BPU Questions PJM Plan to Route Power Line Through Wildlife Refuge

State agency indicates proposal will cross three environmental management areas, argues viable alternative exists

transmission towers

The state is expressing concerns over a route for a new transmission line under consideration by the operator of the regional power grid, saying it may impact sensitive environmental areas and be subject to delays because of opposition.

In a letter from the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to PJM Interconnection, the agency questioned why its staff recommended a preferred route cutting through a national wildlife refuge and state-run wildlife management areas. PJM is expected to act on the staff recommendation later this month.

The 18-mile high-voltage line will run from the Hope Creek nuclear power plant in Salem County to neighboring Delaware, a project designed to address potential reliability problems in the region. The current transmission lines are pushed to the limits of how much power they can deliver from the facility, according to the PJM.

In 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, the staff recommended that Public Service Electric & Gas be awarded the contract as the preferred alternative. The initiative is expected to cost between $280 million and $320 million.

The proposed route, one of nine projects under consideration, may affect the Supawana Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Pennsville, the Alloway Creek Watershed Wetland Restoration site, the Abbots Meadow Wildlife Management Area in Elsinboro, and the Mad Horse Creek Wildlife Management Area in Salem, according to the BPU letter mailed in early June.

In expressing concerns over the preferred route, the BPU compared the proposal with the highly contentious Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line now under construction, which also crosses federally protected land.

“Even though the project was one of those selected for “Rapid Response’’ by the federal Department of Interior, and placed on an accelerated permitting schedule, it was still delayed three years beyond the initial in-service date,’’ according to the BPU.

The fact that the Susquehanna-Roseland line traverses state lands along an existing right of way resulted in “protests, delays, and costs well above initial estimates for mitigation during construction,’’ according to the letter.

“The same may be true of the proposal to site transmission lines across the three New Jersey environmental management areas, especially given that a viable alternative exists.’’

Even the PJM staff conceded the preferred route faces obstacles, probably the most challenging being winning permits from the federal government to build a line underneath the Delaware River. All of the alternatives also will encounter public opposition, according to the staff.

The potential controversy reflects growing hostility to plans by energy suppliers to build gas and electric lines through either federally protected or state-preserved lands set aside with taxpayers’ money.

“We’re going to spend more of our ratepayers’ money to destroy environmentally sensitive land,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, referring to the latest transmission line proposal. He also complained that the line, if built, would send power from the nuclear power plants in Salem County out of state.

“This is like Susquehanna-Roseland south; the only difference is the power is going out of state,’’ Tittel said.

PSE&G defended the decision of the PJM staff.

“After careful evaluation, PJM’s staff concluded that ours was the best proposal,’’ said Michael Jennings, a spokesman for the company. “We believe that is the correct choice. We have successfully completed transmission projects in environmentally sensitive areas and performed that work on time and budget. We are committed to doing the same with this project.’’

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 among all utility customers throughout the PJM region.