Tuesday, September 22, 2009

PSE&G's latest New Jersey power line concessions

How much does Public Service Electric and Gas's proposed new high-power line in northwest New Jersey mean to the company?

Apparently, a lot more than it's $750 million cost.

Consider the following:

In order to reverse initial opposition to the project from the staff of the Highland's Council, which is northwest New Jersey's environmental guardian, the energy company:

* Developed a mitigation plan designed to lessen potential impacts on wetlands, critical habitats and forests.

* Agreed to move a switching station to a different location, and

* Offered a $18.6 million Highlands Protection fund for the purchase and protection of priority acquisition lands in the area.

PSE&G moves fast

After clearing that hurdle, the company encountered a potentially disastrous public relations threat when school officials in the small Sussex County town of Fredon told the media that PSE&G's existing 230-kilovolt line, which runs over a school's playground, was the source of levels of electromagnetic fields (EMF's) that are six times higher than recommended levels.

The company plans to add its new 500-kilovolt line from Susquehanna, Pa., to Roseland in Essex County, NJ to the current 230-kilovolt line, which now crosses the Fredon School playground.

PSE&G's representatives swooped into town and negotiated a quick settlement before the story could get any negative traction.

Under the agreement, the company will pay the school board up to $950,000 to reconfigure the school grounds so that students would not be playing under the lines. In exchange, the school board and Fredon Parents Against the Lines (PALS) agreed to drop their formal opposition to PSE&G's new power line.

What's next?

School officials in Montville, which also is in the power line's right-of-way, are hiring a consultant to test EMF levels at a middle school which is near the line but not as close as the Fredon School, according to PSE&G.

But, unless other towns or school boards start testing their EMF's, the project's final hurdle will be a vote by the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) which is expected in January.

Power line opponents aren't conceding that decision as yet, but there is a grudging recognition that the utility company holds the home court advantage in any dealings with the agency.

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