UPPER TOWNSHIP — Instead of shutting down at the end of the month, the B.L. England power plant will operate for another two years while the regional power grid operator makes reliability upgrades to a transmission line.
The power plant, which operates one coal unit and one oil unit, was scheduled to shut down temporarily next month in order to convert to natural gas. But PJM Interconnection said more time is needed to decommission the plant.
The order is unrelated to the plan to build a 22-mile pipeline through the Pinelands. But environmentalists Monday argued the transmission line upgrade means the plant is not needed for reliability in the area.
PJM said it takes no stance on the pipeline and that the reliability is related to how power is transmitted, not how much power is needed.
No one from B.L. England plant owner RC Cape May Holdings was available Monday for comment.
In a statement issued in January when it sent the deactivation notice to PJM, RC Cape May Holdings noted the deactivation request “has nothing to do with whether the plant is still required for reliability.”
However, the New Jersey Sierra Club said it believes this order by PJM proves that the deactivation of the B.L. England plant would not threaten reliability to the area.
“It takes away what I consider the false information that’s been coming from the Pinelands Commission director and some of the commissioners that the plant is needed for reliability,” said Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club director.
South Jersey Gas was granted approval in February to construct the natural gas transmission pipeline through the Pinelands to B.L. England in what is deemed the Cape Atlantic Reliability Project. Last week, the New Jersey Sierra Club appealed the decision.
PJM spokesman Ray Dotter said the decision to extend the deactivation for another two years was based solely on a reliability analysis.
“A reliability need isn’t the amount of power that’s needed, it’s the ability to keep the transmission system stable,” Dotter said.
The debate over the shutdown of B.L. England dates back several years. In 2012, the DEP announced an agreement between RC Cape May Holdings and Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to shut down one of its coal-fired units and convert the remaining two to natural gas, “steps that will significantly improve air quality while ensuring continued energy reliability for the southern shore region,” Commissioner Bob Martin said at the time.
Unit 1 ceased operations two years ago, Tittel said. He said Units 2 and 3 are plants that only run 60 days a year at peak times.
DEP spokesman Bob Considine said that “Unit 2 is now well-controlled for all pollutants, except for nitrogen oxide.”
“But that unit runs less now. So we’ll continue to see lower annual emissions, but on peak demand days, like warmer summer days, you could see some (nitrogen oxide) emissions that have an impact air quality,” Considine said.
RC Cape May has owned the plant since 2007. The agreement between the company and the state is related to alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act that occurred when the plant was under the ownership of Atlantic Electric, Conectiv and Pepco Holdings Co.