only answer," said Joseph Lachawiec, Waretown committeeman. "The question is, how do we get gas to the plant," he said.
Such a challenge could come with benefits. "Think about the jobs created" just by building infrastructure, Most said.
A new plant would not physically replace Oyster Creek but would sit on 528.7 acres behind the facility that are owned by JCP&L, said Peter Van den Kooy of Birdsall, which conducted a feasibility study for Lacey Township for $22,500. The study provided an assessment of existing conditions, development constraints and permitting requirements at the proposed site, 798 South Main St.
The land has a variety of environmental constraints, including wetlands, endangered animals and floodplains, Van den Kooy said. Additionally, any power facility located there would go through a lengthy permitting process covering stormwater management, freshwater wetlands, flood hazards and more.
Perhaps the greatest barrier would be impervious coverage regulations under the Coastal Area Facility Review Act (CAFRA), which places stringent regulations on land near coastal waters. At best, a potential facility would likely only be able to utilize 35 percent of the 528.7 acres, Van den Kooy said.
The JCP&L site also is already zoned to allow for electricity generating stations.
Birdsall has found that the land is "feasible for the site" with the only real drawback identified as the CAFRA regulations.
New power generation in southern Ocean County also is a priority in the state's Energy Master Plan, although it does not explicitly advocate for a new plant. Still, it notes, “There are a number of good reasons to locate a new plant on the Lacey Township property, including the presence of a highly skilled workforce, community support for such an initiative, and the existing electrical transmission infrastructure."
The Energy Master Plan also gives a boost to natural gas facilities, said Bob Marshall of the state Department of Environmental Protection.
"We recognize great strides in natural gas development" in the plan, Marshall said.
Local and state officials stressed that Wednesday's information session was merely to start the conversation within the community rather than an attempt to impose any specific solution, despite the apparent preference of many to explore the possibility of a natural gas facility.
But the state "can't just come up with a vision based on a dream," said Dan Kennedy of the Department of State.
Instead, further public workshops will be held (residents had the chance to speak with each official individually after the presentations Wednesday night) and the state will review all relevant master plans, CAFRA regulations and planning regulations.
After the reviews, the state will discuss the feasibility of various replacement options in an attempt to reach consensus before developing strategies that could lead to a provider building on the JCP&L site.
"Tonight is the first step in a process," Runyan said.