News of Public Service Electric & Gas Company’s North Central Reliability Project brings distinct feelings of déjà vu.
Remember the Susquehanna-Roseland Electric Reliability Project, currently stalled?
It seems like just the other day (though it’s been three years) that PSE&G announced plans to add 500-kilovolt lines along a 45-mile transmission corridor from the Delaware Water Gap through portions of Warren, Sussex and Morris counties to Roseland—a corridor that currently has 230-kilovolt lines. The plan hits Andover, Boonton Township, Byram, East Hanover, Fredon, Hardwick, Hopatcong Borough, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Montville, Newton, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Rockaway, Roseland, Sparta and Stillwater.
The Susquehanna-Roseland project, which would include new towers as high as 195 feet in some places, is critically needed to prevent power outages beginning next year, according to studies by PJM Interconnection, the regional power transmission organization.
Hogwash, say environmentalists and affected property owners and elected officials who continue to fight the project.
A combination of towers as tall as a 10-story building, the line’s route through the Highlands and PSE&G’s decision to bypass local planning boards and seek approval directly from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities inspired a well-organized citizens opposition group called Stop the Lines to give the utility the fight of its life.
While the BPU OK'd the line, a National Park Service review—needed because the line traverses the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area—has put the $700 million job on hold. PSE&G officials now say the work will be at least two years late, completed in 2014 at the earliest.
Environmentalists are arguing it should not be done at all, and are asking the BPU to reopen its decision to approve the project. They cite PJM’s decision last month to suspend another line, from West Virginia to Maryland, because of a slower-than-expected economic recovery. New Jersey is facing similar circumstances, and energy conservation efforts make the upgrade unnecessary, they contend. Power officials are still saying nothing has changed to forestall the need for the Susquehanna line.
So with Susquehanna-Roseland on hold, PSE&G on March 15 announced its intention to ask the BPU to approve an upgrade to a line from West Orange through Roseland to Woodbridge. It passes through a total of 15 communities: West Orange, Livingston, Roseland, Florham Park, Chatham Borough, Chatham Township, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Watchung, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Clark, Edison, Metuchen and Woodbridge.
This North Central Reliability Project would upgrade 138-kilovolt lines to 230 kilovolts. Substations and switching stations would be brought up to 230-kilovolt capacity as well. Older towers would be replaced with monopoles, which could be taller than what’s currently on the ground, although there are no specifics about that in the information released so far by the utility.
PSE&G says this upgrade, too, is being ordered by PJM and is needed to prevent power outages. And, as in the case of the Susquehanna project, the lines are nearly 100 years old in some places and were not built to handle all the electricity people use today to power all our gadgets.
The 35-mile project is estimated to cost $336 million. PSE&G hopes to start work next March and complete it by June 2014.
What kind of opposition will crop up to this project remains to be seen.
This line runs through far more populous areas and the question of health effects from electromagnetic fields from the lines is bound to arise. PSE&G’s experts will say the upgrade won’t endanger the public at all. NIMBY-ism is strong in New Jersey, so changing a power line pole near someone’s property, particularly if it winds up blocking anyone's views, is likely to cause an outcry.
Without the benefit of specifics from PSE&G—a company spokesman did not respond to a request for more information—it appears the line either runs through, or very close to, the sensitive Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Environmentalists already are complaining about possible consequences for wetlands and wildlife, not to mention that the upgrade will undermine clean energy and conservation efforts.
The public should be able to get a lot more information starting Tuesday, when PSE&G hosts the first of four public workshops on the project. Tuesday is at in West Orange. Next Monday, March 28, the workshop moves to the . All sessions last from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Now is the time to ask questions.
Colleen O'Dea is a writer, editor, researcher, data analyst, web page designer and mapper with almost three decades in the news business. Her column appears Mondays.