Decision on JCP power line expected later this year

2017-11-01 | Asbury Park Press

Nov. 01--The fight against a 10-mile high voltage transmission line through five Monmouth County towns has come down to the wire.

Unless Administrative Law Judge Gail M. Cookson asks for an extension, her initial decision on Jersey Central Power Light's proposed Monmouth County Reliability Project is expected in the third week of December.

The state Board of Public Utilities would then accept, reject or modify the decision, a step not expected until at least January.

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It will cap a battle that has lasted 17 months so far by Residents Against Giant Electric, a residents' group that has raised more than $400,000 to fight the proposal in Cookson's courtroom, in thousands of pages of documents, public forums, NJ Transit meetings and legislative hearings.

"FirstEnergy is trying to pull a fast one on New Jersey's BPU and ratepayers with this project, and only because of our strong opposition did the curtain get pulled back to show what they were doing behind the scenes," RAGE's president, Rachael Kanapka, told reporters Monday. She called the proposal "at worst, devious, underhanded and greedy."

The project is meant to provide JCP's parent FirstEnergy with a guaranteed money-making transmission line, Kanpaka said. "Transmission lines are big moneymakers for utilities."

Rates for transmission lines are set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, she said, calling transmission projects "FERC candy."

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JCP says the Monmouth County Reliability Project, a third transmission line into Red Bank, would serve the area and improve system reliability. The 230-kilovolt transmission line between Aberdeen and Red Bank would run along the North Jersey Coast Line railroad tracks. NJ Transit has not yet decided whether it will allow the utility to place the line along its right of way.

PJM Interconnection, the organization that oversees the electric grid in 13 states and Washington, D.C., has identified it as a necessary project to reduce the length and frequency of outages in Monmouth County. JCP warns of the potential for extended, widespread power outages should the two other transmission lines that run into Red Bank, which are hung next to each other on the same structures, fail at the same time.

But Kanapka said one of RAGE's experts, electric utility consultant P. Jeffery Palermo, found a "better way" to cure JCP's predicament without spending at least $111 million on a new transmission line.

The alternative, proven after Palmero ran expensive simulations, involves the addition of two voltage regulators to manage voltage in the Red Bank substation. The other is the updating of 11 34.5-kilovolt distribution line circuits, the group said. The cost of the RAGE's idea: $30 million.

JCP spokesman Ron Morano said the utility is "confident the ALJ will rule in favor of the MCRP."

"We strongly disagree with RAGE's proposed alternative to the Monmouth County Reliability Project," Morano said in a statement.

"The 'alternative' proposed by RAGE would be more expensive to construct, more disruptive to JCP's customers in Monmouth County, and result in a less robust electrical system than the MCRP," he said. The company provided Cookson with a significant amount of information to support the project, Morano added.

Meanwhile RAGE said it uncovered controversial details about JCP's proposal through public records requests. For instance, documents from NJ Transit showed that JCP knew the actual locations of the proposed line's monopoles in 2015 even though the utility told the public in 2016 the locations of the poles were not decided, Kanapka said.

The utility also asked NJ Transit for permission to use its right-of-way for the line before it had completed a route selection study used to justify the route, she said.

It prompted state Sen. Jennifer Beck to call for the BPU to investigate JCP

"I think there should be punitive measures taken against them if indeed they conclude as we heard today that they have misrepresented and lied about this project," Beck said. "And frankly, if the Board of Public Utilities is unwilling to take this up and unwilling to conduct an investigation then I will call on the Attorney General to do so."

Asked to comment on Beck's statement, JCP's Morano said, "That type of rhetoric is unfortunate."

JCP has followed a regulatory process throughout the entire project, Morano said. "Everything we have done about this project is on the record."

David P. Willis: @dpwillis732; 732-643-4039; dwillis@gannettnj.com; facebook.com/dpwillis732.