Controversial Power Line Gets Appeals Court Go-Ahead

Environmental groups lose bid to block $750M project running through NJ Highlands, Delaware River national parklands

The Susquehanna-Roseland power line has made it past another hurdle.

A state appeals court yesterday dismissed a challenge to the state’s approval of the 45-mile transmission line, which traverses some of the most sensitive areas in the New Jersey Highlands, as well as the Delaware River National Recreation Area.

The lawsuit, filed by a number of New Jersey’s most prominent environmental organizations, sought to overturn a decision by the state Board of Public Utilities to allow the $750 million project to move forward.

Mandated by both federal energy agencies and the regional power grid, the project has been deemed necessary to maintain reliability of the electricity system and reduce costs to utility customers by reducing congestion on the system.

The project by Public Service Electric & Gas has encountered numerous delays since being approved by the BPU in 2010, but has moved forward quickly since winning it last big approval last year when the National Park Service gave the go-ahead for it to go through three national park systems. It is now about 40 percent complete.

In approving the project, the BPU said it was “reasonably necessary’’ to provide safe, adequate and reliable service to electric customers in New Jersey. The cost of the project will increase rates for most residential customers by about $25 a year, according to the appeals court decision.

The line would run through 16 communities, largely along existing rights-of-way for an existing transmission line. But the fact that the transmission towers would rise above the current lines provoked much opposition.

In its decision approving the line, the BPU found that neither the state’s efforts to promote solar energy nor smart -grid technology would reduce electricity demand or consumption enough to eliminate the need for the project. The agency also questioned whether efforts to encourage development of other electricity sources would prove successful.

The court backed the agency’s decision.

“With respect to factual findings, we will not substitute our judgment for the boards, particularly when it exercises the agency’s expertise,’’ the appeal court ruled, once again deferring to the knowledge of the agency making the decision, which courts have repeatedly held in the past.

PSE&G welcomed the court decision.

“We are pleased with the decision supporting the BPU process,’’ said Kim Hanemann, vice president of delivery and construction, “Our goal continues to be in-service delivery for June 2015 for this critical reliability program.’’

Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, one of the groups filing the appeal, expressed disappointment with the court’s decision.

“Unfortunately, this was a victory for dirty coal and air pollution over green jobs and clean air,’’ said Tittel, who had hoped the court would remand the issue to BPU because new power plants being developed in New Jersey.

Business interests, however, have been strong backers of the transmission lines, as has the Christie administration. Both have argued new transmission lines will lower energy costs for consumers and businesses by reducing congestion, which spikes power costs, and increasing capacity, another factor in high costs of electric bills in New Jersey.