JCP&L Files with BPU to Build Unpopular Monmouth County Power Line

Tom Johnson | August 10, 2016 | Energy & Environment
Utility argues that 10-mile-long transmission link will boost reliability for some quarter million customers

transmission tower
Jersey Central Power & Light yesterday formally petitioned a state regulatory agency to approve a 10-mile-long high-voltage power line in Monmouth County that has sparked widespread opposition among residents.

In a voluminous filing with the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the state’s second-largest electric utility said the $111 million project, most of it to be built along an existing New Jersey Transit rail line, would improve reliability for nearly a quarter million of its customers in the county.

The project, dubbed the Monmouth County Reliability Line, largely revives a proposal made in the early 1990s that was later dropped. If approved, it would entail a new 230-kilovolt transmission line, enhancement to substations, and technology upgrades.

Initially, the project cost was projected to run $75 million. It is the second transmission project in New Jersey where costs escalated even before it was built. A transmission project partly being developed by Public Service Electric & Gas was suspended last week when the projected cost nearly doubled.

But opponents are trying to derail the project as unnecessary and one that will cause property values to fall for those living near or along the proposed route between substations in Aberdeen and Red Bank.

In the petition, JCP&L employees and consultants detail why the preferred route was selected and try to answer some of the criticisms. For instance, a real estate expert hired by the utility argued the project would not diminish property values. Any drop in property value already has been absorbed by the presence of the commuter rail line, which the power line would largely track, the consultant said.

“This filing marks the completion of many months of planning, design, and engineering analysis and contains additional detailed information about the project,’’ said Jim Fakult, president of JCP&L, a subsidiary of Akron-Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp.

The project is being undertaken at the direction of the PJM Interconnection, the operator of the regional power grid. It is designed to prevent potential reliability violations identified by PJM in the service area of the utility.

In the filing, the utility asked the BPU to hear its case, instead of sending it to an administrative law court judge for what typically is a lengthy evidentiary hearing. Bypassing that option will likely cut months off the approval process.

JCP&L is hoping to begin construction on the project in June 2017, with a planned in-service date of June 2019.

The project is the latest of a spate of transmission projects undertaken by the state’s electric utilities, which are under pressure from both state and federal officials to modernize the grid and improve the resiliency of the power grid. During extreme storms, such as Hurricane Sandy, hundreds of thousands of customers lost power, some for up to two weeks.

The Monmouth project is part of JCP&L’s $250 million “Energizing the Future’’ transmission enhancement project. Utilities have welcomed building such projects because they typically earn a higher rate of return than smaller distribution upgrades.