UPPER TOWNSHIP — Will the 368-acre site of the B.L. England electric plant, due to close in May, become a hub for offshore wind developers — a place for them to feed their power into the grid?
Or could its waterfront on the southern rim of the Great Egg Harbor Bay be used for recreation, after almost 60 years as a power plant?
Russell Arlotta, of owner Rockland Capital’s R.C. Cape May Holdings, said he cannot speak to specific uses of the site in the future.
“We have no firm plans, and are not prepared to comment on that,” Arlotta said.
But he said a cleanup will be completed by the end of 2019.
The company began cleanup of contamination at the site as soon as it purchased it from Atlantic City Electric in 2007, said Arlotta.
“We’ve been doing remediation through some nationally recognized remediation firms over the past 12 years,” said Arlotta. “There are two areas to remediate after operations shut down, because they involve operational areas.”
He said cleanup of those two areas will involve removal and replacement of contaminated soils, along with longer-term groundwater monitoring.
Mayor Rich Palombo said he sees his role as protecting the township’s residents.
“There are environmental wastes that happened over years. The plant used coal and used oil. There are things in that soil that need to be addressed. Those kinds of things,” Palombo said.
R.C. Cape May announced Feb. 28 it was abandoning plans to repower the plant. It will close in May under an agreement with the state, which required it to either repower or close because its outdated technology released too much pollution into the air.
The company also asked to withdraw from a lawsuit defending South Jersey Gas’ right to build a natural gas pipeline to the plant.
The Danish offshore wind company Orsted, which holds a lease to develop a wind farm off Atlantic City, has said it is looking at the site as a potential place to bring its electricity to market if it wins ratepayer subsidy. But it is also considering hooking into the grid at the former Oyster Creek nuclear plant site in Ocean County.
Palombo said B.L. England is the better choice: “Because of the close proximity of where the wind turbines are going to be, it makes more sense to take a giant extension cord to Beesleys Point than to Lacey Township.”
The state Board of Public Utilities is due to make a decision by July 1 on which company or companies to award taxpayer subsidies for construction of the first 1,100 megawatts of offshore wind electricity generation.
“If I had crystal ball, it would be a lot easier (to know what’s next for the site),” said Palombo. “And I don’t.”
One thing is clear: State law requires the township continue to get more than $6 million a year in energy receipts payment it has received as host of the plant.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t have had this thing,” said Palombo of the converted natural gas plant. “It’ll be another challenge for Upper Township.”
Palombo said there will be a loss of jobs at the plant, but he is hopeful that will be more than made up by new jobs in the offshore wind industry.
“You don’t ever want to see anybody lose their jobs,” said Palombo, “but on the flip side, the conversations I have had informally with Orsted and some of those companies — they anticipate a huge amount of hiring to get them through the building and construction process.”
Sierra Club New Jersey Director Jeff Tittel said his organization has been fighting to close the B.L. England plant — which was the oldest coal-fired plant in New Jersey when it was in operation — for more than 20 years.
R.C. Cape May’s decision not to repower with natural gas not only ensured the plant would close, but also that the South Jersey Gas pipeline would not be built.
Its 22-mile route from Maurice River Township to the plant would have passed along roadsides through 10 miles of protected Pinelands forest and was hotly opposed by environmentalists.
It had, however, received approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the state Board of Public Utilities and the Pinelands Commission, but faced lawsuits.
“We started fighting B.L. England in 1998, when they put in a new boiler,” said Tittel. The modification meant the plant was no longer grandfathered under the Clean Air Act, he said.
“So we went to DEP, and then EPA, and filed suit,” said Tittel. “The EPA required New Jersey to force the plant to clean up or shut down by 2007, but the administrative consent order kept getting extended.”
Then the plant announced it would convert to natural gas, Tittel said, and the Sierra Club and others fought that.
“It was a 21-year battle. At the end of the day, we won,” said Tittel. “It would be great to see it as a facility for offshore wind. For me, it’s a major victory when you think of where we were in 1998.”