State Appellate Court Puts JCP&L Transmission Line Back in Play

Tom Johnson | November 5, 2019 | Energy & Environment
Court reaffirms BPU decision, despite Montville BOE’s argument that line will pass too close to a school, could expose students to dangerous levels of EMF

transmission lineA state appeals court yesterday affirmed a two-year-old decision by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to allow Jersey Central Power & Light to build a seven-mile transmission line between Montville Township and East Hanover.

In a 16-page ruling, the court found no reason to overturn the agency’s decision, which had been challenged by Montville’s Board of Education, saying the new line would be too close to a school and may limit future expansion at the facility.

The project was originally ordered by PJM Interconnection, the operator of the regional power grid, to correct possible reliability violations that could affect 86,719 customers of JCP&L, the state’s second-largest electric utility with 1 million customers.

BPU backs lower-court decision

In a November 2017 determination, the BPU approved an administrative law court’s decision allowing the project to move forward, concluding the project is reasonable and necessary to enable JCP&L to provide safe, adequate and reliable service.

Cliff Cole, a spokesman for the utility, said the costs for the Montville project will be calculated once the company completes the design and permitting process, which JCP&L commenced earlier this year.

“JCP&L is pleased with the appellate court’s decision to uphold the BPU order,’’ Cole said. “This project is expected to enhance service reliability and system redundancy to meet the growing demand for electricity in this area.’’

For the state’s four electric utilities, transmission projects have been a growing source of their rate base, often earning more profits than utility upgrades to their distribution systems, which send power to local homes and smaller businesses.

But it is generally more difficult to overcome community objections, largely because of health concerns from the electromagnetic field (EMF). In the hearing before an administrative judge, JCP&L presented testimony from two experts that exposure to EMF would be well below state and international exposure limits.

Too close to school

The Montville BOE challenged the BPU order, saying the agency’s decision was inconsistent with previous determinations and saying reasonable effort must be made to increase the distance between transmission lines and schools.

The court was not persuaded by those arguments. “BOE raises no convincing argument that BPU’s decision is lacking in evidentiary support or that the agency acted outside its statutory authority,’’ the court ruled.

In addition, the court found the route proposed by JCP&L was probably the most ideally suited to resolve the reliability-criteria violation.

“The proposed route was the shortest of the alternatives, had the least environmental impact, and did not present the complications, environmental threats, and costs associated with putting a new transmission line underground, as proposed by BOE,’’ the court said.