State Regulators Give JCP&L Go-Ahead for Transmission Line in Monmouth County

Tom Johnson | January 22, 2015 | Energy & Environment
The 16-mile project will run along existing right-of-way, help reduce outages and ease congestion on power grid

Click to enlarge/collapse
Jersey Central Power & Light has won approval to build a 16-mile transmission line in Monmouth County, a project state officials say is needed to avoid substantial outages to the utility’s customers in the area.

The $64 million project gained unanimous approval yesterday from the New Jersey Board of Utilities, a decision possibly made easier by the absence of public opposition to the transmission line and the fact that it will be built along the route of an existing transmission line owned by JCP&L.

PJM Interconnection, the operator of the nation’s largest power grid, which includes New Jersey, recommended the project be built to address potential reliability problems with JCP&L’s system.

The approval comes at a time when regional grid operators and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are pursuing more aggressive policies to update the nation’s aging transmission systems. The result has led to a number of new transmission projects in New Jersey, some of which not only increase reliability but also decrease congestion on the power grid, a benefit that can lower electric bills for consumers and businesses.

Some of the projects have generated huge opposition, however, in part because the proposals sometimes traverse lands already set aside for preservation with taxpayers’ money. The high-voltage transmission lines send electricity from power plants to utility substations, where it is then delivered to homes and businesses on local distribution wires.

Utilities like to build transmission lines because they are more profitable than investing in their distribution systems, which are subject to review by local regulators who are less likely to grant as big a return on investment as that awarded by FERC, which oversees the costs of transmission projects.

But JCP&L argued the investments are needed to meet growing demand for electricity. In a fact sheet prepared by the utility, it said that the demand for electricity in New Jersey has grown about three times faster than the population, as homeowners use electricity to power everything from big-screen televisions to computers to the latest kitchen devices.

BPU staff agreed. ‘’Without this project, there could be substantial interruptions for customers,’’ said Jerry May, director of the Division of Energy at the agency. “It’s a significant effect if it is not fixed.’’ He said up to 100,000 customers could be affected by an outage.

Others disagreed, saying the state is ignoring other ways to deal with reliability problems, including spending more on programs that reduce energy consumption by all customers.

“The BPU has never met a power line that they didn’t like,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “They always seem to find projects that benefit the utility, but not the environment, nor the consumer.’’

The project will have a smaller footprint than the existing transmission lines, thanks to the fact that it is putting up smaller structures instead of the older towers, according to May.

The project will run through an existing right-of-way corridor through Colts Neck, Howell, Neptune, Tinton Falls, and Wall. It is anticipated the project will be completed to meet PJM’s June 1, 2017 service date, according to the utility.

“There is no impact on rates at this time,’’ said Ron Morano, a spokesman for JCP&L, which has more than 1 million customers in the state. No one from the public attended the lone hearing on the transmission project, he said.

Beyond the new transmission lines, the utility also is planning upgrades to its two substations in the region.

In other matters, the BPU also approved a settlement that will allow Public Service Electric & Gas to build a new $138 million switching station in Newark to improve reliability in the state’s largest city.