UPPER TOWNSHIP — Converting the B.L. England power plant from coal and oil to natural gas will bring cleaner air, jobs, tax revenue, energy reliability and even peace and quiet to the surrounding community, officials said Thursday night.

Plant owner R.C. Cape May Holdings submitted a site plan application that the local Planning Board unanimously and eagerly approved after a presentation highlighting the many benefits of the four-year, $400 million project.

“The key takeaway is that this is an extremely good project,” said Bob Rapenske, asset manager for the company. “Everyone is going to benefit from this project.”

The nearly 50-year-old facility on the Great Egg Harbor Bay in Beesleys Point is currently one of the oldest and dirtiest plants in the state, but it is expected to be one of the most modern and environmentally friendly of its kind when it is finished repowering in 2016.

The project involves installation of a natural gas pipeline that will run from the plant to Millville, a 22-mile route.

The township’s approval of the site plan was a small step in a long process that also includes oversight from the state Department of Transportation and Board of Public Utilities.

Still, it was evident at the meeting in Upper Township Hall that the company has strong local support that will only increase with the conversion that’s expected to extend the plant’s life at least 25 years, and possibly as long as 40 years.

The economic benefits are obvious: the plant pays more than $6 million in energy taxes to the township plus more than $300,000 in standard property taxes that are expected to increase with the renovated plant.

The work needed to update the plant would also created hundreds of construction jobs, with possible secondary benefits to local businesses if those workers choose to spend money in Upper Township.

From an environmental perspective, nitrogen oxide emissions would be reduced by 62 percent, equivalent to a more than 250-ton annual reduction, Rapenske said.

“It’s about as clean as you’re ever going to get,” he said.

The company is also preserving 150 acres of wetlands around the plant, and the shutdown of one of its three power units would reduce the amount of water drawn from the bay to cool the facility by more than 100 million gallons a day.

Other benefits include far fewer trucks traveling the township’s roads once the project is done, and trains will cease entirely.

Currently, six trucks a day rumble through the township on days when the plant needs to refuel with oil. Many more bring in lime to run the plant’s current coal scrubbers, and others carry the gypsum byproduct.

About 12 to 15 trains per year travel from Tuckahoe to Beesleys Point carrying coal to the plant, Rapenske said, and those will end. In fact, part of the tracks themselves will likely also be removed to make way for the natural gas pipeline.

From an energy standpoint, the increased efficiency of the plant would actually increase the power output to a total potential of 585 megawatts, with each megawatt able to power about 1,000 homes.

Its current capacity is about 450 megawatts, but the plant rarely comes close to producing that much power. That is because the less efficient operations, such as B.L. England, are called on to supply the regional power grid last.

For instance, Rapenske said the plant’s third unit, which burns oil instead of coal like the other two, runs only 1 percent of the year. The new units would run more often because they essentially would provide cheaper energy.

Doing all this and keeping the plant running for a few more decades will also ensure better stability for the power grid, he said, especially since the Oyster Creek nuclear plant in Lacey Township will shut down in 2019.

“There are a lot of benefits to this project, and I think this is a win-win all around,” he said.

There was little other comment made about the application. No one from the public spoke during the public hearing, and the board members only complemented the presentation.

A full set of site plans for the project is available at the Upper Township Hall at 2100 Tuckahoe Road in Petersburg.

Contact Lee Procida:

609-463-6712

Follow Lee Procida on Twitter @ACPressLee