PSE&G buying local properties

By SETH AUGENSTEIN

saugenstein@njherald.com

As the Susquehanna-Roseland power line issue buzzes through northwestern New Jersey, PSE&G has made some tactical land purchases along the 45-mile route -- at no likely financial risk.

The power company has bought three properties along the route, totaling more than $2 million and 150 acres. A fourth is under contract, but awaiting a closing.

Two of the four properties are houses -- one was a Fredon home directly beneath the existing power lines that sold for $535,000 in December, and the latest one under contract is a house on Larikat Lane in Sparta. The owner of the Larikat Lane house is in the process of leaving the house, but declined further comment about the sale price.

The company will not lose money on the purchases, regardless of the result of the power line proposal. Because the Susquehanna-Roseland plans have been described a "reliability" project, PSE&G will be reimbursed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for any such land or home purchases -- whether or not the application is approved by the state's Board of Public Utilities.

"We are purchasing these properties now to ensure that we can meet our in-service deadline of the summer of 2012," said Karen Johnson, a spokeswoman for PSE&G.

An energy commission spokeswoman confirmed the 100 percent reimbursement, but said such a move would need to be approved on a single-case basis for PSE&G's plan.

Johnson also said profits of any properties PSE&G would resell at any point would be credited to the company's ratepayers.

The proposed power line, which would stretch from Susquehanna, Pa., to Roseland in Essex County, is part of an upgrade needed to ensure reliable service, as well as meet future demands, said PJM Interconnection, the regional organization that oversees electric power production and transmission for 13 Northeastern and Midwestern states and the District of Columbia.

The company also is profiting on its investment. Tamara Linde, PSE&G's vice president of regulatory, said the land purchases become part of the capital account of the company, which accrues a regulated, and "formulaic," rate of return.

David Slaperud, a trustee of the opposition group Stop the Lines, was taken aback by the dollar numbers.

"Clearly, they're going to be making money on (this)," he said. "It seems pretty crazy to me."

There also have been other PSE&G investment initiatives connected to the project. The company has offered $1,000 to any homeowner along the existing 45-mile right-of-way who allows construction of a temporary access road to the existing lines.

The total estimate of $750 million for the Susquehanna-Roseland project also includes $18.6 million for a mitigation plan recommended by the New Jersey Highlands Council to offset environmental impacts in the region.

PSE&G is responsible for building the section between Roseland and the Delaware River while PPL is responsible for the Pennsylvania portion.

The project was made public last June and the chosen corridor was unveiled a month later. The New Jersey stretch passes from Essex to Morris counties, and through the Sussex County towns of Sparta, Hopatcong, Byram, Andover, Newton, Fredon and Stillwater, before moving into Hardwick in Warren County, and on to Pennsylvania.

The application has drawn public outcry, and continues to do so. A set of three public hearings began Thursday, and will continue at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Sussex County Community College, with the third set for June 30 in Morristown.

The state utility board is expected to rule on the application in December.