TRENTON – The state Board of Public Utilities approved two new elements of South Jersey Gas’s pipeline plan on Wednesday, eliciting an outburst from environmentalists that briefly interrupted the meeting.
“You’re a hypocrite Mr. Fiordaliso,” shouted Georgina Shanley, of Ocean City and Citizens United for Renewable Energy, as she left the room with several others. “This is a terrible day for justice. Shame on you!”
Commissioner Joseph Fiordaliso ran two board public hearings on the pipeline proposal in Upper Township in June, at which opponents outnumbered supporters.
The 22-mile pipeline would run along roadways from Maurice River Township to the B.L. England Generating Plant in Upper Township, and allow it to convert from a coal fired to natural gas plant. The state Department of Environmental Protection will not allow the plant to continue using coal after 2017 because of air pollution concerns.
The pipeline would pass through 10 miles of protected Pinelands Forest Area, still on roadsides or under paved roads.
"It is outrageous that the BPU took the side of South Jersey Gas over the ratepayers and the environment," said New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel in a written statement after the meeting. "The BPU is nothing but a rubber stamp for the industry they are supposed to regulate."
“We review for security and reliability,” said BPU spokesman J. Gregory Reinert. He said the board's staff found no safety problems with the changes, and the approval was based on that finding.
He said the original board approval for the company to move ahead with the pipeline dates back to June 2013.
The new elements of the plan that got the board’s nod are: moving the pipeline interconnect station out of a Pinelands Forest Area, and restricting new customers from hooking into the gas line if they live in a Pinelands Forest Area.
“We have consistently maintained that we were not completing this project to spur any further development in the Pinelands area, and this order supports our ongoing intention,” said South Jersey Gas spokesman Dan Lockwood in a press release after the meeting. “In addition, by siting our interconnect station outside of the Forest Area, we are further minimizing environmental impacts associated with the project.”
The interconnect station is where an existing pipeline that serves the Cape May peninsula would meet the proposed new pipeline, which could then be a backup provider of gas should accident or attack damage the pipeline that now feeds the cape.
The board had been the lead governmental agency in trying get the pipeline approved by the Pinelands Commission through a Memorandum of Agreement process that failed in January 2014.
The board has also approved a plan for South Jersey Gas to bill the B.L. England plant for 40 percent of the pipeline cost, and general ratepayers would pay the other 60 percent.
Reinert said general ratepayers will pay for the majority of the pipeline because it provides redundancy for people living in parts of Atlantic and Cape May counties that are currently served by only one pipeline.
However, under contract 95 percent of the gas traveling the pipeline must go to the plant, South Jersey Gas officials have said. The gas would be diverted to other customers only temporarily under extraordinary circumstances such as natural disaster or terror attack, they have said.