In another blow to the long-delayed repowering to natural gas of the oil- and coal-fired B.L. England power plant, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court on Nov. 7 rejected state approvals of a gas pipeline across the state’s environmentally-sensitive pine barrens that would serve the repowered plant.
These appeals are due to a proposal by South Jersey Gas Co. (SJG) to construct a natural gas pipeline through several municipalities in the Pinelands Area. On Dec. 14, 2015, Nancy Wittenberg, Executive Director of the Pinelands Commission, issued a letter finding that SJG’s proposed pipeline was consistent with the minimum standards of the Pinelands Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). In addition, on Dec. 16, 2015, the state Board of Public Utilities granted a petition by SJG and determined that the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) and any local governmental development regulations adopted pursuant to the MLUL, shall not apply to the construction or operation of the pipeline.
The Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA) and the New Jersey Sierra Club and Environment New Jersey (jointly referred to as Sierra Club) appealed from the board’s Dec. 16, 2015 decision. Sierra Club also appealed from Wittenberg’s determination.
Said the Nov. 7 court ruling: “For the reasons that follow, we remand the matter to the Commission for further proceedings and a final decision on whether SJG’s proposed pipeline is consistent with the minimum standards of the CMP. We also affirm the Board’s decision granting SJG’s petition pursuant to N.J.S.A. 40:55D-19, but remand the matter to the Board for entry of an amended order stating that approval of the petition is conditioned upon a final decision of the Commission that the pipeline conforms to the CMP.”
The B.L. England Generating Station (BLE) at Beesley’s Point in Upper Township, Cape May County, is a 447-MW facility that has ben fueled with coal, oil and diesel fuel. In 2006, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) ordered Atlantic City Electric (ACE), which was then the owner of BLE, to meet certain emissions standards, repower, or shut BLE down. In 2007, ACE sold BLE to RC Cape May Holdings, an affiliate of Rockland Capital. In 2012, DEP amended its 2006 order, and gave RC until 2016 to comply. RC decided to repower the facility using natural gas provided by SJG, which is a public utility that provides natural gas to approximately 360,000 customers within Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester, and Salem counties.
SJG proposed to construct a pipeline that consists ofa “dedicated line” that would run about eight miles in Upper Township, from an interconnect point/regulator station to the metering station at BLE, and a “reliability line” that would run about fourteen miles from Maurice River Township to the interconnect point/regulator station in Upper Township, where it would connect to SJG’s existing transmission and distribution systems and serve as a secondary source of supply for SJG’s customers in Southern Jersey during a natural gas emergency.
The board considered the need for the project, the pipeline routing, and cost allocation. It found that: conversion of BLE from coal and oil to gas-fired generation provides an environmental benefit; continued operation of that plant would serve a need for capacity in the area and provides a clean source of in-state power in furtherance of New Jersey’s Energy Master Plan (EMP); the project would enhance the reliability of SJG’s service territories; and there was no alternative route that would have less adverse environmental impacts. The board also found that when the nearby Oyster Creek nuclear power plant is taken out of service in 2019, BLE will be the only significant base-load station in the coastal area of Southern New Jersey.
The court said the CMP does not confer on the Executive Director or the commission’s staff the authority to render final decisions on CMP compliance in these circumstances. “There also is no provision in the Pinelands Act that confers upon the Executive Director authority to render a final decision for the Commission in the coordinated permitting process,” it added. “Here, the Commission retains final decision-making authority as to whether SJG’s proposed pipeline is consistent with the minimum standards of CMP.”