BPU Blocks JCP&L Plans for High-Voltage Power Line in Monmouth County

Tom Johnson | June 25, 2018 | Energy & Environment
State agency agrees with activists, administrative law court, and rate counsel — sees no need for proposed $111 million power conduit that would run close to schools and homes

monopoly transmission
In an unusual defeat for an energy project, the state Board of Public Utilities blocked a $111 million, 10-mile high-voltage power line proposed by Jersey Central Power & Light through Monmouth County.

In largely adopting a decision by an administrative law court judge, the five commissioners sided with a broad coalition of officials and residents who had argued the company had failed to prove the new line is needed and ignored other construction options.

The decision appears to end a case that stirred a huge fight for the past two years in the communities along the route, which largely would have followed a North Jersey Coast rail line. The project called for 210-foot monopoles to be built along the route close to homes, schools, and parks.

RAGE wins the day

“I’m very relieved. I feel very vindicated,’’ said Rachel Kanapka, co-president of Residents Against Giant Electric (RAGE), a group that battled the project. “This project never should have seen the light of day.’’

In ruling against the power line between Aberdeen and Red Bank, the board cited flawed, seven-year-old data about energy need that the project was largely based on.

“What was troubling to me, I have always questioned what the real need for it,’’ said BPU Commissioner Mary Holden. “There’s nothing in the record to support it.’’

The project, similar to a proposal rejected three decades ago, was designed to eliminate reliability violations identified by PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator. It is one of many proposals that have come before the state regulators as part of a concerted effort to modernize an aging power grid.

In this case, the argument that the power line is unnecessary because of declining usage among customers — a common theme sounded by opponents in fighting similar projects — won backing from the Office of Administrative Law judge, the New Jersey Division of Rate Counsel, and eventually the BPU.

JCP&L will review the BPU’s written order before deciding its next step, according to Ron Morano, a spokesman for the utility.

In modifying the judge’s decision, the state agency rejected the power line, but directed JCP&L to conduct a more robust analysis of potential reliability problems within its territory.

In a 180-page decision, Judge Gail Cookson rebuked the utility for failing to demonstrate the project is needed, for not adequately reviewing alternative routes, and called parts of the project “untried, untested and likely infeasible.’’