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PSE&G will ask state for OK on power line proposal
 

By BRUCE A. SCRUTON

bscruton@njherald.com

While it came as no surprise that the electric company that wants to build a transmission line across southern Sussex County filed its plans with a state regulatory commission Monday, it was still "a slap in the face of localities," who have now lost a voice.

"I know the lay of the land in my town," said Byram Councilman Scott Olson. "I know there have been mud slides up where they want to put in a tower. What does that mean to the BPU and would they even care."

On Monday, Public Service Electric & Gas filed with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities for the state board's approval to build the 45-mile-long power line, which will carry 500 kilovolts of power on a route that cuts through 15 towns from Knowlton in Warren County, across Sussex and Morris counties to its terminus in Roseland in Essex County.

The line is part of an upgrade that regional power grid operator PJM said is needed to increase reliability and capacity in northern New Jersey in the coming decades.

The towns in Sussex County include Stillwater, Fredon, Newton, Andover, Byram and Sparta.

PSE&G had the option of going to each of the 15 towns for individual approvals, but chose for a blanket approval through the state board instead.

Many localities had demanded they get a voice in the process because the state board will be looking at broader issues, such as whether the additional transmission path is needed, the source of that power and whether the state's energy master plan has an effect.

"I'm disappointed to see them continuing to push this project," said Dave Slaperud, a Fredon resident who is a co-founder of Stop the Lines, a grassroots organization formed when plans for the project were announced in mid-summer.

Speaking for several statewide environmental groups that already have come out against the PSE&G plan was Dena Mottola Jaborska, executive director of Environment New Jersey. "The line hitches New Jersey's energy future to dirty coal plants in Pennsylvania," she said. "This is a major diversion from the path to a clean energy future, a path New Jersey has committed to following."

While the utility chose the state route, some of the proceeding still may take place in the areas affected, noted utility board spokesman Doyal Siddell.

The board has one year to make a decision.

Although the first steps in the process involve the board's staff going over the volumes of reports, plans and studies, he said there likely will be local hearings so local people can share their views. Those hearings, however, won't be sessions for people to vent, but instead will be conducted under courtroom-like conditions with lawyers, witnesses under oath and mounds of paperwork.

"At least those (local) hearings will bring some sort of transparency," said Olson, who said people want to be able to watch and listen to the hearings "so they know it's not some deal being done in the backrooms of Newark."

Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for PSE&G, said the company "supports local meetings" and favors an open process.

PSE&G also faces a decision from the Highlands Council and the state Department of Environmental Protection on whether the project falls under the exemption clause of the Highlands Act and the Regional Master Plan.

Staff of the council already have said the exemption does not apply, and the full council is scheduled to vote at a meeting in late February on its recommendation, which then goes to the department for a final determination. Without the exemption, PSE&G will have to do a full environmental assessment of the project for the approximately 25 miles that travel through the Highlands area.

Created: 1/12/2009 | Updated: 1/12/2009

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