Deal done to shut one B L England coal unit, convert another to gas

The B.L. England power plant in Cape May County, N.J., will significantly reduce air pollutants by shutting down one of its coal-fired units and converting two other units to natural gas, steps that will also ensure continued energy reliability for the southern shore region, said New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin on June 21.

RC Cape May Holdings LLC will shut down one coal-burning unit at B.L. England under the terms of an Administrative Consent Order with the DEP. The company will repower a second coal unit to a state-of-the-art combined-cycle natural gas turbine and will re-fuel a third, oil-burning unit with natural gas. The conversion will nearly eliminate emissions of smog-causing NOx as well as SO2. The two coal-fired units at B.L. England are the last coal-fired units in the state without state-of-the art pollution control equipment.

“The Christie administration is committed to improving the quality of air in New Jersey, taking a tough stance on holding in-state and out-of-state power plants accountable for reducing air pollution in New Jersey,” Martin said. He was referring to Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican. “This agreement will bring one of the oldest plants here in New Jersey into the 21st century, and keep it there for a long time to come with extremely low emissions.”

“R.C. Cape May Holdings’ decision to  repower its B.L. England plant with clean natural gas, replacing dirty coal and oil, is good news for residential and business customers in the southern New Jersey shore area,” said state Board of Public Utilities President Bob Hanna. “This agreement advances the Christie Administration’s goals of increasing grid reliability, reducing energy costs, cleaning the environment and enhancing the economic competitiveness of New Jersey.”

Due to the inherent efficiencies of combined-cycle natural gas generation, the overall capacity of the plant will remain at 450 MW and could increase to about 570 MW, said Jim Maiz, Senior Vice President for RC Cape May Holdings. “We wish to thank all the state agencies and local officials for their ongoing support of our efforts to identify and implement the most fitting clean-energy redevelopment plan for B.L. England,” Maiz said. “This transformative solution provides the best alignment with the overall objectives of all stakeholders, and we’re committed to seeing it through.”

RC Cape May has owned the plant since 2007. The agreement resolves alleged violations of the federal Clean Air Act that occurred when the plant was under the ownership of Atlantic Electric, Conectiv and Pepco Holdings Co. The previous owners did not make pollution-control upgrades as required by the federal Clean Air Act when they made significant upgrades to operational features of the plant, the DEP noted.

The agreement calls for the cessation of operation of coal-fired Unit 1 by fall 2013, and until that occurs, the company must take steps to minimize emissions from this unit. Unit 2, which currently burns coal, and Unit 3, which burns fuel oil and only operates during peak demand periods, are to be converted to natural gas by May 2016. Unit 2 is to be shut down by May 2015 to allow for the conversion. RC Cape May must make interim operational changes, including limiting operations, to reduce pollution during the period leading up to the conversion shutdown.

The permanent shutdown of Unit 1 and conversion of the other unit will result in significantly greater long-term reductions of pollutants than would have occurred under an earlier agreement, originally entered into with the former plant owners, that required additional pollution controls but did not require the change from coal to natural gas.

In addition to establishing New Jersey as a national leader in development of renewable energy, the Gov. Chris Christie administration has adopted policies that promote the use of natural gas as a cleaner, less carbon-intensive fossil fuel. Only six coal-fired units are still operating at four other power plants in New Jersey. But they all have been equipped with state-of-the-art pollution controls, the most recent being PSE&G’s Hudson plant. Governor Christie has pledged to oppose the opening of any new coal-fired plants in the Garden State.

The administration also won a major victory with the EPA’s precedent-setting approval of New Jersey’s Clean Air Act petition that calls for an 81% reduction in SO2 emissions that pour into North Jersey’s air from coal-fired units at a nearby Portland, Pa., power plant. The administration has also taken the lead in lawsuits against owners of the Homer City coal plant in Pennsylvania and against Allegheny Energy Inc. to force installation of pollution-control equipment to cut massive emissions of SO2 and NOx pouring from western Pennsylvania plants.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.