It may not be the end of the road for two South Jersey power plants planned for decommissioning.
Offshore wind company Orsted alerted mariners last month that its 170-foot surveying vessel will study waters off Atlantic County, and the path runs near both B.L. England in Upper Township and the Oyster Creek Generating Station in Forked River.
Orsted spokeswoman Lauren Burm confirmed the company is eyeing the two plants as a way to connect its turbines to the energy grid. Orsted submitted a bid in December to the state Board of Public Utilities for ratepayer subsidies to fund its project, which it says could produce up to 1,100 megawatts of energy and will bring 100 permanent jobs during the farm’s 25-year expected life cycle.
“The surveys are an effort to collect data and to continue to refine the project design to be able to make a final interconnection decision,” Burm said.
The vessel, R/V Enterprise, will conduct geophysical surveys of the sea floor for two months to determine where Orsted’s proposed wind project 15 miles off Atlantic City might connect to the power grid. Surveying was set to begin in mid-January but was postponed.
B.L. England, New Jersey’s last coal-fired power plant, is set to close in May. It brought jobs and electricity to the region for nearly 60 years. Crews are now decommissioning two of the power-generating units, which sit on the edge of the Great Egg Harbor Bay. B.L. England declined to comment further.
In Forked River, the Oyster Creek nuclear plant shut down in September. Camden-based Holtec International wants to buy the plant and decommission it, but is awaiting license-transfer application approval from the federal government.
Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo said incorporating B.L. England into Orsted’s plans is logical. He has discussed the possibility in meetings with company officials, he said.
“It would make sense from a location standpoint to utilize B.L. England as an existing transmission grid that’s already in place,” he said. “There’s potential for opportunities.”
For now though, the fate of B.L. England is unclear. Whether the plant is repurposed for offshore wind or for a natural gas pipeline is up in the air.
The state is still reviewing the three offshore wind applications it received to determine which will get subsidies. The decision will be made by July.
B.L. England is also part of the proposed, 22-mile South Jersey Gas pipeline. It has faced an ongoing legal challenge from the New Jersey Sierra Club since 2017, after the state Pinelands Commission approved the pipeline despite outcry from those concerned it would carry natural gas through the state’s largest protected nature reserve. Oral arguments are set for April.
“There’s no guarantee that (the application) is going to be accepted,” Palombo said. “The South Jersey Gas pipeline could also go there. That may still be an option. ... Reasonably it still could be done.”
But environmental groups are hoping the wind project prevails over the pipeline.
Last week, more than 50 advocacy groups descended on Trenton urging Gov. Phil Murphy to put a moratorium on fossil fuel projects in the state. The organizations jointly issued a report that stated the South Jersey Gas pipeline would release 1.13 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually if built.
South Jersey Gas did not respond to requests for comment.
New Jersey Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel said in a statement earlier this month the B.L. England site should be used for renewable energy projects.
“We have said all along that this area would be a perfect location for offshore wind,” Tittel said. “We do not need any more fossil fuel pipelines. Instead, we need to use renewable energy to create green jobs and a green economy.”