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Tittel: No long-distance power lines for New Jersey
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Jeff Tittel is director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Send comments to

PLANS at the national level to crisscross the country with transmission lines, connecting the sunniest deserts with the biggest cities, may sound like a good green idea, but it is too good to be true.

In the foreseeable future, building long-distance transmission lines will undermine clean energy more than it will help it. Building the lines will increase our reliance on coal energy, decrease the overall efficiency of the grid and misappropriate money that would be better spent developing local renewable energy sources.

Building transmission lines for renewable energy before building the renewable energy is not only putting the cart before the horse. It is using the cart to block the horses in the stable. The lines may be intended for wind and solar, but until wind and solar become a more significant part of our energy mix, the lines will be used to carry coal energy.

Coal produces the cheapest energy, and the more coal energy utilities can push into the New York/New Jersey area the more money they can make. Improving the access of coal energy to East Coast markets will almost guarantee that the oldest and dirtiest coal plants will stay on line for longer than they should.

Bad news for the state

Record Washington Correspondent Herb Jackson wrote Oct. 26 that this “green superhighway of high-voltage power lines” could be bad news for New Jersey, and noted that Governor Corzine joined governors from nine other Atlantic Coast states in opposing the idea. Sen. Bob Menendez voted against a major energy bill because of it.

The Sierra Club is currently fighting more than 100 proposed coal plants around the country. Improving access will add an incentive for approving these plants.

Proposed expansion

This scenario already exists; PSE&G has proposed an expansion to the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line from Pennsylvania into Northwest New Jersey. One of their selling points is that some day it could carry wind power, but not yet.

More likely, the two new coal plants that have been proposed near the Pennsylvania end of the line will be approved. The line expansion will have the potential to move at least 3,000 megawatts of energy from Pennsylvania and other coal states into or through New Jersey.

In addition, there are proposals for at least four other transmission lines in the state to move cheap dirty energy to the best paying markets.

Reducing our coal consumption is a critical piece of mitigating global warming. Coal produces twice as much greenhouse gas as natural gas. Furthermore, burning coal puts mercury into the atmosphere. New Jersey is downwind from Pennsylvania and that mercury lands in our streams, reservoirs and fisheries, and eventually makes its way into us.

Pennsylvania’s coal plants are already the reason for fish advisories in the Highlands region. When it rains, nitrous oxide from the coal plants puts nitrogen into our waterways, causing eutrophication.

Furthermore, the environmental effects of mountaintop removal can never be remediated.

Recently the federal government proposed $3.4 billion for the startup costs of building these lines. The irony is if the money allocated for transmission lines was spent on distributive renewable energy, we wouldn’t even need the lines.

Money better spent

PSE&G is proposing to spend $700 million on the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line project alone. To really promote clean energy, that money should be spent on short transmission lines for offshore wind or on wind and solar projects themselves.

Distributive generation will do better in guarding against blackouts, will create green jobs here in New Jersey, and is far more efficient investment.

Long-distance transmission lines can lose up to 20 percent of the energy they carry. Long-distance transmission lines are not the same thing as smart grid, which uses computers to monitor and move energy around the grid.

Dumb lines

This proposal is for big – 150-foot tall towers could be standard — dumb lines that will inefficiently bring dirty power and undermine clean energy.

But New Jersey already knows this; we have some of the toughest clean energy goals on the books. The plan states that by 2020, New Jersey should become an energy exporter and produce more than 121 percent of its energy in-state.

In this vision, wind, biomass, solar and refuse account for 30 percent of our energy and the state’s overall energy demand is reduced by 20 percent.

If the state follows through on the rules and regulations it has already passed, New Jersey does not need the additional energy that these transmission lines will bring.

And, if Congress is serious about addressing climate change, it won’t fund transmission lines that will bring cheap dirty coal at the expense of renewable energy.

Jeff Tittel is director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Send comments to


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