Coal-fired power plant in Cape May gets timeline for switch to natural gas

    The last of New Jersey’s coal-fired power plants without modern pollution controls now has a timeline for switching over to natural gas.

    The BL England Generating Station in Cape May is one of the state’s oldest and dirtiest.

    Its owners have agreed to shut down one coal-burning unit there by the fall of 2013, and switch one coal-burning unit and one oil-burning unit over to natural gas by the spring of 2016.

    “This is going to result in very significant reductions in pollution in the southern shore region,” said Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Lawrence Hanja.

    He said hourly sulfur dioxide emissions will be reduced by 99 percent, while nitrogen oxide will be cut almost that much.

    The agreement replaces an earlier version that would have required the coal units to drastically reduce pollution by this May.

    “The beauty of this agreement is that this is going to bring these plants into the 21st century and keep them there,” Hanja said.

    David Pringle of the New Jersey Environmental Federation said he applauds any move away from coal.

    “Any time we reduce air pollution from a plant like this that’s a significant improvement,” Pringle said. “We’d obviously like to see the timeline a lot faster, and we’ll believe the timelines are met when they are met, but today is a cause for celebration.”

    The combination of strict new federal emissions standards and plummeting natural gas prices are leading power companies across the county to switch coal-fired plants over to natural gas.

    Federal estimates project a 5 percent drop in coal use by the power sector just this year.

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