November 12, 1985  

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Towns line up against power co.

(by Cindy Forrest - November 12, 2008)
“This power line is the Line in the Sand for us. We will fight to stop this line because it is bad for the environment, climate change, pollution, open spaces and consumers - it is just bad,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club’s NJ Chapter.

Tittel and a myriad of other environmental advocates, municipal leaders and concerned residents were responding to what looks like an end pass around them. Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G) is on the brink of making a decision to sidestep the local approval path to its proposed 500 kilovolt power line and instead opting to get the go-ahead nod directly from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (NJBPU).

It was only weeks ago that Rich Crouch, a PSE&G senior project manager, told residents at a public meeting that the company is working hard to promote the project. “There will be more town meetings before we do anything, he said, “we want to get the approvals of local government.”  However, now according to leaders of key New Jersey environmental groups PSE&G has all but abandoned its original plan and is heading straight for a state board opinion.

Faced with local opposition PSE&G last month initiated discussions with the NJBPU seeking State approval for the line expansion. According to NJBPU spokesman Doyal Sliddell while talks have begun, as of press time, PSE&G had not yet filed a formal petition with the board.  “Any process before the Board would begin if and when the utility files a petition with the NJBPU,” Sliddell said, “Board staff would then proceed to gather information and build a record that would be the basis for the Board's analysis and decision.  That gathering of information includes opportunities for the public, including affected municipalities, environmental advocates, and other stakeholders, to provide information and share their concerns.  As part of that process, the towns involved may seek to become parties to the case before the Board.”  Under state law, if the NJBPU approves the line, PSE&G would not need approvals from local authorities.

PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson did not return calls about the company’s decision to seek approval from the NJBPU. 

Towns banding together
The municipalities that would be impacted by the project have been trying to get involved but are having a difficult time getting cooperation. Since the route announcement was made in August PSE&G has been promising the 15 municipalities, along the 45-mile swath that will carry Pennsylvania coal power across the state, information about the impact on the environment, health, property values and esthetics. And yet three months later there are still more questions than answers.

“Our municipalities have been frustrated with PSE&G, and their inability to present clear, concise information to us regarding this project. We have a number of concerns that have not been adequately addressed by PSE&G,” said Montville Mayor Deborah Nielsen. “We are asking the NJBPU to require that PSE&G return to the municipalities for approvals, and to address the concerns of our residents through proper hearings and public input.” Montville has been at the forefront of activity regarding the project, passing a resolution of non-support on Sept. 23, 2008 based on lack of information from PSE&G.

Now a group has been formed to question the consequences of the plan and the very need for so much additional power. On Oct.23 15 representatives from Andover Township, Byram Township, East Hanover Township, Fredon Township, Montville Township and Parsippany-Troy Hills Township met to share and discuss their concerns regarding this project.  From that meeting was born the "Coalition of Concerned Municipalities."

“The power line will affect our residents and possibly our quality of life, so we definitely need to get more information,” said Parsippany Mayor Michael Luther.

All aboard
At a press briefing, held appropriately at Montville Chase, a townhouse community dissected by the existing power lines, seven state and local environmental groups gathered with members of the Coalition to make their case. Also on hand were members of “Stop the Lines” a grassroots group formed to address concerns in towns throughout North Jersey.

“Our residents - especially those with children - are concerned about the potential health hazards from increased Electro Magnetic Field’s,” said East Hanover Mayor Joseph Pannullo. “This line crosses over schoolyards, parks and playgrounds in our municipalities. While PSE&G claims the health effects of EMF’s are ‘inconclusive,’ that is not very reassuring to our residents. We do not want our children to be guinea pigs for a new and untested line configuration.”

By choosing to bypass local approvals and go directly to NJBPU for review, the Coalition believes that discussion of local concerns, including loss of public parkland and other publicly preserved lands, damage to forests and wildlife habitat, health and safety issues and devaluation of homes on or adjacent to the proposed line expansion is being sidestepped. The Coalition’s six municipalities are reaching out to the remaining municipalities along the route, as well as county and state officials, in their effort to protect residents from the harmful affects this could have on their communities.

