The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection is giving its tentative blessing to a plan allowing the B.L. England coal plant in Beesley’s Point to convert into a natural gas-fueled power generation facility.
One coal-powered unit of the Cape May County plant shut down in May 2014, while another coal unit continues to operate.
The new natural gas-fueled plant, expected to produce 447 megawatts of power, could open as early as 2020.
“There’s a need for safe, clean, low-cost energy in the area,” said Russ Arlotta, vice president of RC Cape May Holdings, which owns B.L. England.
Arlotta added that the new natural gas plant would be more environmentally friendly than the current coal unit as well as other plants that would have to pick up the slack in demand if the natural gas facility weren’t built.
“The emissions from the new plant will be state-of-the-art and will be a significant reduction from the existing facility,” he said. “As well it will be significantly lower emissions than existing stations in the region that would run in place of the plant.”
The draft permit issued by the DEP earlier this month will now be subject to public comment through May 25, but opponents have already said that constructing the natural gas plant would be a bad move.
“This power plant is part of keeping us addicted to dirty fuels and the fossil foolishness of the past instead of moving forward with a clean energy economy,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “It’s really about offshore wind versus fracking and more air pollution.”
Meantime there is the issue of shipping the natural gas to the new plant — no small matter.
In December, South Jersey Gas won approval from a state board to build a pipeline to transport natural gas to the new B.L. England plant through Cumberland and Cape May counties.
But a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey in early January has brought the project to a halt. Arlotta said RC Cape May Holdings will wait for the suit to be resolved before starting construction on the new plant.