JCP&L power line proposal has moved on to the courts

Eric Sucar

By VASHTI HARRIS
Staff Writer

Monmouth County residents have spoken and now the controversial giant electrical proposal by Jersey Central Power & Light (JCP&L) has entered the courtroom.

The project, which JCP&L has entitled the Monmouth County Reliability Project (MCRP), is now in the stage of evidentiary hearings that have begun on April 4 and will continue to be held on April 5, 6, 7, 10 and 11.

The hearings are being performed at the Office of Administrative Law that is located on 33 Washington St., Newark, according to Patrick Mulligan, public information representative for the Office of Administrative Law.

The evidentiary procedure has followed the two public hearings that Administrative Law Judge Gail Cookson scheduled over the past few months in order for residents to voice their concerns, which included health and environmental issues as well as decreases in property value.

An estimated crowd of 1,400 attended the second public hearing that was held on March 29 at Brookdale Community College’s Collins Arena in Lincroft. That meeting came after more than an estimated 1,300 swarmed Middletown High School North when the first public hearing was staged on Jan. 25.

The MCRP is a proposed new, 10-mile, 230-kV transmission line, which if approved, will be built on an existing New Jersey right of way (ROW) land that cuts through Aberdeen, Hazlet, Holmdel, Middletown, Red Bank and portions of other municipalities in Monmouth County.

Despite consistent criticism and the outpouring of fears from residents, JCP&L, under its parent company FirstEnergy, has insisted that the MCRP will not only improve its customers’ service reliability, but the new line will also bring technological, service and economic benefits to Monmouth County, according to the JCP&L MCRP website.

In addition to creating 245 jobs, economic benefits include nearly $43 million in compensation, nearly $60 million in gross domestic product and nearly $12.6 million in state and local revenues, according to the website.

Prior to the second public hearing, JCP&L held a press briefing on March 28 in Red Bank where JCP&L officials further elaborated on the need for the new transmission line. They referenced two unexpected power outrages that occurred in 2008 and 2010 due to equipment issues.

Furthermore, both JCP&L and PJM Interconnection, which is the regional grid operator, have concluded that construction of a third, separately-located line is necessary to prevent additional large-scale outages and provide JCP&L customers with dependable electricity service.

Currently, Monmouth County is served by two 230-kV transmission lines that are located on a common set of poles. In the event that electrical service is disrupted on both of those lines, 214,00 customers county-wide could lose electricity for up to several days. JCP&L and PJM have determined that this system design violates mandatory reliability criteria required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, according to a prepared report from JCP&L.

But Monmouth County residents have stood firm with their disapproval.

One group that has been among the leaders of the opposition in the county has been Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE), a non-profit organization that is comprised of citizens who have banded together to fight against the proposal.

“This transmission project is unprecedented. No utility has built towers so high, along such a narrow active commuter railway ROW, through such densely populated neighborhoods, anywhere in the [United States]. The proposed project will not decrease outages as the majority of storm outages, including superstorm Sandy, are caused by substation and distribution line failures, not transmission lines,” Judy Musa, a volunteer and public relations representative for RAGE, said.

She continued with her organization’s argument.

“The current line and its backup have worked 99 percent for the past 20 years. Our engineering expert and that of N.J. Rate Counsel question the need for this proposed redundant third line and have suggested far less costly, less invasive and more technology-oriented solutions to the violations that are cited in JCP&L’s petition,” she said.

Decrease in property value was one of the biggest concerns, as many residents have declared that they fear the line’s proposed location and proximity to their houses. Many homes are located near the N.J. Transit rail line, which is where the new transmission line will go along the rail line’s ROW.

Addressing the property value concerns, JCP&L reported that an independent real estate expert has found that the project will not impact property values and that study was submitted as part of the company’s petition to  the N.J. Board of Public Utilities (BPU), according to the JCP&L MCRP website.

Another issue that the residents referred to are the schools that are in proximity to the proposed transmission line: Beers Street Elementary School in Hazlet, River Plaza Elementary School and Middletown Village Elementary School in Middletown, and the Red Bank Charter School in Red Bank, according Musa.

Robert Billings, a resident of Middletown, said during the second public hearing on March 29 that if the proposed transmission line were to be built, he would move his son out of River Plaza Elementary School.

Many residents and local municipal officials have questioned JCP&L’s rights to build on N.J. Transit’s ROW from N.J. Transit.

“We continue to work with N.J. Transit. It is common to continue the application process without a ROW agreement,” said Ron Morano, the spokesman for JCP&L.

Nancy Snyder, the senior director of public information and corporate communications for N.J. Transit, also responded to the issue.

“As a public entity, N.J. Transit has an obligation to consider requests to use our ROW by utilities and other service providers. N.J. Transit is currently evaluating JCP&L’s electric transmission proposal according to our standard practice, including assessments of potential impact to N.J. Transit’s infrastructure and service, and effect upon our customers. It will take some time to thoroughly evaluate all the information related to this proposal and make a final determination,” Snyder said.

Health and safety risks were another concern expressed by numerous residents, emphasizing that the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) linked to transmission lines could lead the way to the risk of serious diseases.

As part of JCP&L’s BPU filing for this project, the company has submitted a comprehensive analysis of the existing and proposed EMF levels along the project corridor. While there are no national standards or limits in the United States for EMF associated with power lines, this project meets New Jersey’s electric field guideline for the edge of the ROW, according to JCP&L’s MCRP website.

Environmental concerns were also expressed by multiple residents.

The New Jersey Sierra Club is opposed to this project because the transmission line would cross environmentally-sensitive areas including the Navesink River watershed and threatened and endangered wildlife habitat areas.

The Sierra Club focused on how the project could impact wetlands and wetlands buffers, mature forest habitats, and where steep slopes exist. Moreover, the club also believes that the project could have an impact on the aesthetic value of Monmouth County’s environmental landscape and affect animals’ viewshed by building large transmission poles in their habitat.

To find out more information about JCP&L’s MCRP, visit www.monmouthreliability.com.

For more information about the upcoming evidentiary hearings involving the MCRP, visit www.nj.gov/oal/ or call 973-648-7245.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.