“We cannot support or oppose this project without answers to our concerns,” said Byram Township councilman Scott Olson. “We do not feel that PSE&G has shown a proven need for this expansion, or that all other options have been exhausted and this is the only viable alternative to address their needs. And they have yet to prove the potential for health effects are lessened or that the economic impact to our municipalities and our residents will be addressed.”

A divergence of plans
Recently Governor Jon Corzine announced plans to build a substantial amount of renewable energy generation - more than 6,000 megawatts from wind, solar, biomass and emerging renewable technologies by 2020.  His goal is to reduce the state’s overall energy use by 20% over the next 12 years, ensuring no increase in energy demand between now and then. 

“PSE&G’s proposed line expansion is in direct conflict with the state’s plan to put New Jersey on the path to a more sustainable energy future,” stated David Pringle, Campaign Director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation.  “The NJBPU and Governor Corzine have made major commitments to clean energy solutions, and their decision on PSE&G’s request to expand this line will be a test of those commitments.”

The road to power
The utility company made its announcement to choose Route B on Aug.5 following what they claimed was “an extensive review” of three possible routes under consideration for a new power line in New Jersey. The proposed $650 million project would add a 500 kilovolt electric power line to the existing 230 kilovolt lines and replace the existing 90-foot line towers with 180 to 190 foot high monopoles. In the process the land surrounding the poles would be clear-cut of all vegetation.

PSE&G professes that the new Susquehanna-Roseland line, is needed to prevent overloads and possible blackouts on the power grid, such as the one that occurred in the Northeast in August 2003.

However an analysis by “Environment New Jersey” finds that the proposed line expansion has the potential to move at least 3,000 megawatts of energy from coal states into or through New Jersey. That is enough electricity, the environmental group said, to power 800,000 or more homes. The group asserts that growth in the state’s electric demand does not warrant such a large increase in transmission capacity. Even conservative projections from the grid operator, PJM Interconnection, show peak demand in PSE&G’s entire service area will rise by only 2,000 megawatts by 2020.

“No one disputes that North Jersey’s electricity highways are congested and need relief to avoid price spikes and blackouts in the future. But New Jersey’s energy future should not be tied to dirty coal plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania, when home grown renewable energy and energy efficiency can provide the solution,” said Dena Mottola Jaborska, Executive Director, Environment New Jersey.

David Slaperud of “Stop the Lines” agreed that the scope of the plan is overkill. “As local residents, we are concerned that the line expansion will harm our health, devalue our property, and despoil the environment. PSE&G’s plan to deal with an estimated 1.5 percent increase in peak demand with a more than 300 percent increase in transmission capacity is unnecessary, irresponsible, and profit motivated. Peak energy demand is only 50 hours out of the year, and should be addressed through conservation and other available alternatives,” said Slaperud.

The selected route cuts across some of the states most sensitive and valued resource land.

"The high-voltage power line proposed by PSE&G will have an enormous impact on the Highlands Region. 200-foot high towers will destroy its beauty and character, and cause considerable environmental degradation during the construction process," said Julia M. Somers, executive director of the Highlands Coalition. "PSE&G has tried to exempt this project from the Highlands Act, which is almost as inappropriate as their claim that this expansion is needed. It's not, given the State's repeated commitment to renewable energy and conservation."

The expansion of the existing power lines would require a minimum of 80 diversions of publicly preserved Green Acres land in the Highlands region. It would cross at least 15 wetlands, seven areas with known state and federally protected animal or plant species, 10 Natural Heritage Priority Areas, several known pre-historic resources and four heavily used visitor areas in the Delaware National Recreation Area alone, including campsites, a picnic area and river launch.

Route B begins in Hardwick Township, Warren County, proceeds east to Andover Township, Sussex County, and on to Jefferson Township, Morris County. The route continues east to Montville Township and then turns south to Roseland Borough, Essex County. It follows an existing power line for the entire 45-mile length and will pass through 15 municipalities: Andover, Boonton Township, Byram, East Hanover, Fredon, Hardwick, Jefferson, Kinnelon, Montville, Newton, Parsippany-Troy Hills, Rockaway Township, Roseland, Sparta and Stillwater.

Cindy Forrest can be contacted at: forrestc@northjersey.com.

Staff photo by Cindy Forrest

The current PSE&G powerlines cut right through Montville Chase where the press conference on the latest news was held. 


 

 

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