Public hearing on BL England pipeline in Upper Township tomorrow

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Final vote could come next month

UPPER TOWNSHIP – The state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) will hold a public meeting on the proposed natural gas pipeline to the BL England power plant in Beesleys Point today, Wednesday, Dec. 18.

The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. at the Upper Township Branch of the Cape May County Library at 2050 Route 631 in Petersburg. It is the third public meeting on the pipeline proposal in little over a week.

Officials expect a decision on the controversial pipeline next month. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission has to approve the $90 million project by South Jersey Gas because around 15 miles of the pipeline would pass through protected Pinelands areas.

 

The Pinelands Commission is considering a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the BPU to allow construction. As part of the MOA, South Jersey Gas would pay the Pinelands Commission $8 million. The money would be used for education and land acquisition, according to a draft of the agreement.

A packed and raucous public hearing on the MOA was held last Monday and the Pinelands Commission met Friday to discuss the proposal, amidst haranguing from the public. That meeting started with an opponent of the plan calling commissioners “Jersey Devils.” One commissioner, Edward Lloyd, a professor of environmental law at Columbia Law School, said he was asked to recuse himself from the proceedings by a deputy attorney general.

Lloyd had raised concerns about the MOA at a Dec. 4 meeting, urging the commission to instead require a waiver of strict compliance from South Jersey Gas. Lloyd said he was asked to recuse himself two days later by a deputy attorney general because of a letter from the Eastern Environmental Law Center requesting an additional public hearing on the MOA. Lloyd is president of the group but said he did not know about the letter until the commission received it.

A vote on the MOA could be held at the Pinelands Commission’s Jan. 10 meeting.

Mayor Richard Palombo said the township supports the project because it will increase electrical reliability in South Jersey. The BL England power plant will also burn much cleaner using natural gas instead of coal and oil.

“There’s no question converting from oil and coal to natural gas will have a positive impact on the environment,” he said. “They are installing all new generators so the plant will operate efficiently and cleanly for the next 25 years.”

Palombo said the township has passed a resolution in favor of the project. Cape May County freeholders approved a resolution backing the pipeline last week.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the conversion of BL England to natural gas will nearly eliminate emissions of smog-causing nitrogen oxides as well as sulfur dioxide, which causes acid rain and haze. Hourly nitrogen oxide emissions will be reduced by nearly 98 percent, or 2,800 tons per year. Hourly sulfur dioxide emissions will be reduced by 99.9 percent, or 2,800 tons per year.

But environmentalists say they oppose the pipeline because it could push BL England from being a “peaker plant,” which only runs during peak demand periods, to a plant that runs regularly. That would negate some of the environmental benefits of converting to coal, they say.

Kate Millsaps, a conservation coordinator for the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the argument for electrical reliability is not backed up by the latest data. Supporters of the pipeline, and the MOA, are using 2006 projections, she said.

More recent projections show a 0.8 percent growth in demand for electric, Millsaps said.

Environmental groups also oppose the pipeline because they say it will transport “fracked” gas, which is pumped from the ground using chemicals. Environmentalists say those chemicals can pollute groundwater.

The planned 24-inch natural gas pipeline would run from Millville to the B.L. England power plant in Beesleys Point. It is part of a planned $400 million conversion from coal and oil to natural gas at the plant.

The pipeline would transport about 20 million dekatherms of gas from Millville to Beesleys Point. That equates to the same amount of gas that South Jersey Gas provides to 267,000 homes in a year.

 


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