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State officials delay decision on PSE&G powerline for a month

By COLLEEN O'DEA • STAFF WRITER • January 16, 2010

NEWARK -- The state Board of Public Utilities on Friday delayed for a month a decision on Public Service Electric & Gas Co.'s proposal to upgrade its transmission line through Morris, Sussex and Warren counties.

During a special meeting, the board unanimously voted to ask PJM Interconnection, the regional power transmission organization, to explain its position that the $750 million project is necessary.

The board is making the request in light of the recent withdrawal of a line project in Virginia because new forecasts show it will not be needed soon, and the delay of another project in Maryland for a re-evaluation of power need forecasts in that region.

In a letter sent Friday, the board asked whether PJM plans to conduct a needs review for PSE&G's 47-mile Susquehanna-Roseland upgrade similar to the reviews in the other states, and to explain whether those two delays have any effect on the need for the project here.

Joseph L. Fiordaliso, the commissioner serving as hearing officer for the project, said that PJM's brief, two-paragraph statement sent Thursday to the BPU affirming the project's need was not enough.

"We need more than this summary statement. We need PJM to state how it reached this conclusion,'' Fiordaliso said.

The delay cheered the 17 interveners, including several Morris and Sussex municipalities, the Montville Board of Education, environmentalists and a citizens group, all of which oppose PSE&G's plan to add 500-kilovolt lines to towers reaching as tall as 195 feet. They had been unhappy that Pennsylvania authorities on Thursday approved the part of the line in that state.

"We hope they are going to get a sensitive analysis done. We hope that will show the line is not necessary,'' said Dave Slaperud of the Stop the Lines citizens group.

"There is a safer and better way to do this,'' said East Hanover Mayor Joseph Pannullo, who opposes the upgrade because he believes electromagnetic fields from the lines cause health problems.

Karen Johnson, a PSE&G spokeswoman, said the utility was discouraged by the delay.

"We are considering our options to ensure that the region's electric customers have the safe, highly reliable service they have come to expect,'' Johnson said.

One of those options is to bypass the state review and seek approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which can evaluate and OK a project if local authorities have not acted within a year, as is now the case here.

Efforts by PSE&G to settle differences with officials along the line by paying amounts ranging from $200,000 to more than $400,000 to cover costs associated with construction were largely rejected -- only three of 16 towns affected agreed to the settlements.

Colleen O'Dea: 973-428-6655;

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