B.L. England, the last coal-powered plant in New Jersey, is set to stop operations Wednesday after more than 50 years of burning fossil fuels, Upper Township Mayor Rich Palombo said.
“They’re officially flipping the switch the morning of May 1,” he said Monday. “They’ll continue having people working at the plant as it’s decommissioning.”
R.C. Cape May Holdings, the owner of the Beesleys Point plant, did not return requests for comment.
Jason McGovern, a spokesman for grid operator PJM, said B.L. England submitted a deactivation notice for the plant in December 2016, but grid reliability upgrades stopped the facility for shutting down at that point. Those upgrades are expected to be completed soon, so PJM determined the plant can deactivate on April 30.
The closure could have some impact on the township’s $1.86 billion ratable base. The company has filed a tax appeal in state court for the 261.5-acre parcel the plant sits on, said Municipal Tax Assessor Megan McAfee.
The property is assessed at $2.36 million in land and $14.63 million in improvements, and for which the company paid the township $313,853.32 in property taxes in 2018.
McAfee could not discuss particulars of the case, as it is in litigation, she said.
But state law requires that the township keep receiving $6 million a year in energy receipts payments it has been getting in exchange for hosting the plant.
Residents will miss the old plant, they said.
“The neighbors and I went by, and it looked closed,” said Ellen Mallen, a 15-year resident of the Marmora section of Upper Township. “It’s been like a landmark. I always looked for the smoke.”
Dan Young, 53, lives in Marmora but grew up in Beesleys Point near the plant when it was owned by Atlantic City Electric. At the time, the plant provided recreational facilities for township residents, he said, including a pool and nine-hole golf course.
“I went there to the pool as far back as I can remember,” Young said of the late 1960s and early 1970s. “We would sneak onto the golf course at night when I was 10 or 11 years old. That’s where we taught ourselves to play golf.”
He also has fond memories of something he probably never told his parents about — jumping onto the coal cars as they slowly meandered down the railroad tracks to the plant, Young said.
“We were sad when the golf course closed,” said Young.
That was in about 2008, after the plant was purchased by R.C. Cape May Holdings. The pool had long been replaced by a scrubber facility, he said.
But there is still a public access fishing pier on site. Users must drive down the company road off Route 9 and follow signs for it.
There are six other parcels in the township owned by R.C. Cape May Holdings, which are assessed only for land values and are not part of the appeal, McAfee said.
They have a combined value of $765,900, and paid a total of $17,352.57 in property taxes in 2018.
The 358-acre site at one point employed 100 people, but it has since dropped to about 70 workers, Palombo estimates. B.L. England will no longer be manned 24 hours a day, he said, as it ceases to provide energy to South Jersey residents.
The plant has been a peak energy plant for many years, only operating at times of highest need.
The closure comes after the Pinelands Commission in March notified South Jersey Gas that its approval to build a controversial pipeline from Maurice River Township to the B.L. England is void now that the plant’s owner, R.C. Cape May Holdings, has filed court papers saying it doesn’t plan to repower the facility with natural gas.
Wind energy giant Orsted is considering using the plant to hook its turbines, proposed for federal waters off Atlantic City, into the power grid, the company has said.
The state Board of Public Utilities will decide whether to award Orsted ratepayer subsidies for its plan by July.
In the meantime, B.L. England is getting a cleanup that will be completed by the end of 2019. Its future, though, is up in the air.
Palombo said the municipality has pursued “outside counsel to guide us through this transition period.”
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