Proposed Pinelands Pipeline Back Before Commission That Oversees Preserve

South Jersey Gas says it has ‘new details’ about grid reliability that will win approval for the project

B.L. England power plant.
South Jersey Gas is trying to revive its proposed 22-mile pipeline that would deliver natural gas to a power plant in northern Cape May County, a project that has come under intense criticism from conservationists and four former governors.

The Folsom-based utility yesterday filed an amended application with the New Jersey Pinelands Commission seeking approval of the project along the original route, which cuts through part of the protected Pinelands Forest Management Area.

The project is one of at least a dozen new pipelines or extensions that have been proposed in New Jersey since the discovery of plentiful deposits of natural gas in neighboring Pennsylvania, which has driven down energy costs for both consumers and businesses.

In January 2014, however, the commission effectively blocked the project when it deadlocked in a 7-7 vote on the proposal, which is strongly backed by the Christie administration and some South Jersey lawmakers.

Since then, Gov. Chris Christie replaced a long-time advocate on the commission overseeing the 1.1 million acre preserve with a new member, Robert Barr. Opponents of the project fear he will provide the swing vote necessary to move the proposal forward. Barr declined to state his views on the project during his confirmation hearing.

The pipeline will deliver gas to the B.L. England power plant, which would use the fuel instead of coal to generate electricity for the region. With the retirement of the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant in 2019, PJM Interconnection — the operator of the regional power grid– and the state Department of Environmental Protection concluded that repowering B.L. England is necessary to maintain reliability of the system.

[related]That is one of the “new details’’ included in the amended application. Another was the benefit of using gas instead of coal to run the facility, a step the utility said would reduce harmful air pollution. The contract between South Jersey Gas and RC Cape May Holdings, the owner of the plant in Beesley Point, requires gas be used to supply the unit on at least 350 days out of the year. The project also will reduce congestion on the power grid, which can spike electricity costs for customers.

Earlier this month, the DEP reaffirmed its original decision that the route of the proposed pipeline is by far the least environmentally damaging of eight different routes that were under consideration.

“The new details we have provided clearly confirm that this project meets the requirements of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan,’’ said Robert Fatzinger, a senior vice president with South Jersey Gas. “It also will provide clean-burning fuel for local electricity generation at the B.L. England plant.’’

Environmentalists said they were not surprised the utility is again pushing the project before the commission.

“This is Groundhog Day for the commission,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey. “This is the same pipeline on the same route using the same arguments rejected by the Pinelands Commission.’’

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, called the pipeline unneeded and unnecessary. “The proposed pipeline would disrupt vulnerable forested land and threaten water supply,’’ he said.

Beyond enhancing reliability, the utility said the pipeline would provide a critical backup supply route for natural gas to more than 142,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties who are currently served by a single pipeline.

The project has won approval from the DEP, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.