Christie administration gives New Jersey’s dirtiest coal-burning power plant two more years

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Governor Chris Christie  Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

Gov. Chris Christie made an appearance in New Jersey on Tuesday, July 22, 2014. (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

STATE — Under an administrative consent order signed with the state Department of Environmental Protection, the B.L. England power plant, which some view as one of the dirtiest coal units in the state, is not shutting down as soon as expected.

The agency agreed to extend the deadline by up to two years — allowing the power plant located at the northern tip of Cape May County to continue operating until possibly the spring of May 2017.

The agreement could give the owners of the plant, Rockland Capital LLC, more time to figure out how to pipe in natural gas to the coal-fired facility, allowing them to convert it to a less environmentally harmful fuel. The coal unit had been expected to shut down in May 2015 under a previous consent decree with the DEP.

A previous proposal to build a 22-mile long natural-gas pipeline through the heart of the Pinelands drew heated opposition from environmentalists and even four former governors — two Democrats and two Republicans. It failed to win approval from the Pinelands Commission, although with some new commissioners in place it still may approve the project.

The B.L England conversion, however, is strongly supported by the business community and some lawmakers who say it is a source of reliable energy that is essential to the region.

“Really the big factor is the reliability,’’ said Larry Hajna, a spokesman for the state Department of Environmental Protection, in explaining the move to keep the plant open.

In its administrative consent order, the DEP said the B.L. England plant is strategically vital for energy reliability in the southern New Jersey region. The regional operator of the power grid concurred.

PJM Interconnection said shuttering the plant in 2015 would require significant transmission upgrades that could cost up to $150 million and would not be completed until 2016. That raises the possibility of brownouts and blackouts during peak load, usually during summer heat waves.

Hajna noted one of the facility’s coal units already has been shut down, and the other has a number of pollution controls, although not a modern as at some facilities. By 2018, the plant would provide 45 percent of the electricity in the Pinelands, according to the consent order.

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