Will Keeping B.L. England Plant Online Mean Reliability Issues on Grid?

Tom Johnson | October 8, 2014 | Energy & Environment
Environmentalists say report from PJM Interconnection indicates there would be fewer potential problems if facility is shut down

BL England Power Plant
If the B.L. England coal-fired power plant is converted to natural gas, it could tax the reliability of the power grid more so than if the plant had been retired as once anticipated, according to environmentalists.

Critics of the project, citing a report last month by an advisory committee of the PJM Interconnection, the operator of the nation’s largest power grid, claimed there would be fewer potential reliability issues if the plant shut down rather than remained open.

In either case, ratepayers would probably face increased costs for upgrades to high-voltage transmission lines that would be required to address potential reliability problems on the power grid.

If the B.L. England plant shuts down, PJM has identified costs of approximately $143 million that consumers would pay for necessary transmission systems improvements, according to Paula DuPont-Kidd, a PJM spokeswoman.

But Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that if the plant stays open, it could cost ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrades to deploy as many as seven transmission lines to prevent overloads and blackouts.

PJM has not identified costs of the continued operation or repowering of the B.L. England plant, DuPont said in an e-mail responding to questions about the report.

The issue of whether to keep the plant operating for another two years — it was originally scheduled to close in May 2015 under a consent decree with the state Department of Environmental Protection — is highly contentious.

Environmentalists oppose the project saying it is unnecessary given the drop in energy demand; three new natural gas power plants coming online in New Jersey; and increased use of distributed generation resources, such as solar power and combined heat and power (CHP), which generate electricity more efficiently than conventional power plants.

But the project, which as originally proposed would ship natural gas to B.L. England through a 22-mile long pipeline through the heart of the Pinelands, is backed by most business groups and key legislators, who argue it is needed to maintain reliability in southern New Jersey.

That view was endorsed by the DEP, when it decided this past July to allow the plant to continue operating, possibly until May 2017. “Really the big factor is reliability,’’ Larry Hajna, a spokesman for DEP said at the time.

If the project moves forward, environmentalists fear the pipeline project, which the Pinelands Commission failed to approve earlier this year, will be revived, this time accompanied by a series of transmission upgrades also going through environmentally sensitive areas.

“We don’t need the plant; we don’t need the pipeline,’’ Tittel said.

Wil Burns, an attorney who frequently represents environmental groups, agreed.

“The B.L. England units should retire as anticipated, instead of repowering gas or staying on-line as coal plants and causing serious grid reliability issues for large portions of southern New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania,’’ he said.

Asked about PJM’s assertion that the reports do not indicate more reliability problems if the plant remains open, Burns, who attended a series of meetings on the issue, said ‘’the clear impression we got was there would be more transmission overloads’’ if the plant kept running.

In response to those claims Ray Dotter, another spokesman for PJM, said the report acknowledged some transmission upgrades might not be necessary if the B.L. England plant did retire.

“PJM’s regular analysis of future needs (unrelated to plant retirement) has identified transmission lines that were expected to be overloaded, but eliminating the power flowing from the plant means the overloads might not occur,’’ Dotter said in an email.

Up to seven transmission line upgrades would be reevaluated if the plant does not shut down as expected, according to Dotter.