UPPER TOWNSHIP — There is no longer a need for a South Jersey Gas pipeline to the B.L. England electric plant in Beesleys Point, after the plant owner said in court papers Wednesday it no longer plans to repower the facility with natural gas.
But that doesn’t mean a pipeline project is dead, said South Jersey Industries Vice President of Communications Marissa Travaline.
“It may be a different-looking project,” she said, but the company still feels the region needs a second transmission line, in case an accident or natural event damaged the only one serving the Cape peninsula.
Dave Robbins, president of South Jersey Gas, said the company has already begun to explore options for another pipeline to serve the company’s 142,000 customers in Cape May and Atlantic counties.
No one from the Pinelands Commission could be reached for comment Wednesday night.
On Wednesday, an attorney for the company that owns the plant, RC Cape May Holdings, sent a letter to the Appellate Division of Superior Court asking to withdraw the company from a lawsuit against the state Pinelands Commission over its February 2017 approval of the pipeline.
Then, the state Attorney General’s Office, which represents the commission, sent a letter asking for a postponement of the case, due to the changed circumstances.
“Today, Intervenor RC Cape May Holdings ... stated, for the first time, that the B.L. England electric generating plant will not repower and will not be using the South Jersey Gas pipeline,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a letter dated Wednesday.
Grewal said that decision undermines the basis for the Pinelands Commission’s approval of the pipeline. The commission had said it approved it because it served a business in the Pinelands and would benefit people living there, and required a new application to the commission if there was any redirection of the gas from the B.L. England plant.
“This means the entire basis for the Pinelands Commission approval of the pipeline is now gone,” said Pinelands Preservation Alliance Executive Director Carleton Montgomery, “because the commission approved the pipeline on the sole basis that all the gas would go to a new plant at B.L. England, a use located inside the Pinelands.”
PPA and other environmental groups had sued the Pinelands Commission over its decision. They disagreed that the pipeline was a permitted use in protected areas of the Pinelands, and with the argument that the pipeline would benefit people who lived in the Pinelands.
“It was a terrible argument, but now even that terrible argument is invalidated,” said Montgomery. “The BPU (New Jersey Board of Public Utilities) also relied on the representation that the pipeline would serve a power plant at the B.L. England site, so its approval too is invalidated. The only course now is for the Pinelands Commission and the BPU to withdraw their approvals of the pipeline altogether.”
Environmentalists had been fighting the project for years, arguing it would damage the Pinelands and promote fossil fuel use rather than renewable energy such as wind or solar power.
The pipeline was supported by business and labor groups, and many of the towns through which the 22-mile pipeline would have run from Maurice River Township to Upper Township.
Ten of those miles would travel through protected Forest Areas, where utility infrastructure is only allowed if it serves the Pinelands.
“I’m surprised, since it did go through the Pinelands Commission and the whole process,” said U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, a strong supporter of the pipeline during his days as a state senator from Cape May County.
He said he supported it because it was to be installed along roadways, not through pristine areas; would keep the plant operating and keep jobs in the district; and because it would provide another way of getting natural gas to Cape May County.
“There is no question we only have ... one line going in,” said Van Drew. “If something happens, there really is going to be a big problem. I thought the redundancy was a good thing. It was a big public safety feature. But companies make decisions.”
According to Upper Township Mayor Richard Palombo, crews were in the process of decommissioning two of the power-generating units at the B.L. England plant last fall. It has operated as a peak provider of electricity to the grid during times of highest use, and is due to stop operating altogether in May.