Power line hearings complete; final decision expected Jan. 15
By SETH AUGENSTEIN

saugenstein@njherald.com

NEWARK — The evidence is in, and now the waiting will begin for the final decision on the Susquehanna-Roseland power line question.

Power company PSE&G and various opponents of the 500-kilovolt transmission “superhighway” finished building the information record Monday at the state’s Board of
Public Utilities office. The completion marked the end of five full days of a dozen lawyers cross-examining witnesses, questioning statistics, debating national energy policy, and generally arguing over the future decades of electricity in the Northeast and beyond.

The BPU decision is expected in January.

Topics tackled during the hearings included routing, construction methods, energy needs, electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs), and property values near the lines.

The need issue, heard Thursday and Friday, is considered to be the climax in the hearings, and could be the main decider in the controversial power plans before the BPU. The plans propose erecting a power line that would double the height and power of a 45-mile Garden State stretch running from Pennsylvania through Sussex County, and onto Roseland, in Essex County. Roughly 18 miles of the length are in Sussex County, from Stillwater, to Fredon, Newton, Andover, Byram, Hopatcong and Sparta,
before the line moves on to Morris County.

PSE&G, the state’s largest electric utility, said it needs to build the line and have it operating by 2012 to meet the electricity demands and reliability requirements expected for the region in the coming decades. PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator, identified the need of the new line in 2007 and proposed the route last year.

Opponents have rallied around several issues, including safety and health issues, the potential environmental damage the construction project will do, the visual and property value impact of the towers, and whether bringing in electricity generated in other states meets New Jersey’s goals of increasing so-called “green” and renewable sources of power.

The lawyers will work on legal briefs due Dec. 28, with response briefs due Jan. 6. The full board is expected to review all the evidence, debate its merits, then issue its decision Jan. 15.

The transmission line would be the first 500-kilovolt conductor of power in New Jersey, and is seen by most of the objectors as an important indicator of the nation’s energy future. PSE&G spokeswoman Karen  Johnson said the “burden of proof” for the need of the line is placed on the company. However, power lines in other states have a consistent record of approval by utility boards in other states.

Opponents say they are not deterred. Dave Slaperud, co-founder of Fredon-based Stop the Lines, said he was hopeful the state would reject the plans.

“PSE&G needs to prove that this proposed expansion is ‘reasonably necessary’ for the welfare of the public,” Slaperud said. “The record will show that based on the fact that energy demand has dropped in our area for three consecutive years, this proposal is not  ‘necessary.’ We are hopeful that the BPU will make the right decision for New Jersey, its
citizens, and the ratepayers in the PJM grid.”

Johnson said PSE&G and its attorneys would be working ahead on its legal documents.
“We look forward to the next step in the process,” she said.