JCP&L Monmouth County Power Line Remains Hot Button for Residents

Tom Johnson | February 7, 2017 | Energy & Environment
Customers, local officials, lawmakers argue to scrap project before it can move ahead

The ongoing battle over Jersey Central Power & Light’s proposed high-voltage transmission project in Monmouth County shifted to the Legislature yesterday, if only for a day.

The so-called Monmouth County Reliability Line came under harsh criticism yesterday at a legislative hearing as opponents called the project unnecessary, threatening to property values, and unsightly.

The 10-mile, $111 million project proposed by Jersey Central Power & Light as a way to enhance reliability for a couple hundred thousand customers in the county is emerging as the most controversial of a number of transmission upgrades undertaken by electric utilities as part of an effort to modernize the power grid.

But customers, mobilized by a group called Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE), local officials, and legislators backed a resolution calling on state regulatory officials to scrap the project, now in hearings before an administrative law court judge.

“This is a really bad project,’’ said Sen. Joseph Kyrillos (R-Monmouth), the sponsor of the resolution, who noted it was not needed when it was first proposed around 30 years ago, and is not needed today.

Residents who live along the route of the project, which follows the right-of-way of the busy North Jersey Coast rail line, agreed. They argued it would be redundant, serving as a third backup transmission line in an area where, like much of the state, electricity growth is declining.

Kin Geen, a member of RAGE, disputed the project would enhance reliability, saying that residents have suffered outages from disruptions in transmission service only twice in the past two decades, each time lasting less than five hours. Virtually all of the outages suffered by JCP&L customers, he said, are due to power lines falling on the smaller distribution lines serving homes and businesses. That is where the utility should be making the investments, he said.

The 230-kilovolt transmission line, however, won backing from Thomas Bracken, president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce and a series of labor officials who helped pack the hearing in the State House Annex.

“The project will be of significant value to all of its customers,’’ Bracken said, as well as being an important component in attracting growth and investment in the state. “It will send the signal that growth is a priority of the Legislature.’’

The hearing was held by the Senate Economic Growth committee, but will have no real bearing on the future of the project, which must be approved by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities and New Jersey Transit.

In a regulatory case, an administrative judge hears evidence, and then, if the parties do not reach an agreement, makes a decision approving, modifying, or rejecting the project, which then goes before the BPU.

In the past, the BPU has typically approved transmission projects that have come before it.