PSE&G pulling end-run on power line, critics say
Utility accused of trying to exclude 15 towns with request for state review
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
BY KRISTEN ALLOWAY
PSE&G will request a state review of its proposed 45-mile, $650 million high-voltage power line -- instead of seeking approvals from each of the 15 towns affected by the project.
Municipal officials yesterday criticized the move, charging the company is circumventing local governments and excluding them from the process.
"They're going over everybody's head," East Hanover Mayor Joseph Pannullo said. "What they're saying is we're bypassing all of the municipalities because there's great opposition to it and we're under a time constraint."
PSE&G plans to build a 500-kilovolt line from Hardwick in Warren County, through Sussex and Morris counties, to Roseland in Essex. The company said the line has been mandated by PJM Interconnection, an organization that oversees the regional power grid in 13 states, and it will prevent electrical overloads and blackouts in northern New Jersey.
The project includes installing 180- to 190-foot towers, about twice the height of what is along the route now, to accommodate the existing 230-kilovolt line and the new 500-kilovolt one.
In announcing that it will submit an application to the state Board of Public Utilities in mid-December, the company also said it will hold several public workshops to discuss its next steps.
PSE&G said it decided to apply to the BPU, instead of seeking local approvals, because "the BPU process will allow us to address the many questions and concerns in one comprehensive proceeding," PSE&G president and chief operating officer Ralph LaRossa said in a statement.
"Some local officials have called for serious scrutiny by an independent party. ... We agree with that recommendation, as well as the request to have a single forum in which all of the affected towns and residents could express their views ... at the same time," LaRossa said.
PSE&G considered three possible paths for the line and announced in August it had chosen the Susquehanna-Roseland route because it would require minimal land clearing. The company already has acquired the rights of way for the path, and the route parallels an existing power line.
State offices were closed yesterday, but in a recent e-mail, a BPU spokeswoman said there would be opportunities in the hearing process for residents, local officials, environmentalists and others to share their concerns about the project. PSE&G also will need approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection, said PSE&G spokeswoman Bonnie Sheppard.
Local officials and environmentalists have criticized the power-line plan on several fronts, charging that it presents potential health hazards, will hinder renewable energy efforts and harms property values.
PSE&G has said no direct link has been established between power lines and health issues, and the transmission lines will be designed to "cancel out" the magnetic fields between the 230- and 500-kilovolt lines.
The company also said it will continue work in renewable energy and conservation, and the new transmission line would help deliver renewable power where it is needed.
The company plans to meet with each town's mayor and engineer or professional staff to review the proposal and address concerns before filing the application with the BPU. The company also said it will reach out to property owners along the route to explain the project and negotiate additional property rights or access agreements.
But that is not enough for some local officials.
"We have quite a few people concerned about the impact on their neighborhoods," said Byram Councilman Scott Olson. "By bypassing the local municipalities, they've kind of taken those peoples' voices away."
PSE&G plans several public workshops about the project next month, all from 5 to 8 p.m. The sessions on Dec. 9 and 17 will be at the Holiday Inn Express, 6 North Park Drive, Newton. Sessions on Dec. 8 and 16 will be at the Hanover Marriott, 1401 Route 10 East, Whippany.
Kristen Alloway may be reached at (973) 539-7910 or firstname.lastname@example.org.