Plan to Convert BL England Plant to Natural Gas Is Dead on Arrival

After nearly a decade of bitter fighting, RC Cape May Holdings raises white flag over proposal to build natural-gas pipeline in Pinelands

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BL England power plant
The plan to convert the BL England power plant to natural gas, one of the most controversial projects proposed in the Pinelands, is dead — at least for now.

RC Cape May Holdings, LLC has decided to withdraw its proposed plan to repower the unit, marking a huge victory for conservation groups that have waged a long battle to block the project, which they say undermines the core protections of the more than 1 million-acre preserve.

The proposed project, to convert a former coal-powered unit in northern Cape May County to natural gas, triggered one of the most contentious fights in recent years. Four former governors opposed building a pipeline to ship natural gas to the facility through 22 miles of the Pinelands.

The company notified the Appellate Division, where the case is under litigation, that it does not plan to repower the BL England facility, which used to include coal-fired plants in Upper Township.

The project, tied up in litigation for nine years, would have traversed 22 miles of the Pinelands, a 1 million-acre preserve set aside more than four decades ago.

“This is a huge victory for the Pinelands,’’ said Carleton Montgomery, executive director of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, which had fought the project in court for years. “It was a terrible idea.’’

Opening the way to more natural gas?

The decision to abandon the repowering of the power plant, however, leaves open the question of whether natural-gas utilities will press regulatory officials to continue to approve pipelines in the state.

There is a movement in New Jersey to place a moratorium on new pipeline projects, as well as proposed natural-gas-fired power projects. Their argument is that such proposals do not fit in with the Murphy administration’s goals to have 100 percent of the state’s power come from clean-energy sources by 2050.

Montgomery argued the decision not to repower the plant will strengthen the Pinelands plan, a blueprint that came under attack during the Christie administration. His administration’s energy master plan promoted rapid expansion of the state’s natural-gas infrastructure, a policy they argued would lead to lower energy costs to consumers.

The Murphy administration is facing an outcry from environmental groups over its push to ban any new fossil-fuel projects. BL England was one of five power plants slated to be fired by natural gas; most other natural-gas pipeline projects have generated significant local opposition.

Environmentalists contend the projects should not move forward if the administration’s stated goals of having 50 percent of the state’s power produced by clean energy by 2030, and 100 percent by 2050, are to be met.