The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities has deferred action on a controversial $750 million high-voltage transmission line that cuts through the heart of the Highlands. The state agency said it wants more detailed information on whether the power line is necessary.
The action by the New Jersey agency at a specially called session disappointed Public Service Electric & Gas, the main proponent behind the plan. It also creates a potential political football for Gov. Chris Christie.
The project is hugely controversial in Warren, Sussex, Morris and Essex counties where the proposed 45-mile power line would be deployed, largely along existing utility rights of way in 16 municipalities. The region is home to lakes, streams, rivers and woodlands and provides much of the region with its public drinking water.
Proponents, including PSE&G, the state’s largest utility, argue the line is necessary to prevent reliability problems on the region’s power grid as early as the summer of 2012. In addition, if the line is not built, congestion problems on the state’s power grid will only mushroom, a prospect that would increase bills for residents and businesses, according to advocates.
The project was slated to be voted on by the New Jersey regulatory agency at its regularly scheduled bimonthly meeting in December but was delayed. That left the new administration with a volatile political issue when it took office January 17. Christie was critical of the line during the campaign, but scuttling the project would likely upset business interests and PSE&G, one of the most influential companies in New Jersey.
In deferring action, the agency said it wants more detailed information from the PJM Interconnection, the independent operator of the regional power grid, why plans to expand two other transmission lines to the south of New Jersey have been delayed because of estimates of power needs were downgraded.
The delay on the other two lines boosted hopes of opponents, including many of the state’s environmental groups, who have argued New Jersey’s aggressive goals for reducing energy consumption and switching to alternative and cleaner sources of electricity, such as solar and wind power, make it unnecessary to build the line.
Opponents were heartened by the decision to hold off on a vote.
“PSE&G pushed an impossible deadline,’’ said Julia Somer of the Highlands Coalition. “PJM’s decision [to delay the other two lines] calls into question the whole need for this project. The board has done the right thing here. ‘’
Asked whether they expected a better outcome from the new Christie administration, Somer replied, “he has been given an opportunity to have an impact on this project.’’
PSE&G said they were disappointed by the board’s action. “We are considering options to ensure our region’s electric customers have the safe, reliable service they have come to expect,’’ said Karen Johnson, a spokesman for the utility, which has nearly 2 million electric customers.