Monday, January 19, 2009

Proposed NJ electric power line prompts PR clash

New Jersey's largest power company, PSE&G, is embroiled in a growing public relations battle with environmental groups and some local government leaders over the proposed Susquehanna-Roseland high-power transmission line which the company wants to erect between the Delaware Water Gap in Warren County and the town of Roseland in Essex County.

For months, both sides have been fighting to win public and government support for their respective positions, for and against the construction. PSE&G contends the lines are necessary to address deteriorating infrastructure and the region's growing energy demands. Opponents say the project would harm the environment and import ""dirty" electricity from coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania and other western states.

The combatants have clashed on the classic PR battlegrounds --in newspaper stories covering the controversy, in media events staged by opponents, in press releases, and in letters to the editor.

On Jan, 15, PSE&G opened a new PR front, with a paid advertorial Caution: Blackouts Ahead... which appeared on the opinion page of the state's largest daily newspaper, the (Newark) Star-Ledger. The piece summoned up a bleak picture of 1926-era power lines "staining to carry voltage" which, according to an industry expert, could "break and fall to the ground causing a potentially dangerous situation…" not to mention "permanent damage to transmission infrastructure and catastrophic power outages.”

An opponent group, Stop The Lines, fired back two days later, using the same newspaper's free, public blog section, NJ Voices. The opponents contended that the PSE&G piece was " deceptive, fear-mongering, and baseless."

On Jan 12, PSE&G formally applied to the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) for permission to build the 45-mile, $650 million line. That immediately triggered protests from environmentalists who claimed the petition was an attempt by PSE&G to circumvent the process of seeking local approvals in each of the 15 towns affected by the project.

In addition to making its case before the BPU, the power company apparently also must win the approval of the state's Highlands Council which controls development in all environmentally sensitive areas of the New Jersey's northwest, including the power line's proposed pathway.

Getting the BPU to rule on the proposal could take up to a year, according to some estimates.

That virtually guarantees a lot more coalition-building, news conferences, press releases, paid adversorials, opinion poll contentions and op-ed submissions from both sides.


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