Earth Day Message: Scrap Power Plant Plans, Block Pinelands Pipeline

Tom Johnson | April 23, 2014 | Energy & Environment
Advocates argue that 22-mile natural gas pipeline is essential to resilience of South Jersey

B.L. England power plant
Yesterday was Earth Day, and several of the state’s environmental groups spent a part of it lobbying against a proposal to build a 22-mile natural gas pipeline to the B.L. England power plant, which would enable the facility to be reopened rather than shut down.

The proposed refueling of the power plant in Upper Township in Cape May County has emerged as a major environmental issue, primarily because the proposed pipeline would traverse through the core of the protected Pinelands Forest Management Area.

The plant, which formerly used coal to run one of its two units, is scheduled to shut down on May 1, if no agreement is reached to repower the facility, according to a consent order reached between its operator, Rockland Capital, and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The plan to repower the plant took a major hit when the Pinelands Commission in a highly contentious decision in January narrowly blocked the pipeline to deliver natural gas to the facility. That decision is opposed by many lawmakers in the region, among others, who argue the power station is necessary to maintain reliability of the power grid in South Jersey.

“The B.L. England power plant should be retired — not restarted as the worst global-warming polluter in South Jersey,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “The Pinelands Commission’s decision to stop the pipeline was clear –and state legislators shouldn’t try to circumvent the commission.’’

South Jersey Gas, which proposed the $90 million pipeline project, is still evaluating its options in the wake of the commission’s decision, according to Joanne Brigandi, a spokeswoman for the utility.

“From our perspective, it’s more about the gas line providing redundancy to our customers in Cape May County,’’ she said. If another extreme storm event came ashore and disrupted service along the existing gas line, it could leave 140,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties without service for multiple months, Brigandi said.

Environmentalists disagreed.

“This is the most important location in New Jersey when it comes to protecting the future of our environment,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “We have a clear choice between fossil fuels or clean energy, protection of the most important wild area in New Jersey, the Pinelands, or a pipeline.’’

Not only conservationists were troubled by the pipeline project. In an unusual rebuke, four former governors — two Republicans and two Democrats — wrote to the Pinelands commission opposing the project, saying it could compromise the integrity of the Pinelands Plan.

The pipeline project, however, originally won backing from both the Pinelands Commission and the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. Its goal of converting coal-fired power units to natural gas is aligned with the state Energy Master Plan adopted by the Christie administration, which aims to promote natural gas as a cleaner way of producing electricity in New Jersey.

Closing B.L. England could potentially exacerbate reliability problems in the region, according to some observers, especially once the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant is shuttered in 2019 as proposed under an agreement with the Christie administration.

“This project is about profit. It’s not about health or the electric supply or jobs. It’s craven profits on the backs of people and the Pine Barrens,’’ said Georgina Shanley with Don’t Gas the Pinelands Coalition.