The operator of the nation’s largest power grid is being urged to include in its long-term plans a new 18-mile high-voltage transmission line from the Hope Creek nuclear power plant to neighboring Delaware, a project designed to address reliability in the region.
If approved, the project would cost between $280 million and $320 million, according to Public Service Electric & Gas, which has gotten the recommendation to build the line. The proposal from the state’s largest utility won out over more than two-dozen projects submitted to PJM Interconnection.
The staff of PJM called the PSE&G proposal the most robust of any of the 26 that addressed the reliability concerns in South Jersey identified by the grid operator.
This is the first transmission upgrade in PJM to be competitively bid out, instead of ordering the incumbent utility (in this case, Atlantic City Electric) to undertake the project. A recent change in federal regulations opened up transmission upgrades to power companies other than the incumbent utility.
“Competition for this award was intense, with many qualified companies contending for the work,’’ said Ralph LaRossa, president and chief operating officer for PSE&G in a statement released by the utility.
Paul Patterson, an energy analyst with Glenrock Associates in New York, said the outcome is not surprising. “PSE&G does a lot of work on transmission projects. It makes sense they would be a formidable candidate,’’ he said.
The PSE&G proposal, if approved by the PJM board in July, would mark the latest in a long string of transmission projects the state’s largest utility is building in New Jersey, all of which, until now have been in its own service territory. In the past year, PSE&G invested $1.7 billion in upgrading its transmission system, which shunts electricity from power plants to utility substations, which then send it to homes and businesses.
But even if approved by PJM, the project faces huge challenges. Probably the biggest involves winning permits from the federal government to build a line underneath the Delaware River, according to the PJM staff.
“Public opposition can expected with all of the alternatives,’’ the PJM staff conceded in a presentation it made to stakeholders yesterday.
PSE&G’s proposed route also cuts through the Supawana Meadows National Wildlife Refuge and state wildlife management areas. Environmental groups have grown increasingly critical of utility projects that traverse lands set aside for conservation.
“With all these proposals, they could come up with a project that does not go through wildlife refuges,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.
But Paula DuPont Kidd, a spokeswoman for PJM, said the project is designed to address long-term reliability issues, primarily because of the isolated location of three nuclear power plants operated by PSEG Power, an affiliate of PSE&G. The plants are located on Artificial Island in a sparsely populated area on the Delaware Bay in Salem County.
The current transmission system there is being “pushed to the limits of how much they can carry,’’ she said, adding long-term solutions are needed to address the problem.
It is unclear what the impact of the project will be on ratepayers, but since the line will be delivering power into Delaware, the cost will be spread out among utility customers throughout the PJM region.
The time frame also is uncertain. A spokesman for PSE&G said if the project is approved by PJM, it could take 51 months to be in service, including time built in for navigating the permitting process.
The project is expected to follow rights of way along existing transmission lines under a regional agreement among utilities, although in some cases they may need to be expanded.