Public Service Electric & Gas, already struggling to build a high-voltage power line through the Highlands, is proposing a second major expansion of its transmission system, this time through 15 towns in five counties in the north and central parts of the state.
The Newark utility, the state’s largest gas and electric company, plans to ask the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) in May to approve the so-called North Central Reliability project, which is expected to cost between $300 million and $350 million.
The 35-mile project involves replacing 138,000-volt transmission lines with 230-kilovolt lines along PSE&G's right-of-way from the Roseland switching station in Essex County to the West Orange switching station and to the Sewaren station in Middlesex County. The line would cut through West Orange, Livingston, Roseland, Florham Park, Chatham Borough, Chatham Township, New Providence, Berkeley Heights, Watchung, Scotch Plains, Fanwood, Clark, Edison, Metuchen and Woodbridge.
PSE&G has encountered enormous opposition to its proposed 45-mile Susquehanna-Roseland line, a $650 million project that crosses the Delaware River into New Jersey. A portion of that project has been delayed while the National Park Service conducts a review, affording opponents more opportunity to block the initiative. Both PSE&G and PJM Interconnection, the operator of the regional power grid, have said the project is necessary to maintain reliability and avoid blackouts.
In the case of the new project, PSE&G officials said it will maintain reliability for New Jersey businesses and residents, provide better quality, and reduce transmission system congestion in the region. Because the system is highly congested, residents and businesses pay $1 billion more each year for electricity than their neighbors.
"The North Central Reliability Project is essential to meet the region’s demand for electricity over the long term and ensure that customers continue to have the reliable electric service they have come to expect," said Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer of PSE&G.
That view is sure to be contested by residents and others who question the need to build expensive new transmission lines at a time when PJM has predicted electricity demand is declining, an assessment opponents of Susquehanna-Roseland have cited in asking state regulators to review their decision to back the power line.
Others, however, disputed that assessment. "The fact is there are reliability issues," said Paul Patterson, an energy analyst with Glenrock Associates. He noted, however, that does not make PSE&G’s case for the lines any easier. "The problem is I don’t know if you can swing a cat in New Jersey without making people unhappy."
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, noted this week the state got a recommendation from a consultant to help developers build three new power plants in the north and central parts of the state, providing nearly 2,000 megawatts of new generating capacity. One megawatt is enough to power about 800 homes.
Deann Muzikar, a spokeswoman for the utility, said the needs assessment for the project was completed by PJM this past November. If the BPU gives the project approval, PSE&G hopes to begin work in early 2012, with an in-service date of June 2014, she said.
Many utilities have ramped up spending on transmission lines, a trend that is partly explained by the history of federal regulators affording a better return on equity for transmission lines than state regulators do for smaller distribution projects. PSE&G reflects that trend. From 2010 to 2013, capital expenditures on transmission projects is expected to jump from $350 million to $1.1 billion for the company.