B.L. England is not shutting down anytime soon — again.
The power plant in Beesleys Point, scheduled to close next month, will continue to operate under a directive from PJM Interconnection, the operator of the nation’s largest power grid.
The decision is largely unrelated to a continuing controversy over the past few years about converting the coal-fired generating facility to natural gas by building a 22-mile gas pipeline to the facility, partly through the Pinelands. That project is tied up in litigation.
PJM wants the remaining units at the plant to keep running for another two years while transmission upgrades now underway are completed to maintain the reliability of the power grid. That work is not expected to be finished until 2019, according to PJM.
“If the transmission work is done, they could be retired sooner,’’ said Ray Dotter, a spokesman for PJM.
The owner of the plant agreed to shut down the facility — at the time one of the most polluting units in the state — according to an administrative consent order with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2014. The order included a provision that the shutdown would not take effect if PJM deemed the units needed to keep the lights on in the region, which it has.
The administrative order replaced a previous directive to shut down the plant in 2015, but the department agreed to extend the deadline, in part to allow the facility more time to win approval for the new gas pipeline to the location.
After years of debate, the pipeline project won approval from the Pinelands Commission earlier this year, but since then three conservation groups have challenged the decision in state appellate court. Opponents of the project, including four former governors, claim it violates the agency’s Comprehensive Management Plan and threatens the 1-million-acre preserve.
The Christie administration, labor, business interests, and top lawmakers, however, back the project, saying it will provide cleaner and cheaper energy to the region.
As required, RC Cape May Holdings, LLC, the owner of B.L. England, filed a deactivation notice with PJM late last year. Under a so-called Reliability Must Run order, the owner of a power plant will receive extra payments to keep the units active and available to run.
RC Cape May Holdings submitted a filing to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in March seeking compensation under the RMR order.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, opposed keeping the two units running for another two years, noting that four new power plants have come online in the state in the past couple of years. “That means more pollution from a plant that should have closed,’’ he said.